Every year, it appears the New York Giants offensive line takes center stage.
Rightfully so. The key to any successful football team begins in the trenches. If the five guys up front aren’t winning their one-on-one battles, then it doesn’t matter who the skill players are that line up behind them.
As the Giants offensive line is yet again in the spotlight for its dreadful showing against Dallas Sunday night, here are a few thoughts about how things got to where they are today.
Too Much of a Good Thing
Love him or hate him, New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is brutally honest about his talent. That honesty includes knowing when the team has gotten everything possible out of a player, which is why you see Belichick not being afraid to let go of guys who to the outside world still appear to have value, but in reality, have either approached or surpass their NFL shelf life.
Because Belichick is so good at this, he knows exactly when to bring in talent to start rooming for the future. Yes, that might cost him a player or two he’d rather hang on to, but when was the last time you could honestly say that the Patriots have been short-handed on their roster?
The Giants have been the opposite. A look back at the last solid offensive line this team had (2007-2010) shows a group the coaching staff and front office tried to squeeze every last bit of juice from.
It wasn’t meant to be. Center Shaun O’Hara developed a foot problem in 2010 that ultimately led to his retirement. Chris Snee tried to fight through multiple injuries and surgeries only to have to retire as the Giants were starting their 2014 training camp.
Kareem McKenzie started to show signs of slowing down in the 2011 Super Bowl championship run. Rich Seubert and David Diehl, the latter whom many Giants fans wanted to run out of town on a rail, also saw their respective skills deteriorate.
Instead of preparing for the inevitable and ensuring they had replacements ready to step in to make the transition seamless, the Giants buried their heads in the sand—which leads me to my next thought…
It Starts with the Draft
The way for a team to sustain its dominance is to build though the draft. However, when you take obvious gambles that don’t work out, you can potentially set the franchise back years.
Before Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg, only one other drafted offensive lineman, Will Beatty (Round 2, 2009) has worked out in the Jerry Reese era. To date, Beatty is also the only drafted offensive lineman out of those drafted since Reese became the general manager in 2007 to get a second contract.
The foolowing table, with data via ProFootballReference,com, is what the Giants offensive line draft history looks like. (Games played/started is as of last week’s regular-season opener.)
|Player||Drafted||Games Played/Started for the Giants|
|C/G Adam Koets||R6-2007||12/4|
|OT Will Beatty||R2-2009||88/63|
|G/T James Brewer||R4-2011||26/8|
|G/T Brandon Mosley||R4-2012||22/1|
|G/T Matt McCants||R6-2012||0/0|
|G/T Justin Pugh||R1-2013||56/56|
|G/C Eric Herman||R7-2013||0/0|
|C Weston Richburg||R2-2014||48/47|
|T Ereck Flowers||R1-2015||32/32|
|G/T Bobby Hart||R7-2015||24/15|
|G/T Adam Bisnowaty||R6-2017||0/0|
|G/C Mitch Petrus||R5-2010||23/3|
Because many of these draft picks never panned out, the Giants had to resort to adding depth through free agency.
You might remember (or maybe not) players such as David Baas, J.T. Walton, Geoff Schwartz, Marshall Newhouse and John Jerry signing notable free agency deals that, by the way, ate up precious cap dollars.
Baas and Schwartz dealt with injuries that derailed their respective Giants stints. But even so, those two along with Walton all left the Giants with dead money when they were cut, which had a ripple effect on what the Giants might have been able to do the following year.
Then you have instances where some of the draft picks never made it out of training camp—see Eric Herman, Matt McCants and, more recently, Adam Bisnowaty. When you trade resources to get one of those guys who doesn’t make it out of training camp (Bisnowaty), then the whiff of that swing-and-miss can be felt five states over.
Square Pegs into Round Holes
Now that we have the crux of the issue, let’s look at another problem that has plagued the Giants offensive line: playing guys out of position.
Recent examples include Justin Pugh, who started his pro career as a right tackle before finding a home at left guard.
Weston Richburg had to step in at left guard because of an injury to Schwartz, and while he gave it a good go, it was clear to anyone who watched that Richburg was never comfortable at guard.
Ereck Flowers? He’s showing more and more that he’s probably a better fit for guard than at left tackle.
Hart? There are still some who believe he’s a better fit for guard as well.
Coaches preach all the time about being versatile, but the reality is that it’s rare to find someone who can play anywhere on the line at a high level.
