Line protects Warner, paves way for Barber

10/10/2004 - New York Giants

IRVING, Texas -- Sometimes the statistics do lie.

Take the case of the New York Giants offensive line, for instance, that alleged motley crew of a blocking unit, and a group that has surrendered 16 sacks through the first five games of the 2004 season.

At the current pace, the Giants would allow 51 sacks, or seven more than a year ago, when the New York blockers were about as maligned an assemblage as any in the league. In truth, however, the New York line, expected to be every bit as miserable as in 2003, when injuries ravaged the group, has arguably been among the most pleasant surprises of the first month of the season.

No easy feat, especially when one considers that the line has just one player, left tackle Luke Petitgout, starting in the same spot that he played a year ago. And three starters -- left guard Jason Whittle, center Shaun O'Hara and rookie right guard Chris Snee -- who weren't even with the franchise in 2003.

The one common denominator, besides the lack of familiarity which marked the linemen when training camp commenced nearly three months ago: A chip on everyone's shoulder, albeit for a lot of different reasons, according to O'Hara.

"Even though most of us weren't here last year," said O'Hara, "you still get a little tired of hearing all the (criticism). There's a kind of guilt by association, even if you weren't a part of the association, you know? So, yeah, you feel like a target. The guys who were here, they're forced to hear about last year. The guys who weren't, you inherit the stuff that went on before you got here. It makes you a little bit hungrier to play well and to shut up the (detractors). I think we're doing that. We're playing pretty well."

Better, even, than a cursory glance would indicate.

The Giants line has carved out enough holes for tailback Tiki Barber to have entered the key divisional matchup here against the Cowboys as the NFL's second-leading rusher. And despite the high number of sacks surrendered, quarterback Kurt Warner has not yet been subjected to the kind of battering he suffered the past couple seasons.

Warner is unloading the ball quicker, not throwing deep with the frequency he did during his tenure in St. Louis, absorbing sacks when it is prudent. But for the most part, Warner acknowledged on Sunday evening, the line has performed admirably.

Said Warner: "You can see them growing together. They get a lot of reinforcement. You can see, for example, how we keep running the football, even if the run isn't as productive as you want early in the game. That's a reflection that we believe this line is going to start beating on people and dominating the line of scrimmage."

If the Giants blockers weren't quite dominating here Sunday, they were effective, and got considerable help from the wide receivers on two big plays, both authored by Barber. On the tailback's 58-yard run, when he bounced far outside to the left after being seemingly throttled in the hole, wideout Ike Hilliard got a key down-field block. And fellow wideout Amani Toomer got a big block on Barber's fourth-quarter reception for 55 yards, a play that set up the game-clinching touchdown.

For the most part, however, it was the diligence of the dramatically reshaped offensive line that led the way.

In the offseason, the Giants signed O'Hara and another former Cleveland starter, Barry Stokes, along with Marques Sullivan and Brandon Winey as free agents. Stokes is on the injured reserve list. The team chose Snee, son-in-law of coach Tom Coughlin, in the second round. A week before the start of the season, Whittle was acquired in a trade with the Tampa Bay Bucs. Last year's starting right guard, second-year veteran David Diehl, moved outside to right tackle.

"I'm sure there were a lot of people thinking, 'Oh, no, here we go again.' But we were determined that we could pull this thing together," said Diehl.

And, despite numbers that suggest the contrary, the group has galvanized pretty nicely.

"We're kind of in this together, we know it, and there's a collective (resolve) there," said Whittle. "People outside this (locker) room, they can think what they want, OK? We still have a long way to go, a lot of things we can do better, but the guys around here certainly respect the job we're doing."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.