Protecting QB key to NFL success

The New York Giants’ offensive line has done a solid job protecting Eli Manning all season. On Sunday night, it came up with one of its best performances to help put them in control of the NFC East.

The Miami Dolphins, on the other hand, continually saw their quarterbacks get sacked.

One day later, their coach did too.

The Giants were the only team not to allow a sack in Week 14 and finished second in the league with a 98.5 rating in the New York Life Protection Index, while Miami matched an ignominious franchise record by giving up nine of them to finish with a week-worst minus-36.3.

Oakland finished first with a 103.1 score, thanks mostly to a big early deficit against Green Bay, which was able to play more conservatively with leads of 31-0 going into halftime and 43-7 entering the fourth quarter.

The NYLPI is a proprietary formula created by STATS LLC which measures pass protection by using metrics such as length of passes, penalties by offensive linemen, sacks allowed and quarterback hurries and knockdowns.

New York, which ranks fifth for the season with a 75.7 NYLPI rating, ended a four-game losing streak with a 37-34 victory over Dallas, gaining the tiebreaker over the Cowboys for the division lead. They trailed by 12 points in the fourth quarter before Manning threw two touchdown passes in the final 3:14.

Manning finished 27 for 47 with 400 yards behind a line that has allowed 21 sacks this season, and his front five stepped up when he needed it most.

“It’s been awhile since we’ve had that winning feeling,” Manning said. “It’s good to have excited guys with a lot of smiles in the locker room.”

The Giants’ NYLPI rating was their best of the year, and the line play seems to be coming together just in time: The unit has allowed just two sacks in the last three games – the fewest in the NFL over that span.

Manning was hurried 11 times, but knocked down only twice.

“I don’t think it mattered how we did it, I think bottom line was about just getting a win,” center Kevin Boothe said. “We haven’t won in a long time and our opportunities are getting short. So, it didn’t matter who we were playing and how much we won by. We always would like to win by a lot more but just getting back in the win column and putting ourselves in the position to have an opportunity.

“That is what we play for – to have meaningful games in December, and here we are with everything in front of us. We just have to take advantage of it.”

While New York boosted its playoff chances, Miami’s already disappointing season took another hit just as it was showing signs of life, having won four of five – it’s lone loss being by just one point at Dallas on a last-second field goal.

On Sunday, however, it was a different story. The Dolphins watched Matt Moore and J.P. Losman go down nine times in the 26-10 loss to Philadelphia, dropping them to 4-9 and prompting the team to fire Tony Sparano on Monday.

The number of sacks equaled the franchise record, set Oct. 17, 1999, in a 31-30 win over New England.

“The results speak for themselves,” said owner Stephen Ross, who named assistant Todd Bowles interim coach. “We’re looking to becoming a winning organization, and I thought this was the best time to make the change and let us go in a direction that will allow us to become that.”

After a back injury in the first quarter to Pro Bowl tackle Jake Long, Miami’s line collapsed. The minus-36.3 score was by far the worst of any team in Week 14 – Chicago’s minus-3.8 was 31st – and was the second-worst of the season, behind only a minus-52.7 by San Francisco on Thanksgiving night.

Moore was sacked four times – the fifth time this season he’s been sacked at least that many times – before leaving the game with a slight concussion. Backup J.P. Losman didn’t fare much better, getting dropped five times, including once for a safety in the fourth quarter.

Not surprisingly, Miami’s signal-callers were knocked down a league-most 11 times while attempting to elude oncoming defenders throughout the day.

Moore’s status for next week’s contest against Buffalo is uncertain, while Losman – a former Bill – waits to find out if he’ll make his first start since Dec. 7, 2008.

“All the blame is squarely on our shoulders,” said guard Richie Incognito, who is part of a line that ranks 30th for the season with a 44.1 NYLPI rating. “We got Matt hurt. They’re a physical group. They just beat us one on one.”

The Packers were similarly dominant over the Raiders, just not in the area of quarterback pressure. Oakland’s offensive line allowed only one sack and didn’t commit a single false start or holding penalty, but Carson Palmer’s four interceptions and the team’s otherwise sloppy play wiped out the effort.

“I’m not going to let this team keep going backwards,” coach Hue Jackson said. “The last two weeks, we haven’t come close to playing or looking like the football team we’ve been.”

That statement can certainly be echoed by the Bears, who lost their third straight game – 13-10 in overtime to Denver – after finishing with a negative rating in the NYLPI for the second straight week. A week ago, they graded out at minus-2.7 in a 10-3 loss to Kansas City.

Caleb Hanie, making his third straight start in place of the injured Jay Cutler, was sacked four times and knocked down six overall, while the offensive line committed three false start penalties.

The Bears rank third in the league with 24 false starts this season and 25th with an overall NYLPI grade of 49.9.

“I hate to say it, but we gave this one to them,” Hanie said after Chicago blew a 10-0 fourth-quarter lead.

New Orleans continues to sit on top of the cumulative year-to-date index with a score of 86.2. The Saints finished fifth for the week at 83.0 following a 22-17 win at Tennessee.