The revamped offensive line was one of the major concerns for the New York Giants entering the 2015 season, especially after the unfortunate torn pectoral muscle suffered by Will Beatty during OTAs. There were questions, it seemed, about each of the players the Giants would be starting in front of quarterback Eli Manning.
Could rookie first-round pick Ereck Flowers do at least an adequate job at left tackle? Could Justin Pugh make a successful transition from right tackle to left guard? Was second-year man Weston Richburg ready to be a starting center? Could Geoff Schwartz, coming off a season wrecked by a toe injury and then a broken ankle, be the veteran anchor the Giants hoped for when they signed him in 2014? Could Marshall Newhouse hold down right tackle until Beatty returned without getting Manning killed?
Let's look at the work by the offensive line to date. First, we will look at the unit as a whole. Then, with the help of Offensive Line Scouting and Performance Consultant Duke Manyweather, we will look at the play of each individual.
The Giants' offensive line, as constructed, has been pretty much what we thought it would be through eight games. Really good, perhaps even elite, up the middle. Rough around the edges.
Pro Football Focus ranks the Giants' offensive line No. 15 overall at the season's halfway point. PFF grades the Giants 22nd in pass blocking and eighth in run blocking.
PFF's Khaled Elsayed had this to say:
Tackle has been where the team has struggled. The loss of Will Beatty has forced Ereck Flowers (39.3) into a spot he's not ready for, and [Marshall] Newhouse into one he'll never handle. The interior is a fine group, though.
Football Outsiders also sees the Giants' offensive line as middle of the pack, but arrives at its conclusion differently. FO rates the Giants 15th in the league in pass protection with an Adjusted Sack Rate of 5.6 percent. In run blocking, FO places the Giants 18th with an Adjusted Line Yards average of 3.76.
It's no secret that the Giants have used a quick rhythm passing attack this season. That is partially because that is the way their offense is now designed, and it is also partially to cover some of their difficulties in pass protection off the edges. That quick passing game and working around some of the deficiencies of their offensive line, however, doesn't make them any different than probably 75 percent of the teams in the league who are trying to accomplish the same thing.
In the run game, the Giants have obviously tried to take advantage of their strength on the interior. Per Football Outsiders, 65 percent of the Giants running plays have come behind the triumvirate of Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg and Geoff Schwartz. Only 10 percent have gone outside the tackles.
Now, let's look at the five players who have, the majority of the time, comprised the offensive line.
Ereck Flowers (LT)
PFF Grade: -12.8
Manyweather: "Continues to FLASH impressive physical tools & competes on every play. Clearly still has work that needs to be done in terms of cleaning up is pass protection, but he is heading in the right direction."
Yes, Beatty's injury forced Flowers to play a position that he really wasn't ready to handle at the NFL level. I am, however, going to agree with Alex here that "I don't care because sometimes, it's not as simple as adding up scores on each play."
Considering the enormity of the task Flowers was thrown into and the amount of work Flowers had to do -- and still has to do -- to become a technically proficient player, the young man has done as excellent job.
From Day 1 Flowers has shown professionalism, toughness, a tremendous work ethic and a desire to get better. He's gained respect by pushing through an ankle injury that had him playing on one healthy leg for a couple of weeks. He has shown the talent, albeit not consistently, that convinced the Giants to draft him No. 9 overall.
When Beatty returns to the lineup, perhaps as early as next week against the New England Patriots, it will be interesting to see if Flowers stays at left tackle or if he slides to the right side. Regardless, the view here is that Flowers has shown that he can develop into a quality left tackle.
Justin Pugh (LG)
PFF Grade: +12.1
Manyweather: "Pugh brings a chip on his shoulder that is evident on film, He will fight you if need be. At times he gets in trouble when he is over aggressive and throws technique out the window. Excited to see his [continued] growth at OG."
Does anyone still not understand why the Giants moved Pugh from right tackle to left guard? In his first two NFL seasons we saw that the 2013 first-round pick is an adequate right tackle. In the small sample size we have seen this year when Flowers was out with his ankle injury, we have seen that Pugh might be able to get by at left tackle. What Pugh has shown in his first year at guard, though, is that he is tremendous playing inside.
Playing Pugh and Weston Richburg, the two best linemen the Giants have, next to each other, is a brilliant move. Add Flowers to that young trio as he develops, and you have three players lined up side-by-side who could anchor the Giants' line for the next five or six years.
Weston Richburg (C)
PFF Grade: +8.8
Manyweather: "Richburg has been solid week in and week out. He is the best OL on the unit right now and is amongst the top centers in the league based on my film study."
The Giants drafted Richburg in the second round a year ago thinking that he could be their center of the future. Watching him play the position this season has to make you wish circumstances hadn't forced the Giants to play Richburg out of position at guard a season ago.
Richburg is playing at an incredibly high level, perhaps even a Pro Bowl one.
Geoff Schwartz (RG)
PFF Grade: +6.5
Manyweather: "Schwartz has been very good in the run-game (leads the OL in knockdown/Pancake blocks) but has struggled a bit in pass-protection when needing to re-direct which is to be expected coming off of that broken leg from last season, toughing it weekly at this point."
The Giants signed Schwartz to a big-money deal before the 2014 season, and between a toe injury and a broken ankle got less than six quarters of work for their money.
Schwartz, because of the broken ankle that ended his 2014 season, was a huge question mark entering 2015. He worked on a limited basis through most of training camp and the preseason, and in recent weeks has been limited in practice due to soreness in that previously broken ankle. It's pretty obvious that Schwartz is less than 100 percent, that the ankle is still troublesome. Yet, he has started every game and played, for the most part, effectively. He has surrendered five sacks, perhaps partially due to the ankle, but his run blocking has been excellent. Along with Pugh and Richburg he has given the Giants a solid interior.
Marshall Newhouse (RT)
PFF Grade: -20.8
Manyweather: "Newhouse has settled in at RT and has allowed a little continuity at that position. He does struggle at times in pass pro vs some of the better Edge players in the NFL."
OK, here we go. It's easy to criticize Newhouse. His PFF grade is obviously awful, and Elsayed does not spare the rod in ripping the journeyman tackle. You will notice, though, that Manyweather takes a different tack. As much as it's in vogue to rip on the Giants' fill-in tackle, I'm inclined to side with Manyweather.
Nobody expected Newhouse to be fantastic filling in for Beatty. He certainly has not been. He hasn't, however, been 2014 Charles Brown-level bad. And we haven't seen anyone embarrass him the way Osi Umenyiora embarrassed Winston Justice in that six-sack 2007 game. He has missed some blocks. Eli Manning has had to work around some pressure coming from whoever Newhouse was assigned to block.
Newhouse will almost certainly be bumped out of the lineup when Beatty is ready to return, perhaps as soon as Week 10 against the New England Patriots. Beatty's presence will be a welcome upgrade, but Newhouse has at least done enough not to force the Giants into a right tackle revolving door for the first half of the season.
A little video
Here, from Manyweather's Twtter account, are a few videos of the Giants' offensive line at work.