Taking that a step further, the Giants have shown that they like to put their offensive linemen on the move. Other than Pugh, who is athletic enough to make it look easy, who else on the current roster has that kind of athleticism to make it work?
We saw Flowers, Hart and Jerry try it with mixed results. If the talent doesn’t match what the coach needs, then an adjustment in the philosophy or scheme needs to be considered.
Before moving on to the next point, chew on this fact. The Giants best offensive line free-agent signings in terms of production in the Reese era have been the two guys that, over the last two years, Giants fans wanted to punt into the next state: Marshall Newhouse, now with Oakland, and John Jerry.
The “Odd Couples”
Quarterback Eli Manning always has and always will be a classic pocket passers. He is not Aaron Rodgers and is not the type who moves around in the pocket, though lately he has had no choice.
Given the limitations of his offensive line, the quarterback and the current offensive line configuration are not a match. If Manning were more mobile, maybe the Giants could get away with what they have. But that is not the case, and with each hit Manning takes because of a breakdown in protection, you can’t help but to cringe.
The same can be said about the Giants running game and the offensive line: they’re not an ideal match for one another. The Giants haven’t really had a guy who can bounce runs to the outside since Ahmad Bradshaw.
Even to this day, at least so far, the strength of the running game is to bang the ball between the tackles–except the Giants run blocking between the tackles continues to be inconsistent.
Going back to my point about the draft, you wonder if perhaps the Giants had taken the Patriots approach and had taken fewer gambles with “athletes” posing as football players, would they have already put a fifth Lombardi trophy in the case by now.
The Beckham Effect
Odell Beckham Jr. is a one-of-kind talent who in this West Coast offense that Ben McAdoo brought with him from Green Bay, is a perfect fit. There is a reason Beckham is Manning’s favorite target: No one can do what Beckham is able to do, which includes the ability to take a short pass and turn it into a big gain.
The short passing game should theoretically benefit a team whose offensive linemen can’t get guys blocked up front to allow the quarterback to scan the field and take deep shots.
Without Beckham in the lineup, the Giants really didn’t have anyone in the passing game who has shown himself capable of generating similar results. And that’s scary because when you rely so heavily on one guy and that one guy suddenly isn’t there to mask the deeper problems, it usually isn’t very pretty.
Can Beckham help the offense? Absolutely. But if the other shiny new toys aren’t deployed as well int he passing game–I’m talking running routes and not having to stay in to block as tight end Evan Engram was for most of last week’s game–then hello Cover-2.
So Where Do They Go from Here?
Sadly, the options are very limited for many reasons. First, the Giants had eight months to fix this issue. Instead of being proactive, they hung their hat on the improvement of Hart and Flowers and the continuity of the line. If they’re looking to fix this problem now, well, that’s like a physics student who blew off class all year showing up to take the final exam without having done a lick of homework.
They are also locked in with Flowers at left tackle for better or for worse because, as I’ve noted many times before, they must decide on his option year after this season. Because he’s a top-10 draft pick, Flowers’ option year, if picked up by the Giants, would pay the average of the-10 highest salaries at his position.
They probably don’t want to move Pugh to tackle because guard is his best position. They could try Brett Jones at right guard and kick John Jerry to tackle, but with the offensive line, the fewer moves you have to make, the better, plus Jones seems more at home at center, where he excelled in the CFL.
Is D.J. Fluker ready? Other than for a handful of snaps, he didn’t work with the starting unit; in fact, it was rather telling that when Jerry was pulled out of a preseason games, Jones went in ahead of Fluker.
Make a trade? Very unlikely that happens. First, Joe Staley and Joe Thomas, the two guys Giants fans clamor for the most, are not on the market. Even if they were, Staley has an $8.25 million base salary this year and Thomas a $8.8 million base. when a player is traded, the acquiring team takes on the base salary and any applicable bonuses.
The Giants, who per NFLPA records, have $10,218,239 in cap space, money they no doubt want to use for in-season emergencies and to roll over into 2018 when they need to address the contracts of Pugh, Richburg and possibly Beckham.
Branden Albert? Unlikely. This is a guy who retired and then unretired, only to be shown the door by the Jaguars.
Further complicating matters now is the ankle injury suffered by Hart. If that injury keeps him out of action for any length of time, then things have the potential of getting worse as far as scrambling for depth and configuring a line.
The only likely solution at this point is for the coaches to come up with a way to scheme around the offensive line’s shortcomings to protect the quarterback, even if it means not being able to run a full-blown offensive attack using all their shiny new toys.