"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.
|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.
|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
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.
Pro Football Reference
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
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
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
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
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
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.