By Jason Keidel
With all due respect to Pat Riley, whose ticket to Springfield was stamped and laminated decades ago, many coaches could have watched Magic Johnson win world titles. Likewise, LeBron James doesn’t need a chalkboard to perform his wizardry. Don Mattingly went from scapegoat to savant in a month, simply because a behemoth hopped off a boat from Cuba and into a cinematic season, befitting his new, Hollywood climes.
It shows that no sport is more driven by the player-coach tandem than football’s QB and HC.
Ignoring the ignorant cackling from Twitter trolls, and other anonymous hacks sniping from the comfort of their cubicles or hiding behind handles in grandma’s basement, it’s obvious the Giants aren’t anemic under center or the headset.
Tom Coughlin didn’t forget how to coach in the two years since he won a Super Bowl. And Eli Manning didn’t forget how to play since he bagged two Super Bowl MVP awards.
If you told the most ardent Big Blue devotees that Coughlin and Manning, who were branded dumb and dumber their first season together, would win two Lombardi Trophies, they would have signed up in blood. But, as with most fanatics, the latest deeds always usurp the greatest deeds.
No matter how solid the sacred duet may be, however, football is still won in the trenches. Keeping with the endless, wartime metaphors, the aging, obdurate Coughlin is still a solid general, and Eli is a fine captain.
We can talk about the minus-13 turnover differential, surrendering 36 points per game, or scoring just 16 points per game. But those numbers were merely spawned by those who don’t run, pass, or punt the ball.
The Giants’ biggest problem is they can’t block or rush the quarterback, which leads to a startling statistic I heard this morning. The Giants, the blue hue of the black-and-blue NFC East, the womb of smashmouth football, haven’t drafted an offensive lineman in the first round in 13 years. That would be not since Luke Petitgout, in 1999.
The Giants started 16 different starting offensive lines last year, which is hardly the hallmark of a juggernaut. From above, it looks like just a bunch of cellulite colliding with bulky, panting, face-painted maniacs, grinding the grass into muck while the more intelligent and elegant players whiz downfield. But ask any great runner, catcher, or thrower to whom they owe their lives and livelihoods, and all will say it starts with line play.
And it shows. The Giants are 28th in sacks allowed, with 15. By contrast, Eli’s brother has been sacked just five times. Not coincidentally, Peyton’s Broncos are 5-0 and Eli’s Giants are 0-5.
And the Giants have sacked the quarterback just five times, which is 31st in the NFL, right before my beloved black & gold. Osi is gone; Tuck is old; and Jason Pierre-Paul has just a fraction of the traction he showed during his resplendent rookie season. Whether health or wealth has slowed him isn’t clear, but a whole bunch of Giants are playing for their jobs the rest of the year. And so far, age and wage and the stars haven’t been kind to the G-Men.
Jerry Reese definitely takes a hit for this plunge into the bowels of pro football, in the opaque world of finger pointing, feigned hubris, and weekly, bewildered looks at the dais every Sunday night. When asked about Eli’s latest cluster of interceptions, Coughlin just mumbled until he just blurted “unbelievable.”
Reese didn’t hire Coughlin, draft Manning, or many of the essential ballers who bagged two rings. Reese is an adroit football man. But the fact that his team can’t block has to fall on him, provided we all agree it’s a matter of talent, not technique.
Is it a coincidence that they can’t protect or pummel the QB and can’t win a game? Of course not. Nor is the alarming reality that they haven’t drafted a linebacker in the first round since Carl Banks. Carl Banks!
If the Giants keep this up they will be in line to draft another linebacker.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel
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