Giants’ season could depend on whether they fix O-line issues

By Nick Shook
NFL.com
Read full post on NFL.com

The New York Giants were a favorite pick of many to win the NFC, but after two weeks, the offense is more clogged than Manhattan’s streets.

Odell Beckham wasn’t available to play in Week 1, turning the Giants‘ contest against the Dallas Cowboys into an immediate uphill battle. But even with Beckham in Week 2, New York couldn’t muster more than 10 points in a Monday Night Football loss to Detroit.

New York’s primary problem isn’t tough to identify. It’s been rather apparent since the beginning of the preseason: The Giants‘ offensive line has major issues.

Left tackle Ereck Flowers has been incredibly unreliable. Right guard John Jerry has shown more issues than usual. Most everyone has struggled at varying levels across the board. That’s the way it goes on the offensive line: When one or more isn’t up to par, it shows throughout the unit.

It’s easiest to identify a problem at the tackle position, because they’re the most vulnerable. They don’t have the protection of a tackle or center next to them like guards do, and they’re often matched up with edge rushers inserted strictly to beat them to the quarterback. So it’s understandable why the first finger has pointed toward Flowers.

But then, these things happen.

That, right there, is indefensible. Flowers pass drops on third-and-6, kicking back three times before engaging defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. The first problem, though, is that Flowers fails to reset before engaging. His leverage quickly shifts from left to right as Ansah angles inside, and as he shifts his lead foot, he gives up any bend he had in his knee. The result is a tackle standing almost straight up against a bull rush. A lineman loses that battle every single time.

Playing offensive line is as much about leverage and good feet as it is size. As is the general rule in football, the low man wins. It’s none truer than in the trenches. Flowers has zero leverage and takes Ansah’s rush in his chest, which is why you see a 315-pound man bounce backward close to five yards before being discarded by Ansah, who swallows up Manning for a sack.

Essentially, Flowers produced a great lesson on tape of what not to do in pass protection. What’s incredibly discouraging is about four minutes earlier, almost the exact same thing happened with another Flowers-Ansah matchup. In fact, the first time, Flowers had a semi-decent knee bend and was dominated by Ansah, who tossed him aside while wrapping up Manning. Flowers even gave the “darn it” hand slap to himself as Manning was being sacked. He knew he got beat. But for it to happen twice, on almost identical plays, is an issue greater than situation or matchup. Flowers has a leverage problem that might not be fixable.

It’s disappointing because on a separate play he showed great quickness to cover Manning’s backside against a late-appearing stunt. This is great awareness and movement to make this block below.

Of course, while we’re not just looking at sacks here (that would be lazy), we will say not all five sacks were on the offensive line. In the NFL, the internal clock of a quarterback maxes out right around three seconds. Anything later, it’s usually either time to bail out of the pocket, get rid of the ball, or is anticipated as part of a much longer fake.

Manning’s second sack of the night was a longer fake, a run fake on a dive and reverse, but even then, he had five full seconds to make a decision. He decided to take a sack.

Our own Shaun O’Hara made a great point this week in talking about how offensive lines can’t be expected to pass protect 40 times a game without being afforded opportunities to run block. It’s like forcing a dog to remain leashed while a raw steak is mere feet from its reach. You have to let the big guys get aggressive, or else risk a lack of surge.

That lack of surge was a problem from the outset, though. Below is a first quarter handoff to Paul Perkins that goes nowhere because almost the entire unit gets dominated by Detroit’s front seven. In order:

»  Tight end Evan Engram is blown off the ball

»  Left guard Justin Pugh is driven a yard deep into his own backfield

»  Right guard John Jerry dances but never blocks a soul

»  Wide receiver Roger Lewis gives a classic “lookout” block against a blitzing corner

Too often, this was the case. Later in the half, Orleans Darkwa took a zone stretch handoff left, and Pugh was again nearly two whole yards into his own backfield after attempting to reach-block a three technique who slanted inside. He maintained the block long enough for Darkwa to reach the edge, gaining a first down on the carry, but it was indicative of a line-wide problem. The unit as a whole struggles mightily to move its opponent even a yard off the ball. You won’t win many games when you can’t win this initial struggle.

Credit is also due to Detroit’s front seven, which even without Kerry Hyder is pretty darn effective. Haloti Ngata is a walking problem for opposing offenses, plugging gaps (he ate up two blockers, preventing Jerry from chipping to second level and jamming up the intended lane for no gain early in the first) and stunting with enough quickness to knock a tackle off course and force Jerry to pass his man off to protect the inside. The problem on that play: Jerry passed his man off to no one, because the tackle next to him was on the ground as a result of Ngata’s rush.

Another havoc wreaker for Detroit was defensive tackle Akeem Spence. The two create plenty of issues for opposing lines. New York provided the tutorial on what not to do against this group.

For the Giants to fix things, they’ll need to improve play at the guard position (especially right guard, where Jerry simply isn’t reliable anymore). They’ll also need to work on establishing an aggressive game plan, which will require more early running than coach Ben McAdoo might like. Something has to stir this line up to fire out and drive opponents off the ball, and then maintain blocks through the whistle. They’re doing none of that currently.

More importantly, they’ll need to either A) find a serviceable replacement for Flowers or B) locate an obscure motivational tactic that will bring something out of the tackle that he doesn’t have right now. Their season (and the health of Manning) might depend upon it.

Blocks of the Week

 

First up, we have the guys on the other sideline in Monday night’s affair. Ameer Abdullah rips off a nice gain here thanks to great blocks from guard T.J. Lang, who moves to second level and sustains a block on a linebacker, while tight ends Eric Ebron and Michael Roberts work in tandem to create an outer seal for Abdullah.

Next, it’s one of the prettier dual pulls you’ll see, and the cherry on top is a backside tackle working his big self 20 yards downfield to spring Jalen Richard for a 52-yard touchdown run. Credit Rodney HudsonKelechi Osemele and Jared Cook on the initial blocks, and Donald Penn with the capper. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better blocked run in football at any level.

Finally, we have Branden Oliver‘s 26-yard scamper, which accounted for the majority of the Chargers‘ otherwise nonexistent running game in Week 2. The credit goes to right tackle Joe Barksdale, who gives a shove to Charles Harris to encourage him to take himself out of the play (it worked), and then moves upfield quickly to seal off Kiko Alonso, creating plenty of space for Oliver to run.

See a block that you think deserves the spotlight? Submit your nominations with the hashtag #BlocksOfTheWeek and follow Nick Shook on Twitter @TheNickShook

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