The New York Giants entered last off-season knowing that the biggest deficiency in their "broken" offense was their underwhelming offensive line. Ten games into the 2014 season it sill is.
Give Jerry Reese credit for trying to fix a line that was woefully inadequate a year ago. Reese gets an 'A' for effort after bringing in several new pieces. As poorly as this line, including many of Reese's new pieces, has performed, though, Reese gets maybe a 'D' for execution.
As poorly as Eli Manning played Sunday, and he played about as badly as he can, you have to defend him a little bit. The Giants clearly are not physical enough along the front line to run the ball with any real effectiveness. Manning was under pressure on an absurdly awful 24 of 47 drop-backs Sunday. The Giants run a timing-based offense. Nothing can be on time when the quarterback is consistently being hit, forced to double clutch or move off his spot in the pocket. You want an even more discouraging number when it comes to the play of the offensive line? San Francisco blitzed only twice (TWICE!!!) in those 47 drop-backs. Which means the Giants consistently had five to seven men to block three or four pass rushers, and couldn't get the job done.
Reese brought in Geoff Schwartz, J.D. Walton, John Jerry and Charles Brown as free agents. Veteran Adam Snyder was added mid-season. Schwartz was the biggest free-agent prize, and Reese can't be faulted for the fact that he has been hurt. Walton somehow was deemed worthy of a two-year contract after missing two years due to injury. He's adequate -- at best. Jerry has been starting at right guard. He's been OK at times, a decent pass blocker and horrid run blocker.He was awful Sunday vs. the San Francisco 49ers. Blame part of that on being stuck playing next to the inept Brown, but he was still awful. As for Brown, the Saints couldn't wait to get rid of him and he showed why. You can say he hadn't practiced much, but games like Sunday are why you sign veteran linemen. They should know what they are doing, and without tons of practice reps should be able to at least know what they should be doing. Brown didn't.
Reese has invested high draft picks on offensive linemen in each of the past two seasons. He spent a first-round pick on Justin Pugh in 2013 and a second-round pick on Weston Richburg in 2014. Problem is that from 2007-2012 Reese largely ignored the offensive line, the foundation of any offense. While watching Rich Suebert, Shaun O'Hara, Kareem McKenize, David Diehl and Chris Snee get old, break down and eventually see their careers end, the only high draft pick Reese spent on an offensive lineman was a 2009 second-round pick on Will Beatty.
The Giants are paying dearly now for those years of neglect. Yes, over the past few years Reese has drafted some late-round guys like Mitch Petrus, James Brewer Brandon Mosley and Eric Herman. That, however, isn't nearly enough. Petrus washed quickly out of the league. Tom Coughlin, Pat Flaherty and now two offensive coordinators have had years to judge Brewer, Mosley and Herman. Their verdict? They would rather watch Jerry, Brown and Dallas Reynolds play. Like it or not, that tells you they don't believe those young players are capable of helping an NFL team.
As for Pugh and Richburg, both are probably going to be very good NFL players and part of the solution to the Giants' offensive line woes. Neither, though, has excelled this season.
Pugh, for whatever reason, has regressed since the last half of his rookie season. Has he been playing hurt? Has he just not been able to recover mentally from the awful game he had Week 6 vs. the Philadelphia Eagles? Whatever the answer, Pugh has not played well since that game against the Eagles. As for Richburg, he's done the best he could while playing a position he clearly isn't mean to be playing. He's a center, not a guard. He isn't big enough or physical enough at 298 pounds to be an NFL guard, and it shows in his struggles to anchor in the run game. A center can orchestrate and be a help blocker, not having to gone one-on-one with a massive defensive tackle as often as a guard.
The Giants will get a boost this week on the line when Schwartz is activated. The Giants have until 4 p.m. ET today to do that. Pugh is reportedly hopeful that he will play Sunday vs. the Dallas Cowboys.
Where should Schwartz play? The easy answer is anywhere that gets Jerry or Brown out of the lineup. The best answer, from this view, would be right guard. That would give the Giants Schwartz, Pugh, Richburg and Beatty along with probably Walton for now. Long-term Richburg has to be the center, and I will continue beating the drum for him to be moved there sooner rather than later. Adding Schwartz, and putting Richburg at center, is a step in the right direction toward the offensive line of the future for the Giants.
They are, however, clearly still paying for the sins of the past. And there is still clearly work to be done to make up for those sins.