The Giants’ offensive line, a once-maligned and patchwork unit, has done a 180-degree turn since last season, and quarterback Eli Manning is reaping the rewards.
Manning has 12 touchdowns this year and has been sacked a shockingly low two times in his last six games.
“The team overall has played well, guys have gotten open, but the offensive line has blocked really well,” Manning said. “We’ve been put in good circumstances and made plays when we needed them. … We’ve made plays when we needed to, and I have a feeling that we’re going to have that same type of game.”
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The Cowboys’ 3-4 defense will put the Giants’ offense to the test, as they are solid across the board. Dallas ranks fourth in the NFL in total defense (379.7 yards a game), 15th against the run (126.4) and third against the pass (253.3). That was with linebacker Sean Lee in lineup. Lee, who was the team’s leading tackler (77, including 61 solo), was placed on injured reserve this week with a right big toe injury that required surgery. He will be replaced by Dan Connor, a five-year veteran who joined Dallas as a free agent this year, and has mostly been a career special-teamer.
Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin said as good as Lee was, he doesn’t expect a huge drop-off to Connor.
“You know, Connor is a good player.He’s played in this league [and] played in their scheme all year,” Coughlin said. “When they go to a three-linebacker scheme, he plays. He’s physical, a veteran, and good instinctively.Obviously, Sean Lee is their leading tackler, [but] Connor is a good player.”
Manning said despite Dallas’ lineup change, he thinks it “won’t change their philosophy that much,” adding Big Blue’s familiarity with their NFC East rival certainly helps.
What also helps the Giants’ offensive line is their depth, and the fact that they’re getting healthy at the right time. Former starter Diehl could start for just about any other team, yet he’s now plugged into the lineup as the “extra tight end” in “heavy packages,” but can also certainly fill in for either of the tackle and guard spots.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said he’s been very pleased with the offensive line play, and thinks that unit’s depth and skill will hold up against the vaunted Cowboys’ attack.
“[Diehl’s return] is encouraging [and] gives us tremendous depth. Little by little we’ll play it out where we can lean on him full time,” said Gilbride. “Right now, I like the way we’re playing. We have additional flexibility in both depth and what we call, ‘big tight end’ or ‘big regular personnel group.’ Those were personnel groupings that we didn’t have [without Diehl], and I think it’s obviously benefited us and has given us an advantage lately.”
Big Blue notes
»Bradshaw (foot) didn’t practice again on Thursday, a somewhat alarming event for the Giants, considering they were expecting him to get on the field. Bradshaw instead was seen working the stationary bike. Bradshaw used to only practice once a week, due to his ailing foot, but this week he hasn’t even gone once.
»Linebacker Jacquian Williams (knee) also didn’t practice, and looks doubtful to play on Sunday.
Not all was lost, as Baas (ankle), wideout Hakeem Nicks (foot/knee), safety Kenny Phillips (knee), defensive tackle Rocky Bernard (quadriceps) and tight end Travis Beckum (knee/PUP) all participated in position drills.
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.