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Giants need patience with maturing offensive line

Justin Pugh of the Giants speaks to the

Justin Pugh of the Giants speaks to the media before practice during training camp at Quest Diagnostics Training Center on July 22, 2013 in East Rutherford, N.J. Credit: Mike Stobe

It wasn't easy. It wasn't fun. And for a long time it wasn't successful.

But the Cowboys visit MetLife Stadium Sunday night with what many consider the best offensive line in the NFL . . . and perhaps some inadvertent advice for their hosts.

As the Giants reconfigure their offensive line to compensate for not only the loss of Justin Pugh to an injury but some poor recent play, they need only look across the line of scrimmage to see a blueprint for how an offensive line should be rebuilt.

"It does take time to put those pieces back into place," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of overhauling the unit. "I think it's been a good thing for our organization to have that patience and try to build this thing in the right way."

The Cowboys made what Garrett called "hard decisions" when they parted ways with successful veterans such as Flozell Adams, Mark Colombo, Leonard Davis and Andre Gerard.

"That was a really good group together and they all really came in at the same time, and they were all kind of the same age," Garrett said. "They were making a lot of money at that point in their career."

It's similar to how the Giants started saying goodbye to their own stout linemen, a farewell that became complete with the retirement of Chris Snee.

What the Cowboys did was draft for the future. Even while Jerry Jones was hankering for Johnny Manziel and other big-name players, the Cowboys focused on the offensive front.

All five of their current starters are homegrown talents. Tyron Smith (2011), Travis Frederick (2013) and rookie Zack Martin (2014) were first-round picks, Doug Free was a fourth-rounder in 2007 and Ronald Leary was an undrafted player in 2012.

How much has it helped? The Cowboys are second in rushing yards (behind the Seahawks, who benefitted greatly from the 350 yards they pinned on the Giants) and have the league's top running back in DeMarco Murray (1,233 yards, seven TDs). Tony Romo has been sacked 18 times through 10 games; in his previous four full seasons, he averaged 35.25 sacks per year.

"I know we weren't very good for a few years there," Romo said. "We were trying to manage things to come up with to help that situation out, and you can only do so much. I think it has just been outstanding having these guys in front of me playing really good football and giving us a chance each week."

The Giants seem to be in that phase right now, the "not very good" part of the process. Saturday they waived Charles Brown, the veteran lineman who replaced Pugh last week.

(In another move, linebacker Justin Anderson was elevated from the practice squad for the second straight week and Jacquian Williams will miss another game with a concussion.)

They've had two young draft picks starting: Pugh was a first-rounder in 2013, Weston Richburg was a second-rounder this past spring. Both have had growing pains this season.

"He's playing hard, he's learning as he goes along," coach Tom Coughlin said of Richburg. "He's working every day. Every day is a new day and a new experience for him. He's done a good job and he's getting better."

They also have Will Beatty, who has been their most productive blocker this season -- which isn't saying much. He was a second-round pick in 2009. They added Geoff Schwartz in the offseason as a free agent, and he'll finally get to play Sunday night after missing the first 10 games with a dislocated toe.

The pieces are starting to come together. Now comes the hard part: Sticking to the plan. Weathering the lean times without abandoning the big picture and future possibilities.

"I think there is always that temptation," Garrett said of wanting to scrap the plan when things inevitably sour at first and to start bringing in veterans who are castoffs, over-the-hill, and probably overpriced.

The Cowboys didn't succumb to that temptation, though. And Sunday night against the Giants, they'll try to explain why.

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