Giants' O-line deserves more credit for offensive success

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Daniel Jones await snap from center Billy Price
Daniel Jones await snap from center Billy Price

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Daniel Jones looked like a dynamic quarterback on Sunday in New Orleans. Jason Garrett suddenly looked like an aggressive play-caller, too. A once-stagnant, anemic Giants offense flashed some big-play capabilities. It was creative. It was productive. It was fun to watch.

It’s amazing how much better everything looks on offense when a team gets good blocking from their offensive line.

The Giants’ success really was more about that than any overnight growth from Jones or magical transformation in Garrett’s coaching. The much-maligned offensive line just came together and gave one of its finest performances in years. Jones had time in the pocket, which gave his receivers time to get open, and there were holes for Saquon Barkley to run through and terrific set-ups when they threw to him on screens.

As a result, Garrett didn’t have to call nothing but short, quick passes. He didn’t have to limit Jones’ options by calling for max protection every play. And Jones didn’t have to bail out of big plays by constantly checking down in a panic.

The line made it possible for the offense to work the way it’s supposed to work.

“Yeah, I don’t think anything we ran in the game was anything different, to be honest with you,” Garrett said on Thursday. “We had some opportunities to start with, the protection to hold the ball a little bit, and drive the ball down the field a little bit more than in the past.”

“All that stuff allows us to push it down the field a little bit more,” added quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski. “I just thought Sunday was a good day where it came together for us.”

It was, considering that Jones wasn’t sacked once despite dropping back to throw 40 times in the Giants’ 27-21 overtime win. This, of course, is what Giants GM Dave Gettleman has been telling everyone since the day he was hired back in December 2017. Yes, every offense needs a quarterback and playmakers. But without his beloved “Hog Mollies,” things just won’t work.

It’s ironic that this is the season where his line is starting to work, because the current line isn’t the one Gettleman thought he had built. Since the start of training camp, he’s lost two veteran linemen to retirement (Zach Fulton, Joe Looney), his starting left guard (Shane Lemieux) and center (Nick Gates) to injury, and then his replacement left guard (Ben Bredeson) to injury, too. Meanwhile the right tackle he took in the third round a year ago (Matt Peart) can’t beat out 33-year-old Nate Solder. And his current starting center (Billy Price) and left guard (Matt Skura) didn’t join the team until after camp.

In other words, it’s been a mad scramble with bargain-basement trades and picking up street free agents just to fill out the starting lineup. And they haven’t used the same lineup twice in the first four games. The current starting five – which could change if Thomas’ foot injury keeps him out on Sunday in Dallas – hasn’t even had all that much practice time together.

Yet somehow, remarkably, it works.

How?

“Good question,” said Giants offensive line coach Rob Sale. “I think it’s about the guys that you bring in. Are they made of the right stuff? That’s Part A of it, getting the right guys in here. They’ve been great in getting on the same page. There’s plenty of reps and opportunities in everything that we do to gel fast. You’ve got no choice.”

That’s true. And maybe it’s just a short-term miracle, and eventually this patchwork line will all fall apart. But it’s not like this is just a one-game overreaction either. Since halftime of the Giants’ loss in Washington in Week 2, Jones has been sacked just three times in the last 10 quarters. Actually, that three-sack first half in Washington is really looking like an aberration. The line has only allowed five sacks in the other 3 ½ games. And Jones has been hit just 21 times in four games overall.

Those aren’t great numbers, but they’re pretty good – especially for the Giants, given what’s happened the last few years. Granted, Jones gets some of the credit for that thanks to his ability to run. And it helps that Barkley is starting to look like the Barkley of old, putting the opposing pass rush a bit on its heels.

But the larger point is that it’s working. Despite two different centers and four different left guards in four games, this much-maligned line that has been a thorn in the Giants’ side for a decade is finally doing its job.

“(It’s) a real tribute to those guys individually (and) how hard they work every day,” Garrett said. “They’re real pros up front. There have been some moving parts up there, but their approach is outstanding. They work hard to develop that chemistry in a short period of time.”

None of the rest of the factors for the Giants’ mini-offensive revival should be dismissed. Jones really is looking better and better as the weeks go on, and now that Barkley is healthy he is the big-play threat that can change everything about a defensive scheme. And it’s a good bet that Garrett changed at least some of his approach in New Orleans after Joe Judge hinted that he wanted to see some changes made the week before.

But the reality is none of that would matter if Jones was running for his life, Barkley was running into walls, and Garrett was being forced to find ways to get the ball out his quarterback’s hand in less than two seconds before he was on the ground. Like Gettleman said on Day 1, it all starts up front.

The Giants are finally starting to see the good side of that philosophy now.