"It just made it impossible for our quarterback to function," offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said recently on Sirius XM NFL Radio, per Pro Football Talk. "(Manning)’s a guy where if you give him enough time, he’s always going to be throwing the ball to the right person, he’s going to know what you’re doing defensively, he’s going to see through your disguises, he’s going to be an accurate passer."
Indeed, that line gave up more pressure in 2013 than all but two other groups in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and it's been a while since we've seen the running game gain holes on a consistent basis.
|Most pressure allowed in 2013|
|1. Atlanta Falcons||264||71.0 (30th)|
|2. Arizona Cardinals||242||69.4 (32nd)|
|3. New York Giants||236||69.8 (31st)|
|4. Houston Texans||223||74.9 (27th)|
|5. Indianapolis Colts||220||74.0 (29th)|
|Pro Football Focus (PBE = pass blocking efficiency)|
The problem is you can't point to one spot.
Left tackle Will Beatty was a complete disaster, giving up a league-high 13 sacks while taking nine penalties in the first year of his five-year, $37.5 million contract.
|Most sacks allowed in the NFL, 2013|
|1. Will Beatty||Giants||13|
|2. Mitchell Schwartz||Browns||11|
|2. Tyson Clabo||Dolphins||11|
|2. Donald Penn||Bucs||11|
|2. Marcus Gilbert||Steelers||11|
|Pro Football Focus|
Justin Pugh was a rookie who unsurprisingly experienced growing pains and required plenty of help at the right tackle spot.
Regular left guard Kevin Boothe was forced to jump around the interior of the line due to injuries elsewhere. He struggled as a run-blocker, earning a PFF grade of minus-5.9, which ranked 55th at that position.
Right guard Chris Snee and center David Baas, who are a combined 63 years old and have begun to decline, missed all but six games combined.
As a result of those injuries to those two key players, the Giants used seven different starting O-line combinations in 16 games, according to ESPN's Dan Graziano, who also points out that Big Blue once went 38 straight games with the same starting five.
But regardless of who was subbing in—Jim Cordle, James Brewer, Dallas Reynolds, you name him—their problems weren't going away.
Now 33, Manning can't survive behind this line, even if Snee and Baas get healthy, Pugh gets better and Beatty gets back on track. He was sacked 39 times in 2013, blowing away his previous career high of 30 while also setting a new career high by being sacked on 6.6 percent of his dropbacks.
|Eli Manning most sack-filled seasons|
|Pro Football Reference|
Manning's window is closing, and I can't imagine Tom Coughlin, who at 67 is the NFL's oldest head coach, is going to be doing this much longer. Time is of the essence in what should be a high-priority quest to fix this line.
Here's a general idea of what the Giants should plan for the line to look like in September of 2014.
Left tackle: Branden Albert
The Giants could have as much as $30 million to spend in free agency. They aren't a team that usually makes big splashes on the open market, but remember what we said about time being of the essence.
Beatty is still pretty young and talented, and he's being paid too much money to dump, but he's too much of a liability on the blind side. He had some comically terrible games last season, so the goal should be to move him to right tackle.
The Kansas City Chiefs used the top pick of the 2013 draft on future left tackle Eric Fisher, so they'd be crazy to give the franchise tag or a long-term deal to Albert. It's rare that players as good as Albert, who is 29 years old and coming off a solid season, hit the open market. He'll be expensive, but if you're going to overpay somebody, it might as well be a franchise-caliber left tackle.
Backup options include Oakland's Jared Veldheer, who is only 26 and has quite a high upside, as well as Anthony Collins, who was superb as a swing tackle in Cincinnati and is more likely than Veldheer to hit the open market, per Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Inquirer.
Left guard: Kevin Boothe
Boothe is actually the only starter from 2013 that we believe should return to the same spot in 2014. He's not a stud by any means, but his poor play last year had a lot to do with how unsettled he was. He's only 30 years old, so there's gas left in his tank, and when he started all 16 games in this spot in 2012 he was graded by PFF as the 10th-best left guard in the game.
He isn't a star, but if the rest of the line can get its act together, Boothe would be a cheap, familiar and reliable option for Manning and whoever is taking handoffs.
Center: Travis Swanson
It'll cost a few million bucks to cut Baas, but it's time to move on. He missed 13 games in 2013 due to a knee injury, he was the league's worst pass-blocking center in 2012 (according to PFF) and he also missed five games in 2011. He'll turn 33 in September, so I can't see the guy bouncing back in a big way.
Rather than diving back into the free-agent pool, I think the Giants should look to use an early pick on a long-term starting option here. This era's Shaun O'Hara. It's not a highly prioritized position during the early rounds of the draft, which means diamonds can be found at any point.
The division-rival Dallas Cowboys are a good example. They were criticized heavily for using a late-first-round pick on Wisconsin center Travis Frederick in 2013, but he went out as a rookie and posted the league's highest PFF run-blocking grade while starting all 16 games.
We're going to suggest they draft Swanson out of Arkansas in the second round. He's considered by many, including Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, to be the top center in this draft class. And after starting all 38 games of his college career, he should be ready to start from the get-go at the next level. Florida State's Bryan Stork and Tyler Larsen from Utah State would be strong backup options.
That's not to say that they shouldn't sniff around the centers on the free-agent market, especially if the Cleveland Browns let durable 28-year-old Alex Mack shake free. Evan Dietrich-Smith is another intriguing possibility if he isn't retained by the Packers.
All of the above would be better than Baas.
Right guard: Justin Pugh
Again, Beatty goes to right tackle, which gives Pugh a chance to kick inside, where he might be a more natural fit anyway. It's not as though he was bad as a rookie, but he has the look and feel of a very successful guard.
He doesn't have an ideal wingspan and is versatile enough to move over. Plus, most draftniks had him pegged as a guard coming out of Syracuse.
If Beatty flops on the right side, at least you know you can slide Pugh over. It's a good situation to be in.
The key is that they end the Chris Snee era. I know that won't be easy, because Coughlin has a bad habit of hanging on to his veterans for too long, and Snee happens to be his son-in-law. But the guy turns 32 this week and was already beginning to decline before an elbow injury derailed his 2013 campaign. Time to let go.
Right tackle: Will Beatty
I can't put my finger on what happened to Beatty in 2013. The 2009 second-round pick is only 28 years old, but he fell on his face right after signing that fat contract. It didn't feel like he received a ton of help in 2012, and he was graded by PFF as the second-best offensive player on the team after surrendering only three sacks.
The Giants can't afford to gamble on the possibility that 2013 was an isolated down year for Beatty. They have to move him out of that left tackle spot and put him on notice at right tackle. If he can't hold up in a new position, Pugh has to replace him and the G-Men have to start coming to terms with the fact that signing Beatty to a long-term contract in the summer of 2013 might have been a mistake.