Eli Manning leads the NFL in interceptions. Credit: Getty Images
As fashionable it is to criticize Giants quarterback Eli Manning lately for all of the team’s woes, a deeper issue for the offense’s malaise could actually be right in front of him – literally.
The signal-caller’s league-high 25 interceptions have had a large hand in Big Blue’s tribulations, but it’s also no secret that the Giants’ offensive line has been in shambles this year, due to injuries, age and simply not being good enough.
The Giants (5-9) are working with their third center this season, with David Baas and Jim Cordle both on season-ending injured reserve (IR). Their starting right guard and elder statesman, Chris Snee, is also out for the year. The starting right tackle is a rookie, Justin Pugh – although he has played arguably the best of all the offensive linemen this year. And the starting left tackle, Will Beatty — who’s in charge of Manning’s all-important blindside – is a shell of himself as he’s admittedly feeling the pressure that his lucrative five-year/$38 million contract extension has brought him since he signed it this past offseason.
Making matters worse for the Giants is that they’re preparing for a Detroit Lions defensive front that is as physical, aggressive and talented as any in the league.
Head coach Tom Coughlin sounded leery when discussing what the Lions’ front will do to the shaky Giants’ offensive line.
“Their defense is 16th, but they’re first in third down defense [and] they’re first in the red zone. They have [defensive tackle Ndamukong] Suh and [defensive tackle Nick] Fairley and now [rookie defensive end Ezekiel] Ansah. Those are a few of the outstanding defensive players, particularly Suh. He’s a hard-nosed, tough, attacking the line of scrimmage kind of a player,” said Coughlin, who added he’d be disappointed if his offensive linemen weren’t up to the task. “I expect us to prepare well and go out there with the idea of competing and doing the best they possibly can. It’s about dependability and accountability and believing in each other. … You gotta have the passion and character to fight on and play as hard as you can.”
The Lions (7-7) are still very much alive in the NFC North race. And since it’s unlikely a Wild Card spot will come out of that division, this game takes on a whole new meaning for a Detroit team that is coming off a heartbreaking last-second loss on Monday night. The Lions need this win, will be inside their comfy confines of Ford Field and will be frothing at the chance to tear apart a wounded Giants’ team.
The Giants could be the sacrificial lamb on Sunday, and according to many critics in and outside their own walls, their offensive line is playing like it, too. The maligned unit will need to step up to the challenge of facing a frontline that has accrued 19 sacks – including a team-high seven from Ansah. Giants defensive end and co-captain Justin Tuck said he’d be more than willing to run some defensive scout team reps in order to give his offensive brethren a better look.
The two major knocks of the Giants’ offensive line are that they don’t exert enough force and impact at the point of attack on running plays and they are susceptible to a strong inside pass rush.
Detroit has good edge rushers and also gets very good interior push from their tackles, so Tuck is thinking that maybe he and a few of the starting defensive lineman can help their teammates prepare better.
“We can do a better job of giving them better looks in practice. Maybe I need to go play scout team and give them a look of what they’re going to see next week,’’ Tuck said. “I’m not as big as Suh, but I think I can get down in a three-technique [the inside shoulder of the guard] and rush pretty well. Maybe you’ll see some of our veteran guys go on the scout team and give our O-line better looks as far as what kind of competition they’re going to see next week.’’
Tuck was also eager to defend the offensive line when asked about their season-long struggles.
“You’re on our third center, they got a lot of guys out of position trying to make up for a lot of injuries and they’ve shuffled guys in and out, so obviously that takes away from chemistry” Tuck said, who then quickly added that despite all the adversity, guys simply need to play better. “We’re professional athletes [and] we got to play better. And if you ask any of those guys on the O-line, they’ll say the same thing.”
Big Blue notes ...
» The topic of dissension was still a hot-button issue for the Giants, especially when safety and co-captain Antrel Rolle is questioning the team’s collective heart – only to somewhat come off his stance in the following days. But when teammates are tweeting the contrary and other venerable leaders are telling a different story, it’s an issue that will continue to have legs. Defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka is one such veteran who acknowledged that tension was high following the Giants’ shutout loss to the Seahawks: “Absolutely there’s tension. We’re human. We’re a team. We consider ourselves like a family [and in] any family there are going to be issues that come up. It’s about how you deal with it. In the heat of the game, things need to be said if somebody’s not getting the job done. Somebody needs to step up and tell them what is going on so we can get out of that fight with a win. I have no problem with that. I think where it starts to get into trouble is where you get into things that are said — not behind somebody’s back -- but when the other person isn’t there, or [you] say something to somebody else about another player. That becomes an issue because that can get misconstrued and it takes a lot longer to get resolved. Whereas if you just go to somebody’s face, you can get it settled much faster.”
» Coughlin clarified his scathing postgame comments when the topic of effort came up: “I clarified that the next day [with the team]. It wasn’t so much about lack of effort, but rather the lack of execution. I just felt very bad for our team and for anyone who was interested and thought there were some things that we could’ve done better … we got their attention, but now they’ve got to go prove it.”
» The coach also took an affirmative stance on his quarterback: “No one person loses a football game. The first [culprit] is the head coach, so blame me. It’s not all his fault. … It takes a team to win and a team to lose. I feel bad for Eli to having to answer these questions of this nature. But it is understandable [the scrutiny for] the quarterback and head coach.”
» The Giants’ pre-practice injury report included: offensive linemen James Brewer (ankle) and David Diehl (knee), wideouts Jerrel Jernigan (knee) and Victor Cruz (concussion/knee), running back Peyton Hillis (concussion), defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (shin/quad), defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder), safety Cooper Taylor (hamstring) and cornerbacks Jermaine McBride (groin) and Terrell Thomas (knee/normal rest day). None of the aforementioned practiced.
» Coughlin joked about the lack of healthy bodies at practice and hopes to get some guys back for Thursday’s session: “Anybody who rolls through those doors, we’ll be happy to wrap our arms around.”
» The Giants made a couple of roster moves, most notably placing cornerback Corey Webster (ankle) on season-ending IR. Taking his place on the active 53-man roster is wideout Julian Talley. The former UMass star may actually get some significant playing time on Sunday if fellow former UMass star, Cruz, can't go. … Taking Talley’s spot on the practice squad is rookie running back Kendall Gaskins. The former Richmond back was once an undrafted free-agent on the Buffalo Bills’ May mini-camp roster.
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter@TBone8.