Eli Manning may have had his best statistical season in 2009, but less of Manning might mean more wins for the Giants in 2010.
Manning’s play, which included career-highs in yards, touchdowns and completion percentage, was hardly the reason for Big Blue’s 8-8 finish after a 5-0 start. In fact, had he not played so far above his means, the Giants’ season would’ve been a complete albatross. Offensive line coach Pat Flaherty plans on taking some air out of the ball and getting back to New York’s old-school mentality of establishing the running game first.
“We didn’t do as well in 2009 as other years but we’ll identify things,” Flaherty said after a recent OTA. “We take our share of the hits. We’ll start [the criticism] with our own guys.”
The aging offensive line, that once dominated the trenches was beaten down last season. The Giants ranked 17th in rushing last year after leading the NFL in 2008.
“Start fast, be physical, and let’s finish strong,” Flaherty said. “And whatever happens in between is going to take care of itself. We’ll find the five best guys to play [on the line]. That’s what we’ll do and what we have to do.”
Running backs coach, Jerald Ingram blames his unit as much as anyone else for putting so much on?Manning’s shoulders last season.
“To pinpoint it all, there were a lot of things that just didn’t click and gel,” said Ingram. “But they had [an offseason] to see and say, ‘hey that’s not us, but this year it has to be [more] on us.’ We didn’t do out part, either.”
Of course, a lot of defenses didn't allow them to do their part. It wasn't uncommon to see seven or eight men in the box, opening up the passing lanes for Manning.
“Sometimes you do what you have to do based on the situations of the game,” Ingram said. “There are a lot of factors involved. It’s not the players that matter necessarily but it’s how you’re playing.”
How his backs played, however, was not the ‘Giants way.’
The bruising tandem of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw failed to duplicate the success of 2008, particularly Jacobs who had career highs of 1,089 yards and 15 touchdowns – compared to his paltry ’09 (835 yards and 3.7 yards per carry). Bradshaw had a career year last season (778 yards and seven touchdowns) but wasn’t as effective down the stretch as he was when he was splitting number-two carries with Derrick Ward in 2008. When asked to carry more of the load, Bradshaw showed flashes early but seemed to tire down the stretch; perhaps because when he wasn’t playing on Sundays, he spent most of the week in walking boots. Such an imbalance was a main reason why the Giants failed miserably in short yardage situations.
Flaherty said competition from within will spur everyone, particularly his veteran line. And for his unit to regain its status as the backbone of the team, everyone should be on notice heading to training camp next month.
“Everybody does [feel pressure]," he said. “We have internal motivation to open holes for the running backs and keeping Eli clean.”
Keeping Manning clean was one area where the Giants failed, as he was sacked a career-high 30 times. According to some within the organization, though, ‘Father Time’ might’ve had as much a hand in the line’s deficiencies as anything else.
“I saw some inconsistencies last season,” Flaherty said, adding he didn’t want to say outright that his line got old. “I don’t ever want to say a player has gotten too old but you can still be a savvy guy out there. When things are equal you are going to go with the older guy because he’s seen more. But when it’s apparent an older guy can’t execute anymore, then maybe you start looking at the backups. That’s why you tell the subs to work to be a starter and let the chips fall where they may.”
The Giants won’t know if they’ve regained their aggressive edge until the pads start popping for real, so until then, Flaherty just hopes the sting of ’09 is as prevalent today as it was in January.
“I think they’re upset. Upset in how they finished as a team,” he said. “It’s a tight-knit group and they have a lot of pride. If you don’t come back with that intention of still being upset with how things were, I don’t know where your heart is. You don’t let that [embarrassment] go.”