By Matt Barbarasch:
During the Eli Manning era, the backbone of the Giants offensive dominance has been the play of the offensive line. The big men up front gave the Giants the ability to control both the passing and running game, making their offense a dual threat each snap. The strength of the offensive line was not only the talent among the five guys on the line, but the continuity which allowed the Giants linemen to develop chemistry over the years. This season, father time and injuries shook up the offensive line, specifically on the left side, where Seubert and O’Hara were replaced by David Diehl and David Baas, with third year tackle Will Beatty now charged with the responsibility of protecting Eli’s blindside.
During the pre-season, the enigma surrounding who would be the third weapon in the passing game drew more attention than the rebuilt offensive line. Victor Cruz and Travis Beckum, who were both anointed to step up as viable third options for Manning, struggled this summer. While the pundits and analysts dissected how the Giants could endure without the emergence of a slot receiver, the questionable performance of the untested new players on the offensive line flew under the radar. The Giants imported new center David Baas carved a nice career in San Francisco, yet he still has to develop a rapport with his quarterback under center and his line mates in order to be effective. To understand the meaning of the relationship between a quarterback and his snapper, here is what David Bass told the New York Times Sam Borden:
“Baas likened the connection between a quarterback and his center to that of a pitcher and catcher in baseball. In many ways, the comparison is apt: beyond the mechanics of the snap, the center, like a catcher, is also responsible for helping to call the game. When the quarterback changes a play or blocking assignment at the line of scrimmage, the center must communicate the appropriate adjustment to the other linemen.
“The center basically has to be the backup quarterback out there on the field,” Baas said.
A condensed off-season hindered Baas’s ability to build that relationship with Eli, and it is yet to be seen if those two can match the chemistry Eli had with O’Hara. William Beatty was given the opportunity to grab the left tackle spot from David Diehl last year, and couldn’t. Diehl, who slid back to his natural spot at guard, was the main culprit among an offensive line that yielded four sacks and countless pressures against the Redskins in week one. Two plays that stood out occurred in the 3rd quarter. Right after the Giants gave up the defensive touchdown to the Redskins, they had a 2nd and 9 from their own 21, when Diehl got beat up the middle for a sack. Two drives later on first down, Diehl got beat again for another sack. Both drives ended in punts from Weatherford. Quarterbacks can handle pressure off the edge as long as they are able to step up in the pocket. When they get pressured up the middle, the passing game never has a chance to get in rhythm. Given time, Eli can make this offense work with the receivers he has at his disposal.
Last year, the NFL saw multiple teams survive without their top play makers. The San Diego Chargers were without their best receiver and deep threat, Vincent Jackson, yet were first in yards per game and second in points. The Patriots traded Moss in the first quarter of the season, yet finished first in points. The Colts offense was ravaged with injuries to key players such as Dallas Clark and Austin Collie, finished fourth in yards and points per game. Even the Giants, who lost Smith and Nicks for key stretches last season, finished fifth in yards and tied for seventh in points. As long as teams have a good offensive system, quarterback and offensive line, the offenses will keep producing even if other pieces are missing. That is how the Giants survived last year, and if their offensive line can come together and perform like it has in the past, the Giants will survive this year.
After starting 2-8 for 86 yards in the first quarter, Eli Manning seemed to find a rhythm within the offense, and finished the last three quarters 16-24 for 182 yards. Perhaps he got comfortable working with his offensive line, only time will tell, but it is crucial that Eli feels safe in the pocket. This Monday night, the Giants will face a talented defensive line and a team that specializes in getting after the quarterback. The Giants can win despite inconsistent play from Cruz, Hixon, Ballard and Stokely. They will not get a win with unpredictable play from their offensive line.
I currently work at a market research firm in NYC. I majored in Sports Management at Rutgers University. During my time at Rutgers, I worked several internships with the Trenton Thunder, ECHL, Knicks, Rangers, Sixers and Flyers. I am an avid Giants, Knicks, Rangers and Yankees fan.
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