For the majority of the New York Giants' rich, 87-year-long history, they have played like a hard-nosed football team. And I’m not talking about a baseless, self-proclaimed “ground-and-pound” team like Rex Ryan’s Jets—instead, the Giants have historically been a team that proves its tough running style of play on Sundays, keeping the off-field chatter to a minimum.
The 2011 season was an exception, though. New York won its fourth Super Bowl last season despite the fact that they had the league’s worst rushing offense.
While Super Bowl XLVI was a tremendous victory for both the organization and the entire New York Giants fan base, it also veiled the team’s most crippling deficiency: the insufficient play of the offensive line.
Back in 2007, the Giants offensive line provided the push needed to reach and win the Super Bowl. Tiki Barber, a team leader and the franchise’s all-time leading rusher, had recently retired and Eli Manning, an unproven fourth-year pro at the time, took over the reins on offense.
It wasn’t a flawless transfer of leadership, but the offensive line played an essential role in the process. They opened up gaping holes for Barber’s replacements to exploit and provided plenty of protection for their young quarterback to explore NFL defenses on his way to becoming one of the best in today’s game.
The very next season, New York’s offensive line dominated the competition, paving the way for two 1,000-yard rushers in Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward, and an additional 355 yards from up-and-comer Ahmad Bradshaw. Behind his formidable line, Manning was also able to pass for his then-best statistical season, which led to his very first Pro Bowl appearance.
All was swell for the Giants' offense in 2008, but from that point on, things started to change. Over the next few seasons, the offensive line’s performance would begin its steady decline.
In 2009, the Manning to Steve Smith connection blossomed. The two combined for a franchise record 107 completions, but as Manning gained confidence in the passing game, the rushing game began to suffer. They finished the season ranked 17th in the league for rush offense, averaging 114.8 yards per game.
There was a slight resurgence in 2010, as Bradshaw surpassed Jacobs and became the offense’s featured running back. By the season’s end, the Giants were averaging a respectable 137.5 yards per game. However, the running game’s success was quickly overshadowed by the Giants’ monumental late-season collapse.
Everything changed in 2011. Veteran mainstays Shaun O’Hara and Rich Seubert were cut in the weeks leading up to training camp, and very little was done to replace them.
Sure, they signed center David Baas from San Francisco to a five year $27.5 million deal, but that price seemed pretty steep considering the fact that Baas had only started in all 16 games of the season twice—one of which was at left guard, not center—in his six-season career.
Aside from the Baas acquisition, New York expected to rebuild the offensive line by shifting around veterans and developing homegrown talent. And as expected when rebuilding an offensive line, they were terrible in 2011.
In spite of all the turmoil up front, the Giants were still able to win Super Bowl XLVI, relying heavily on stellar play from Manning. Whispers of a repeat began to circulate this offseason, as it was assumed that the O-line had nowhere to go but up in 2012.
But from what we’ve seen so far, that no longer seems to be the case. The Giants’ offensive line was in question all preseason and they struggled against the Cowboys in Week 1. Excluding Bradshaw’s 33-yard run on a well-called draw play late in the game, the Giants averaged an unacceptable 2.7 yards per carry.
Baas, right tackle David Diehl and right guard Chris Snee are all over the age of 30. It’s beginning to look like Baas may not develop into the player they expected him to be when he was signed, and Diehl and Snee are likely past their prime.
Will Beatty has yet to become a cog at left tackle after New York drafted him in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft. This season, a sciatic nerve in his lower back has forced him out of action and thrust backup Sean Locklear, who started only four games with the Redskins in 2011, into the starting lineup.
Also, Kevin Boothe is being relied on as the starting left guard this year. He was a reliable reserve in 2011, as his versatility allowed him to step in seamlessly at either guard or center in a pinch. However, in 2012, Boothe will round out a subpar starting unit.
It’s not like the Giants have many promising young options to develop either. They haven’t drafted a Pro Bowl-caliber offensive lineman since they took Snee in the second round (34th overall) of the 2004 NFL Draft.
In fact, of the seven linemen drafted since Snee, only three are currently on the roster. And the draftees that did make the team have only combined for 19 career starts (Beatty 16, Petrus three).
New York is in desperate need of an overhaul along the offensive line.
The Giants were able to overcome their woes and win a championship last year, but if the blocking struggles continue, 2012 will be a completely different story.