The New York Giants you see before you -- a team that has made it to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs -- are not the same New York Giants we watched for most of this season. Their enthusiasm and effectiveness bear little, if any, resemblance to that of the team that lost five of six games from mid-November to mid-December. What's the difference? Well, there are many. And each day this week, leading up to the playoff game Sunday in Green Bay, we'll take a look at a player or players who have helped turn these Giants from a mid-pack pretender to a Final Eight contender.
Today: OT David Diehl
Diehl has of course been on the team all year, but he played left guard for the first 10 games. When starting left tackle Will Beatty had to have eye surgery and miss the rest of the season, Diehl slid out to his old spot and has been the Giants' starting left tackle ever since, with Kevin Boothe or Mitch Petrus (when Boothe had to move to center in place of an injured David Baas) playing guard next to him.
The new alignment has worked out well, and has coincided especially with a major improvement in the Giants' running game. New York has averaged 33.4 more rush yards per game in its last six games than it did in its first 11. Whatever the reason -- whether Diehl has been energized by the move back to tackle, whether he's played better than Beatty has, whether Boothe is a starting-quality guard who just happened to be on the bench -- it's working. Offensive line play is about cohesiveness and communication, and the current combination is getting the job done better than the old one was with Diehl at guard and Beatty at tackle.
Pro Football Focus rated Diehl's performance as the third-best by a tackle on wild-card weekend, behind only Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth and Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert. It should be noted that PFF graded Diehl rather poorly over the final six games of the regular season -- only twice ranking him in the top 50 among tackles in a given week and topping out at 41st in the Week 13 loss to the Packers. But this is less about Diehl's individual performance than it is about the way the line has worked together.
"He's a pro's pro," Boothe said of his veteran teammate. "He's seen it all and done it all, at every position, basically, on the line. So it's easy to communicate with him in any situation. When you have somebody who's been in as many battles as Dave has and who works as hard as he does, it makes it easy."
This is one of the advantages the Giants feel they have over almost any other team in the league. They have veterans who have been in their locker room for a long time -- guys who have been champions and who can be trusted to set a cool, professional tone regardless of the circumstances. The Giants lost their starting left tackle in Week 12. That would have been a difficult thing for most teams to overcome. But the Giants were able to replace him with a guy who knows the position cold, and because of that they have been able to turn a potential negative into a major positive.