As we continue our series of position-by-position previews of the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants we turn our attention today to the team's offensive line. Despite the Super Bowl title, this is a unit that did not play particularly well last season, and one that will see some change this season.
The biggest change is that veteran right tackle Kareem McKenzie is gone. He will be replaced by David Diehl, who will move to yet another position on the line. Diehl started last season as the left guard, then moved to left tackle for the final sexi regular-season games and the playoffs when Will Beatty went down with a detached retina. Beatty is expected to resume his duties at left tackle this season. Kevin Boothe will open training camp as the starting left guard, where Diehl opened last season, and could be challenged by Mitch Petrus.
The Giants drafted a pair of lineman last April, taking guard Brandon Mosley in the fourth round and tackle Matt McCants in the sixth round. Last season's fourth-round choice, James Brewer, will be counted on if there are injuries at the tackle spots, as will veteran Sean Locklear, signed as a free agent during the offseason.
The key question is simple: Can this group play better than the 2011 offensive line did?
For some perspective, let's look at how bad the line was last season. The Giants were last in the league in rushing yards per game (89.2) and that was largely due to the line's inability to create running lanes. Football Outsiders ranked the Giants' line 29th in the league. FO said:
"It’s hard to pinpoint one or two Giants linemen who were responsible for the running problems. It seemed like on every play, a different lineman was pushed backwards, or missed his block, or seemed to be blocking the wrong player, thus leaving another lineman completely confused."
Pro Football Focus, which grades team and individual performance on a +/- scale, scored the Giants at -75.1 in run blocking for 2011, with only three teams scoring worse. PFF also ranked the Giants' line last in the league in pass-blocking efficiency, with its research revealing that in 627 dropbacks the line allowed quarterback Eli Manning to be pressured 220 times, an efficiency rating of only 72.6 percent.
Truly amazing that, under all that duress, Manning passed for 4,933 yards and had the best individual season of his career.
The Giants will largely hope that improved health in 2012 will lead to improved performance.
Beatty, a 2009 second-round draft choice, was in his first season as the starting left tackle last season and was doing a competent job before being injured. David Baas, signed as a free agent last offseason, missed five games with injuries and suffered from the lack of an offseason program. Right guard Chris Snee has a troublesome elbow that affected his performance.
The Giants will hope that Diehl, graded by Pro Football Focus, as the worst pass-blocking tackle in the league the past three seasons, is better suited to the right side.
New York will have a revamped backfield this season with Brandon Jacobs gone and first-round pick David Wilson in his place. The receiving corps will look different at both tight end and wide receiver. The Giants will need the line to play better to both keep Manning healthy and to give him time to sort out how to utilize the new weapons at his disposal.
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