Front office to blame for failing OL

There are plenty of people to blame when a team's descent is this sudden and complete. Where to start among a list that grows each Sunday? You have to start with the Giants' organization for putting together an offensive line that hasn't been good enough.

A lot of things would be different if the Giants had gotten more from their line. Kurt Warner would be still managing games effectively as the starting quarterback, for one thing. Warner's downfall began the day he started facing stifling pass pressure. The team's downfall followed.

Not that Warner gets a pass. He reacted poorly to the pressure. He hung onto the ball too long or fumbled or threw an interception or didn't see open receivers.

But he didn't start playing badly until the line gave way, beginning in the Chicago game on Nov. 7 at Giants Stadium. Warner wound up sacked seven times. He threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles. It was the day Tom Coughlin admitted he had considered removing Warner for Eli Manning. Coughlin made the change for good eight days later.

There are building blocks on the line. But the Giants need a stud left tackle so they can move Luke Petitgout to his more natural position on the right side. Guard Chris Snee and tackle David Diehl are young and talented. But Snee is a rookie and Diehl, in his second year, seems more comfortable at guard than at tackle.

The line itself must take a hit as well. Since training camp they have talked about being the poster children for the team's poor play. But they have done little to change the minds of critics.

Manning would help matters if he played better, of course. But he was tossed into the fire, head first, against Atlanta. Then he faced Philadelphia. Then he faced Washington, one of the league's best defenses despite entering the Giants game with a 3-8 record.

Who could have expected Manning to play much better? He wasn't surrounded by exceptional talent like Pittsburgh rookie Ben Roethlisberger. Manning joined the party with a struggling line and receivers either injured or ineffective. Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress were nowhere to be found.

Looking for others to blame? First look to injuries. Then look to the play of receivers. Look to Coughlin and offensive coordinator John Hufnagel.

You don't lose your two starting defensive ends (Michael Strahan, Keith Washington), one a six-time Pro Bowler and the team's best leader, and not pay a price. The Giants were 5-3 with a plus-nine turnover differential with Strahan and Washington in the lineup. Entering the Ravens game, they were 0-4 and a minus-three since the pair went down.

Add the loss of strong safety Gibril Wilson, out the past month with a burner, and the semi-regular absence of center Shaun O'Hara, who during a stretch missed four of six games with assorted injuries. Don't forget losing deep threat Tim Carter, who finally was showing his potential before a season-ending hip injury against Dallas in the fifth game.

Every team has injuries. But few teams lose their best defensive player and most important presence in the locker room. Few teams lose both starting defensive ends and several other key players for long stretches.

Amani Toomer remained in the lineup but has played hurt. Toomer and Ike Hilliard still had zero touchdown catches entering the final quarter of the season. They weren't exactly making it easy for Manning. Toomer has been affected by a lingering hamstring injury. Hilliard has had few chances. Tight end Jeremy Shockey, better lately, dropped too many passes the first half of the season.

So there are plenty of players to pinpoint in a season that went from marvelous to messy. And let's face it, Coughlin has failed to deliver on promises. He hasn't had any better luck with injuries than Jim Fassel did last year. Coughlin stuck by Ron Dayne too long early on. Coughlin's player relations have been – how should I put it? – spotty.

Hufnagel has had his share of head scratching play calls. Players have let their negative feelings about schemes known lately. For sure, the Redskins looked like they got their hands on a copy of the Giants' playbook.

But putting the team's offensive struggles on Hufnagel's lap alone is unfair. He was doing just fine when the Giants were 5-2. Truth be told, every team has signature plays that they use liberally.

Hufnagel deserves a share of the blame. But the team's problems run deeper than schemes. Much deeper. The Giants' slide is the result of a personnel problem, not a strategical problem.

Not Green's year: Can anything else happen to linebacker Barrett Green this season? Let's see: He's feuded with the head coach; complained to the union about being fined by the coach; been benched on defense for arriving late to work; battled injuries much of the season. ...

Then Green had to deal with a knee-crushing illegal block by Washington tight end Robert Royal.

DTs on spot: Three places Giants players don't want to see their name in the morning paper:


Police blotter.

The end of sentences with Coughlin saying, "And we have to get better play out of....''

Defensive tackles William Joseph and Fred Robbins were the recipients of Coughlin's critique leading up to the Ravens game. Robbins and Joseph can take some solace knowing they have ample company on the need-to-improve list.

Speaking of Joseph, he can celebrate all he wants after making a sack. But it never looks good in a game that your defense is getting its butt kicked up and down the field, as it was against Washington when Joseph did his look-at-me dance.

Fassel missed: Any notion the Giants would be better off with Jim Fassel running the show is pure silliness. We saw how Fassel's team responded to adversity. It finished 4-12.

But most writers sure miss Fassel's media-friendliness, an approach opposite to that of Coughlin. When Fassel, senior consultant with the Ravens, finished up a conference call with the New York media leading to the Baltimore game, one scribe said with a laugh, "We miss you coach. ...You don't know how much."

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