HAVE GIANTS FINALLY FIXED THEIR OFFENSIVE LINE WOES?
EAST RUTHERFORD: Since the New York Football Giants won the Super Bowl following the 2011 season, Big Blue has recorded just one winning season that yielded just one playoff game that was a loss.
The G-Men have recorded just eight wins total over the last two regular seasons. There is plenty of blame to go around for that lack of success, but one area sticks out.
Last season quarterback Eli Manning was sacked 47 times. That does not include all the times he threw the ball away because of pressure. Not since that title team have the Giants fielded an offensive line that could get the job done consistently.
From left tackle to right tackle that championship starting offensive line included Will Beatty, David Diehl, David Baas, Chris Snee and Kareem McKenzie. Of this group, Snee stands a good chance to go to the NFL Hall of Fame. Beatty, McKensie and Deal could end up in the Giants Ring of Honor.
Last year, the Giants pass protection, at times, looked like a jail break. But this year there is promise that things will be better. It started in 2018 when the Giants signed free agent left tackle Nate Solder to a four-year, $62 million contract, $35 million guaranteed, making him the highest-paid offensive lineman in the league at the time.
The 6-foot-8, 320-pounder had helped the New England Patriots win two Super Bowls. Then in the same off season, Giants General Manager Dave Gettleman took massive guard Will Hernandez in the second round out of UTEP.
The center position looked solid at first last year with journeyman Jon Halapio. That was until he was injured and out for the season after game two. The middle of the line suffered for a few games until Spencer Pulley, who was claimed off waivers on September 18, took over the center spot for the final nine games of the season.
But the offensive line never fully stabilized and the Giants suffered through a five-win season. This training camp there is lively competition at center between Pulley and Halapio. Solder and Hernandez are showing improved chemistry on the left side of the line.
The biggest improvements this year on the line looks to be the acquisition of veterans Kevin Zeitler, a guard, and right tackle Mike Remmers. Zeitler is a former first round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2012 out of Wisconsin. He spent five years in Cincinnati before moving on to Cleveland for the past two seasons. Zeitler was the player the Giants received from the trade of All Pro wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to the Browns.
On May 11, 2019, Remmers signed a one-year deal worth $2.5 million. He had spent the last five years with the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings. Remmers played in Super Bowl 50 for the Panthers and helped the Vikings reach the NFC title game after the 2017 season, losing to eventual champions, the Philadelphia Eagles.
There are now two players on the starting five who played in Super Bowls and multiple conference championships. Giants offensive line coach Hal Hunter said recently that Remmers’ and Solder's experience could be a big help in getting the Giants back on track.
“It brings a professionalism, some confidence, guys that have been there before that you know the game is not too big for them,” Hunter said. “They bring along other guys that haven’t been there. If you haven’t been in playoff games, you don’t understand playoff football. It’s a different game. Guys that have been in that type of situation have a confidence, a savvy, they bring a wealth of knowledge, they just bring a lot to the room. It’s really important.”
Hunter was asked if it was even more important for a young, budding star like Hernandez to learn from Remmers and Solder. “Exactly, all of the sudden you have some guys who have hundreds of NFL snaps under their belts, thousands of NFL snaps under their belts” Hunter said. “It makes a huge difference.”
Zeitler, who is entering his eighth NFL season, echoed Hunter's thoughts.
“It’s big, they have been there,” the 6-4, 315 pounder said after a recent training camp interview. “They have gone far in the playoffs, they have that experience, they know those slight characteristics of the O-line that help them get that far. They know the feeling, and how to manage going that long, and that’s invaluable. When we get to that point, to have that information will be very good for us.”
Head coach Pat Shurmur said he is happy with what he has seen so far with the offensive line. He was particularly happy with Remmers and Zeitler and how the right side of the line has looked stable.
"It's been great so far,” Remmers told Footballstories recently. “We still have a handful of things we need to work on during our learning situations. That's why we're out here practicing, getting that chemistry, we're getting everything dialed in so when come in on Sundays, it will be like second nature to us. I think we're grooving pretty well now."
Is it making it a little easier to click, all these new guys, that no one is set in their ways?
"I can see that," Remmers said. "What's cool is we've got a lot of guys that have a lot of experience, some here, some with other teams. We're able to take some of those previous experiences and kind of mesh them all into what we are now. Certain plays, we may have done it differently here or there...we share those ideas and discus what we think is the best way to go about it for this season. So, I think it's been great. Guys have been able to share their experiences and help everyone learn and be the best line we can."
Pro Football Focus has the Eagles and Cowboys O-lines rated No. 1 and 2 respectively, the Giants line listed at No. 18. Does that matter to you guys? Would you like to see the unit rated higher?
"People are going to say what they are going to say," Remmers said. “They could have ranked us the best or the worst. it's not going to change our outlook on the season. It's not going to change our day-to-day grind out here. We're not really listening to that kind of stuff. We're just trying to be the best offensive line we can be."
But won't better stats lead to more wins?
"Yes, there are a lot of stats that...you get more of this, you get more wins,” Remmers said. “You get less of this; you get more wins. There are a lot of different stats that...as I'm playing, it's the last thing I'm worrying about. I'm thinking about what I have to do that play and do it as best I possibly can to help the guys around me make that pass or get the yards, or whatever it takes to win. I'm just trying to play my role each. The number will take care of themselves. I'm not worried about that."
Remmers was asked the delicate question on how he looks at the Giants quarterbacks Manning and first round pick Daniel Jones.
"They're both solid," Remmers said. "It's been really cool being in the huddle with Eli...I mean… it's Manning right there. It's a big deal, man...he has got a lot of experience. Daniel is obviously a young guy. He's learning a lot. I've been very impressed with him and how quick he's been able to come out here and learn. He's made some great throws."
Zeitler was asked about all the sacks the offensive line gave up in 2018 and how this line is dedicated to changing those terrible numbers.
“The way we look at it is last year is last year,” Zeitler said. “As an O-line, we know the things we need to do, everything we can to protect, and we need to do everything to run block. We’re going to have to take it this whole camp. We just got to keep getting better, keep running, keep learning our reaction times, levels, and all sorts of things. If we do our job, Eli will be able to do his job better, it’s just a simple fact right there.”
Note: Some stats from Pro Football Reference.
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii