The Giants’ offensive line long ago started to resemble one of those B-movie classics, “The Incredible Shrinking Man.”
Would it were that only one man was involved, and not a whole unit. And now, with the Eagles and undisputed first place in the NFC East on tap for Sunday night, it appears that group is in danger of shrinking even more. Shawn Andrews, who started at left guard last week and handled DeMarcus Ware very well, missed his second day of practice with a back problem that cropped up Wednesday.
So now Tom Coughlin is faced with the prospect of having to play Will Beatty on the Eagles’ pass-rushing defensive end Trent Cole.
See? The Eagles present more worries than just Michael Vick. Though the defense is a more settled group than the rampaging, blitz-from-anywhere unit the late Jim Johnson led, it still has some pieces from that era. And Cole is the most ferocious one.
Keeping him from getting going will be paramount, not only to the health of Eli Manning, but to the overall welfare of the 6-3 Giants’ won-loss record. Cole’s team-high seven sacks and 21 hurries are a major reason behind the Eagles’ league-high 16 interceptions. It is because of his potential pass-rush pressure that the Eagles stand atop the league at plus-12 in takeaway differential, as opposed to the Giants’ minus-5.
Having Andrews out of there won’t help the cause. Though Beatty showed flashes in his fill-in roles last year, he only returned to the lineup last week after missing seven games because of surgery on a fractured right foot. The lost practices and experience don’t exactly inspire confidence in the second-year player.
“It doesn’t matter what my comfort level is,” offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. “That’s irrelevant. You have to play who is available to you, so the challenge before him and it’ll be his second week back and you’d like to think that a little bit of the rust has been chipped off.
“No matter who you’ve got over there on the left side, you’ve got a hellacious challenge with that defense end, he’s a terrific football player, he’s all out and never yielding and never slowing down, so you’d have your hands full if you’d been playing all season long, but it certainly, as every new player or every substitution makes it more difficult.”
Gilbride made it clear that there can be no tailoring of the gameplan to accommodate Beatty’s experience gap.
“You wish you could, but the problem is that they don’t let you because defensively, particularly this team, they use multiple personnel groupings and looks and the basis of what they do, to me, is to try to cause confusion,” Gilbride said. “So the challenge is not to allow that to happen and not to allow that to slow you down and you continue to perform with the efficiency and the coordination that you need in order to have a chance to win.
“In terms of what you do offensively, just by the nature of what they do, they limit you. Certainly, if it’s a guy that is less experienced or it’s a guy that maybe needs further assistance from either a tight end or a back or an additional lineman or what have you, that just compounds the matter.”
Coughlin would not rule out the 335-pound Andrews – yet. He still had hope that Andrews would return to practice Friday. But even if he doesn’t practice, Coughlin might still play him.
“Everybody needs to practice,” Coughlin said. “But the last part of it – ‘to play’ - we’ll see; we’ll see. He has had pretty much every practice since he has been here. I wouldn’t think it would necessarily rule him out if he didn’t practice.”
Tight end Kevin Boss also sat out practice after his bruised back stiffened up following Wednesday’s practice. So that becomes another situation to watch, especially in terms of offering blocking help for Andrews or Beatty. The challenge of blocking Cole is a major one, considering the Redskins just broke a three-game string in which Cole had four sacks. Then again, the Eagles didn’t really need him to sack Donovan McNabb, as the Redskins quarterback harmed his team much more with three interceptions once he sent the football airborne.
Regardless of who is in there, stopping Cole will be a tough task. The Giants would be much better off with David Diehl in there, but hip and hamstring injuries still haven’t allowed him to practice. On top of that, the Giants have lost C Shaun O’Hara (foot) and backup C Adam Koets (knee).
Things are getting awfully thin up front, at just the wrong time. And the coaching staff must be thinking wistfully about Wednesday, when all the media world wanted to talk about was Michael Vick.
The Eagles have a defense, too. And further losses up front won’t make it any easier for the Giants to keep it off Eli Manning.