For the second consecutive year the New York Giants have not only spent a high-round draft pick on an offensive lineman, but he has been an opening-day starter.
When Weston Richburg was drafted in the second round of the 2014 NFL Draft, he wasn't brought in to be a guard. A prototypical center, he was brought in to compete for the starting center job. There might be some debate as to whether or not he should be the starting center now, but the idea was that this year or next, Richburg would be the Giants' starting center.
However, preseason injuries to Geoff Schwartz and Brandon Mosley -- the starting left and right guards respectively -- have thrust Richburg into a starting role as the left guard. That also served to cement free agent J.D. Walton as the starting center.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Richburg and Walton have been the Giants two worst-graded offensive linemen by Pro Football Focus. Walton has graded out at -3.8 over two games while Richburg is currently at a -5.1.
While PFF does make a point of watching every single snap, their grades should also be considered a tool in the toolbox.
So with that in mind, let's take a look at some tape to see how the duo performed
Our first look at Richburg and Walton is in the running game, and it isn't a very flattering one for Richburg. The Giants are in their "11" personnel grouping, with three receivers, a tight end, and a running back. This is a simple run up the middle, and for the most part they have it blocked up well.
However, Richburg gets over-powered and pushed into the backfield before getting simply discarded. It's not all Richburg's fault. His technique is pretty sound, he just has the misfortune of going up against Calais Campbell, one of the best 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL. Campbell is simply too big and too powerful for Richburg to deal with on his own.
Walton initially helps with a double-team, however he moves on to block on the second level once it looks like Richburg and Campbell are locked up. Perhaps Walton could have held the double team a beat longer, but for the run to be successful, it needs those blocks at the second level, and Richburg has to keep Campbell blocked until the play is past them.
For our second running play, we have the Giants in a traditional "Power I" formation. Two backs -- Andre Williams at running back, Henry Hynoski at fullback -- lined up behind the quarterback and a tight end -- Daniel Fells, next to the right tackle. This play has the left guard, Richburg, pulling around the center to (in theory) help blow open a running lane and get the running back through the defensive front.
It doesn't quite work like that.
It looks like Richburg was supposed to block inside linebacker Larry Foote, however tight end Daniel Fells basically whiffs on the block of outside linebacker Sam Acho. Acho crashes inside and keeps Richburg and Hynoski from generating any movement up front.
Williams tries to cut back to the left, where Justin Pugh and John Jerry have the defense moving backward, but Walton can't hold his block long enough for Williams to make anything of the play.
This isn't really a bad play by either Richburg or Walton. However, when Fells misses the block Richburg looks a bit tentative hitting the line of scrimmage. That's to be expected, he's a rookie. However, in this case it definitely effects the play. I'm not going to ding Walton too hard for not being able to hold his block. He was matched up 1-on-1 on Arizona's massive and powerful nose tackle, Dan Williams. It would be a tall order for any offensive lineman to block him 1-on-1 in the running game.
If there's one thing the Giants have consistently failed to do since Tiki Barber retired, it is run screen plays. However, here they run a pretty nice one.
The Giants are backed way up, with 20 yards to go for a first down at the start of the play, but they manage to make most of it back, and get back on schedule.
First, let's look at Richburg. Once again he is matched up on Calais Campbell. But this time, Richburg gets the better of the match-up not once, but twice. First, he does a great job of blocking Campbell's initial rush. He probably couldn't have kept the block up for the 7-step drop the previous offense would have likely called for, but for a screen pass, it is plenty. Then, once Campbell recognizes the screen and disengages, Richburg shows some nice agility to turn, get ahead of him, and catch him with a cut block to take him out of the play. That's a NICE play by the rook.
As for Walton, this play doesn't go so well. Walton's job is to get out in space and take out the first defender on the outside. In this case it is free safety Rashad Johnson. I think these are the blocks offensive linemen LIVE for. Walton should be taking Johnson out to lunch at the Met Life House Of Pancakes. Instead, Walton kinda flops at Johnson's feet. This isn't the missed block that kept the Giants from turning a good play into a great one. That belongs to Rueben Randle at the top of the screen. If he blocks Antonio Cromartie, Jennings almost certainly would have picked up the first down, and it might have gone for much more.
This is an area where Richburg was actually pretty good in the first game. According to PFF, he didn't allow any pressure against the dangerous Lions front. But that definitely wasn't the case against the Arizona Cardinals.
Most of the Giants offensive line does a really nice job of blocking up the Cardinals rush. However, Calais Campbell simply runs right past Richburg for the sack and forced fumble.
While Richburg doesn't really get his hands up to block Campbell, Campbell also does an excellent job of using his reach advantage and first step to bat Richburg aside before he can even think of engaging and locking in a block.
The worst (and from a certain perspective, best) part of this play is Richburg's reaction. Rather than keeping his head on a swivel and diving on the loose ball, he expresses his frustration with himself. The Giants simply couldn't afford the turnover, but Richburg being angry over the play -- as well he should be -- is a good sign as long as he is willing to work and learn from it.
This time last year Justin Pugh looked like a bust. However, the Giants rode out his growing pains and were rewarded with one of the best young linemen in the NFL. With Geoff Schwartz out until Week 9 it looks like the Giants will be riding out Richburg's as well.
I've seen some call for Richburg to take over at center and for Walton to go to the bench, but I think that is premature. Part of the center's duties in McAdoo's offense is to call the protections. Walton seems to have a firm grasp on that part of the game, and hasn't been playing ALL that poorly.
Richburg, on the other hand, looks over-matched at guard. Does that mean I think he is a bust? Hellz no. If you could custom order an NFL center, I think it would look a lot like Weston Richburg. Does that mean we should go picket the Giants for playing him out of position? "Nope" on that one as well. Their hands were forced by some really untimely injuries.
He just isn't a guard, and at this point doesn't look to have an "NFL" strength base. In a year or two, Richburg should be a good starting center. The problem, is that RIGHT NOW, he leaves something to be desired as a starting guard.