The New York Giants were devastated by injury in 2013.
According to the NFL, the Giants lost 91 games to starters, 26 among the interior offensive line. Those numbers are shocking.
The numbers provided by Football Outsiders, a website devoted to advanced statistics and football analysis, are even more horrifying. They list the Giants with 144 games lost due to injury, and 36 lost in the middle of the offensive line.
Rather than simply chart whether a starter is active or not, Football Outsiders' "Adjusted Games Lost" takes into account games lost to starters, such as David Baas, injury replacements, such as Jim Cordle, and if players play through injury.
And the Giants were not only dead last (no pun intended) in the NFL in terms of games lost due to injury, but they were last in the league by 34 games.
That's just staggering.
•Big Blue ViewA look at the Giants' roster as they head to training camp.
Enter Free Agency
After the season was over the Giants moved to repair their battered offensive line, and one of their first moves was to sign free agent guard Geoff Schwartz.
Schwartz is entering his seventh year in the NFL, and the Giants will be his fourth team. Despite that, Schwartz has been an effective player whenever he has seen the field. He has never earned a negative grade from Pro Football Focus, earning a +18.6 grade in seven games as a starter in 2013.
But just how did the Giants' new guard earn his grade and what can fans look forward to?
Since this is the Film Room, let's go to the tape.
When you see a 6-foot-6, 340-pound offensive lineman, the first thing you think about is running the football. Wherever and whenever he has played, that offense has had a productive rushing attack. Pro Football Focus agrees, consistently giving Schwartz's run blocking a strong grade.
Here we see the Chiefs lined up in a classic Power I formation. The tight end is inline next to the right tackle, and the fullback and running backer are directly behind the quarterback (who is under center). This play uses a zone blocking concept where the offensive line blocks laterally, moving the defense along the line of scrimmage rather than back off it.
After the snap we see move up to block the inside linebacker (Donald Butler). Schwartz does a great job of getting his hands on Butler, keeping (roughly) parallel to the line of scrimmage and moving Butler far away from the play. Between the efforts of Schwartz, the right tackle, and tight end, there is a pretty massive hole for the back to run through.
Despite the strong safety (Marcus Gilchrist) coming over to fill that hole and help make the tackle, this is a big win for Schwartz. Butler tries to shed the block and effect the play, but Schwartz simply swallows him up.
(Kansas City Chiefs vs Indianapolis Colts)
This play starts out with the Chiefs in a power I formation, with the tight end next to the right tackle and the fullback offset behind the rigth guard and right tackle.
This is more of a man blocking power run play than the previous play, and sees Schwartz down-blocking nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin while the left guard pulls around to block free safety Antoine Bethea.
Once again Schwartz does a nice job of staying (roughly) parallel to the line of scrimmage, using his hands and delivering a nice punch, and then re-anchoring, and pushing the 320-pound Franklin back off the line of scrimmage and controlling him. While it doesn't really impact the play, Schwartz does a nice job finishing the block, pushing Franklin even after the running back is well past them.
This run ultimately went for a solidnine-yard gain. And that while a fair portion of that is due to some tough running by the running back, Schwartz's handling of the nose tackle was a big part of the play's success as well. I think we can safely call this one a win.
The 2013 season was a season under siege for Eli Manning. And after a season that saw Eli Manning'get sacked more often than any other in his career and his throwing mechanics degrade to near-Tebowdom, the question on pretty much every Giants fan's mind is "Can Geoff Schwartz pass protect?"
(Kansas City Chiefs vs San Diego Chargers)
We're back against the Chargers for this play (and the next).
The Chiefs line up in the shotgun, and thanks to the Chargers' defensive alignment Schwartz is matched up on a defensive end (Kendall Reyes). Reyes fires pretty out of his stance, but Schwartz does a better job of anchoring down to absorb the rush, then using his hands to fight Reyes off while the center comes over to help.
San Diego only rushed four, while Kansas City kept six back to block. However Reyes is one of the better pass rushing 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL (second in the league behind JJ Watt his sophomore year, according to Pro Football Focus' Pass Rush Productivity stat), so Schwartz effectively neutralizing him for a 30+ yard touchdown pass is no mean feat.
This play isn't so much about how it started as how it finished. That's because by the end of the play Smith was scrambling while the slot receiver free-lanced to find an open spot in the coverage. And the coverage was good. You can see Smith's head scan back and forth looking for an open man before coming back to look for his check-down option.
That option wasn't immediately there however, so the offensive line had to buy Smith time until the receiver could work his way open. San Diego sent four rushers while Kansas City called a five-man protection. That means that there was one double team available, and it was center Rodney Hudson and Geoff Schwartz on nose tackle Cam Thomas.
While Thomas isn't much of a factor as a pass rusher, he is strong enough to push the pocket and affect a quarterback's feet. Schwartz and Hudson worked together to give Smith enough time to find his check-down.
(Kansas City Chiefs vs Indianapolis Colts)
For our last play, let's look at an example of the type of quick pass that the Giants' new offense will likely be using a lot of.
This play starts out with the Chiefs back in the shotgun formation while the Colts show a heavy blitz. The Colts do indeed come, sending six rushers, while the Chiefs called a six-man protection. The tight end released into a route while Jamaal Charles stayed home to block. On the other side of the line of scrimmage, defensive end Fili Moala forced the left guard and center to double team him, opening up a free rush for rookie linebacker Josh McNary.
Here, Schwartz pushes defensive end Ricardo Matthews around the pocket, opening up a throwing lane for Alex Smith to complete the quick pass. This play doesn't call for Schwartz to dominate his assignment, but he does have to make sure his man stays out of the quarterback's face and can't interrupt the timing of the play.
There we have it, the tape confirms what Pro Football Focus has been saying: Schwartz is a good offensive lineman.
He has the size, length, and strength to dominate most front seven players. He can open holes in the running game in both man and zone blocking schemes. He can also pass block for quick, timing based passes as well as sustain his blocks for deep strikes, or to give his quarterback time to find the open man.
But what impressed me more than what he did was how he did it. Schwartz consistently plays with solid technique, rarely reaching or lunging for his blocks. He shows good, smooth feet and a solid understanding of hand use and leverage. I also loved his tenacity sustaining and finishing blocks, showing that streak of nastiness you just love to see in an offensive lineman.
The last (but certainly not least) thing I noticed was that Schwartz was the first lineman to celebrate. He was the first one running up to the end zone with his hands in the air after the 30-yard TD pass in Play 1, and he was the first one celebrating when the receiver picked up the first down in Play 3. To me, that suggest a good teammate and a solid locker room guy who can help all the the moving pieces on the Giants new offense gel that much quicker.
Whether all this means that Schwartz will the the Giants' best free agent signing as well as their biggest remains to be seen. However, he certainly does provide a massive upgrade to their offensive line, and that could make Schwartz worth every penny.