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Offensive turnaround begins with O-Line

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – An oft-repeated phrase in the NFL is that a team will go as far as an offensive line can take it.

“I have said that and I do believe that, I think it all starts up front,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said today.

Does that mean the Giants’ 1-7 record is primarily the fault of the offensive line? Shurmur wouldn’t go there at his news conference today. But the team’s 20-13 loss yesterday to Washington confirmed the season-long opinion that the line hasn’t played as well as the team needs it to – and must perform better if the Giants are going to emerge from their bye with a chance improve in the second half of the season.

The Giants rushed for only 37 yards and averaged 2.6 yards an attempt. Eli Manning was sacked seven times, and the Redskins were credited with 10 quarterback hits.

In the months leading up to the 2018 season, the Giants made restructuring the line a top priority. Veteran free agents Nate Solder (left tackle) and Patrick Omameh (right guard) were signed, and left guard Will Hernandez was drafted on the second round. Ereck Flowers was moved to right tackle.

But the optimism surrounding the new line quickly dissipated. Center Jon Halapio fractured his ankle in Week 2. Flowers, a former first-round draft choice, was benched in favor of undrafted second-year pro Chad Wheeler, and ultimately released. Omameh lost his job as Spencer Pulley took over at center last week in Atlanta, and John Greco moved over to guard.

The new unit has yet to jell. In the season’s first half, the Giants averaged just 77.9 rushing yards a game, the NFL’s second-lowest figure.

“I think we’ve got to get the run game going,” Solder said. “There’s some other things we need to work at. If we could get that going, that would solve some other problems.”

Manning has been sacked 31 times – exactly as many times as he was in the 15 games he played in 2017. Only the Cleveland Browns have allowed more sacks (33). San Francisco’s quarterbacks have also absorbed 31 sacks; the Giants visit the 49ers two weeks from tonight.

“We’ve got to do a better job in all areas, including the front,” Shurmur said. “But … I think in order to do the things you want to do offensively, we have to block them well. All of our units need to play better.”

Manning is on pace to get sacked 62 times this season. The most he was sacked in his first 14 season was 39 in 2013.

“It’s tough, every sack has got its own story,” Manning said. “Some, it’s coverage, or some it’s on me not throwing it away. All of them really happen every once in a while. They just happen too frequently. We just got to find ways to be productive, whether you get the ball out quickly or more max protection, or just have a combination of the two, or move in the pocket. Just things to try to get us out of those situations, because sacks are drive killers. They make it tough, and the ones that aren’t sacks, you’re still able to move the pocket. We just got to find ways to be productive. We have playmakers. We got to get them the ball, and get it to them in a timely fashion, and let them make plays.

“(Yesterday), there was one I would say that was a coverage sack, it was a longer third down,” Shurmur said. “Aside from that, there’s a combination of things and the quarterback’s got the ball in his hands, the guys up front have to block. There’s always somewhat of a combination. Every once in a while a guy will just get steamrolled or beat, and the quarterback has no chance. But, (it’s) a mixture of things.”

*Wheeler left the game with an ankle injury and was replaced by Brian Mihalik, who was signed to the active roster on Oct. 9 and made his Giants debut.

“It’s the same ankle that (Wheeler) hurt earlier, so we’ll just have to see where it goes from there,” Shurmur said.

*The Giants have scored 80 points in the first three quarters combined, and 70 points in the fourth quarter.

“We’ve got to start sooner,” Shurmur said. “You don’t want to be shooting three-pointers at the buzzer. We’ve got to start sooner and get points on the board sooner. We had opportunities again last time, it’s not like we’re not getting down there. We are. We just aren’t getting it in for whatever reason, and the reasons are spread out. You can’t point to one thing. If we could have pointed to one thing, then that change would have been made a month ago.

“It all comes back to, when we run the ball down there, the runs got to go forward, not backward. We’ve got to be better in the run game there, and when we choose to throw it, we’ve got to get more out of those throws, whether it’s a third down throw that needs to go to the end zone, or a first or second down throw that may just move the chains, or also get in the end zone. We’ve got to get more out of it, and so that’s part of what we’ll look at (during the bye week).”

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