No one likes excuses, but everyone's always looking for explanations. I think we can safely throw the fact that the New York Giants had to play Sunday's game with three backup interior offensive linemen into the latter category.
Starting left guard Justin Pugh (concussion) and starting center Weston Richburg (high ankle sprain) didn't even make the trip to Washington. And starting right guard Geoff Schwartz (who actually started at left guard in this game) fractured his ankle during the fourth quarter. That meant Eli Manning was playing quarterback behind a line that featured Dallas Reynolds at center and John Jerry and rookie Bobby Hart at the guard spots. Manning would never admit it was an issue, but it obviously is.
"Everybody is aware of who's on the field, but has it affected his play?" Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Monday. "Maybe, to speed up and not have an opportunity to see the entire pattern the way you normally would. But I did like the way he came back battling in the fourth quarter."
No doubt, but anyone who's watched Manning's career could tell you he gets jittery when he doesn't trust his protection. And no offense to Reynolds, Jerry and Hart, but it's human nature to wonder about whether you can trust the backups the way you trust the starters. The Giants' offense could not get in rhythm in the first half of Sunday's game. Manning threw a season-high three interceptions. The Giants didn't score until the fourth quarter. It was ugly, and Manning's comfort level was a big part of it.
The bad news is that things aren't going to get any better any time soon. Coughlin said Monday he was "sure" Schwartz would be placed on season-ending injured reserve due to his injury. That's a terrible break for Schwartz, who initially injured his ankle exactly one year ago Monday and said Sunday that the plate he had inserted last year actually caused his latest fracture. But at least from a replacement standpoint, the Giants are comfortable playing Jerry in Schwartz's place.
The problem grows exponentially worse when the Giants are forced to dig deeper into their bench. Reynolds has had some issues with snaps in the past two games and doesn't possess Richburg's strength or athleticism at the center position. And Hart is a completely untested seventh-round rookie who's been inactive for almost every game this season and surely isn't ready to handle a full-time role. If Richburg and Pugh have to miss additional time, the Giants likely would look to add a player from their practice squad or from outside the organization who's more ready to play than Hart is.
Coughlin said Monday he had no idea whether to expect Richburg or Pugh back for next Sunday's game against the Jets.
"I'm hoping that's going to be the case, at least with one of them, but I don't have any evidence of that just yet," Coughlin said. "With Pugh, I'm going to have to wait, obviously, for the protocol to be completed and for some successful rendering of the various examinations. With Richburg, it's going to be, 'How much improvement is there?' He tried it once, it wasn't very good, so we did the best we could to keep him off his feet. So I'm hoping that helped, but we'll see."
It's that time of year when everybody's dealing with injuries. Unfortunately for the Giants, theirs are striking at the heart of a vital unit that's key to their ability to operate their offense. This is a problem that's not going away any time soon.