New York Giants running back Andre Williams (44) celebrates after scoring on a touchdown run against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
New York Giants wide receiver Rueben Randle, left, celebrates with teammate Victor Cruz, right, after scoring on a touchdown pass from quarterback Eli Manning against the Atlanta Falcons during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey — When the New York Giants drafted Andre Williams in the fourth round in May, the move was seen as an insurance policy at running back.
David Wilson was coming off neck surgery and the veteran Rashad Jennings had been signed as a free agent in the offseason.
Heading into Philadelphia on Sunday night for a crucial NFL East game against the Eagles (4-1), the insurance policy has been the Giants' (3-2) main running threat.
Wilson retired with a neck injury and Jennings is probably not going to play this weekend after spraining his left knee in the win over Atlanta on Sunday.
That leaves Williams as the starter and veteran Peyton Hillis as his backup. Michael Cox is now No. 3 after being signed off the practice squad.
"He is ready," Jennings said of Williams. "It's his time and I am excited to watch him play."
The Giants have run the ball exceptionally well this season, averaging 121 yards. Jennings has been the workhorse, gaining 396 on 91 carries. Williams has 171 yards on 54 attempts, a 3.1 yard average.
Williams did everything right in college, yet somehow didn't get drafted until the fourth round. He broke Boston College's career rushing record with 3,754 yards and he became the first NCAA FBS player for rush for more than 2,000 since 2007 when he gained 2,177 yards last season on 355 carries, a 6.1 yard average.
"I've had a couple games with success now," said Williams, who had a team-high 65 yards on 20 carries against the Falcons. "The guys are rallying behind me, the O-line is making me feel comfortable. We're just getting better and gelling better as a group, so I'm confident going into next week."
Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has no hesitation using Williams, especially after watching him pick up tough yards at the end of recent games.
"He is an aggressive guy," McAdoo said Thursday after practice. "He is the same guy we saw on college tape. He runs like he is going to tackle you. That's what we like about him the most. He is a big, physical guy. He is a cerebral guy, but he runs very aggressively."
Williams ignited the Giants' second-half comeback last week with a 3-yard run on which he ran over an Atlanta defender.
Quarterback Eli Manning said Williams showed another dimension, catching two passes for 18 yards. He had only 10 catches in his college career, including none as a senior.
The big test for Williams will be playing in Philadelphia, which is loud, against the Eagles in a game that is always intense.
"You can't worry about the environment and the atmosphere," Manning said. "You've got to enjoy going into a place where they don't like you, so I think he's played in hostile environments before in college. I think he's just going to be worried about his assignment and going out there and playing good football."
Since the Giants tend to alternate running backs, Hillis should provide a solid backup. The seven-year veteran who missed most of training camp with an ankle injury, had two rushes for 7 yards against Atlanta and showed his experience, picking up a blitz and knocking the opponent off his feet.
"It seems to me that a lot of what I do goes unnoticed," Hillis said. "I think I am a lot better than what people give me credit for, and hopefully on Sunday night I can prove that."
NOTES: DE Jason Pierre-Paul became the latest Giant to take a shot at the Eagles, the defending division champion. He noted in a roundabout way that the Eagles have won some close games, "Yeah they're 4-1," he said. "But they could have easily been 0-4. But at the end of the day, they won four games." ... MLB Jon Beason is making progress with his injured foot and there is a chance he will play against the Eagles. ...P Steve Weatherford is still bothered by the left ankle he injured in the season opened. Special teams coach Tom Quinn said Weatherford has had to cut down on his normal workload.