EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Opposing defenses are not only having a tough time stopping Eli Manning this season, they are barely touching the New York Giants quarterback,
The two-time Super Bowl MVP has been sacked a league-low five times through the first six games of the season, and he's been hit only 11 times — total.
Even more impressive heading into Sunday's game against Washington (3-3) is this: The offensive line has not allowed Manning to be sacked in the last three games.
Manning can't explain the recent run, but he is not complaining.
"They're playing great," Manning said. "We're running the ball well, the pass protection has been good, and the receivers have been getting open.
"It's been pretty smooth, and hopefully, we keep it that way."
One of the rarest sights in the past three weeks came in the first quarter of New York's 26-3 win over San Francisco Sunday. Manning dropped back to pass and was drilled by linebacker Ahmad Brooks after letting the ball go. It would be the 49ers' only hit on him.
Backup quarterback David Carr, who got sacked an NFL-record 76 times in his rookie season with the expansion Houston Texans in 2002, said Manning helps his line keep him clean as much as any quarterback in the league. He studies opposing defenses, knows where the ball needs to go and makes them pay with big plays when they try to put too much pressure on him.
"The biggest thing that stands out about him, and it's hard to notice, (is) after he throws the ball," Carr said. "If he gets hit, he looks at the number: 'Who hit me?' It catalogues and registers in his brain. 'Where was that protection? Where were we weak a little bit? Maybe it's not that guys' fault. Where was that breakdown and how can I get rid of the ball faster?'"
The line — ever shuffling — deserves credit, as well. The interior hasn't changed with Kevin Boothe and Chris Snee at the guards and David Baas at center. But the tackles have changed since the Super Bowl. David Diehl, who started the season at left guard, finished at left tackle after Will Beatty was injured. Kareem McKenzie played the right side.
McKenzie was not re-signed in the offseason and Diehl switched from the left tackle to right. That allowed Beatty (eye), who started at left tackle for the first 10 games before being sidelined, to return on the left side.
However, the season did not open that way. Beatty was bothered by back spasms most of training camp and free-agent signee Sean Locklear started for him. Diehl injured his right meniscus in the second game and missed the next three games. That forced Locklear to move to right tackle, where he had played for almost all of his nine seasons, and for Beatty to play left tackle.
The lineup has gotten better with each week and one has to wonder whether Diehl will have a starting job now that he is healthy again.
"We've been playing together now for a little while," Boothe said. "I think last year, not having the offseason and a shorter preseason for those of us that signed contracts in August, I think it could make life difficult. It was kind of going uphill.
"But we got better as the season went on last year and I feel that's just been a growth from there to this year. We're all comfortable playing next to each other."
The tight ends and running backs have helped as well, particularly halfback Ahmad Bradshaw, who has picking up blitzes with the best of them.
"We work hard on to notice it before it happens and we take pride," Bradshaw said. "I love the contact, so I'm always willing to meet the linebackers in the hole and cut down the big guys, but we take pride in protecting Eli because he's a great quarterback and he can do a lot of things with great protection."
Manning's statistics reflect that. His 1,772 yards passing is second in the league behind New England's Tom Brady. He has thrown for 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
"I think it's a good combination," Snee said. "We have done a pretty good job of holding our blocks and he's done a good job of getting rid of the ball. The running backs and tight ends have done a good job of chipping, and that's a big part of everyone's pass protection these days. But I'm going to say the same thing I said when things were bad. We're not going to get too excited.
"We're just going to keep working."
The good news for the offensive linemen is that they get to practice every day against some of the league's top pass rushers — defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora.
"They're an outstanding team," Umenyiora said. "They play very well together and obviously they've practiced against some of the best defensive players in the game."
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