The New York Giants suffered their second straight tough loss on a late field goal this past Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. At 0-4, there is still a prayer of a sliver of hope for their play-off chances, but in all likelihood, their season is over except for the last twelve games.
However, there might be a silver lining to the dark cloud. The Giants, who are still looking for answers on their offensive line, finally got guard D.J. Fluker on the field in a game situation.
Fluker was added in the “second wave” of free agency this year, after the Los Angeles Chargers opted to not pick up the fifth year option on his rookie contract. The Giants were (reportedly) very high on Fluker in the 2013 draft, and seized upon their chance to pick him up. He only signed a one-year “prove it” deal, but has been stuck behind John Jerry at right guard until now.
How did he do in his first start as a Giant?
Let’s go to the film and find out.
Play - 1
For our first play the Giants are backed up on their own 11-yard line and in their base offensive set.
Fluker (RG, number 76) is matched up on Gerald McCoy, who is lined up as the 3-technique on the defensive left. McCoy gets a good jump off the snap, and tried for a swim move through the right A-gap. However, Fluker is able to use his long arms and power to slam the door in McCoy's face, blunting the rush. He then passes McCoy off to Richburg and Jerry, who were double-teaming the other defensive tackle.
McCoy gets late pressure when Jerry is almost unable to get off the double team to pick him up, but by that time Eli found Sterling Shepard for the 11-yard gain.
Play - 2
When Ed and I were discussing potential subjects for this post, we quickly agreed that it had to be Fluker. However, I also wanted to bring Wayne Gallman into the discussion, since it was the rookie’s first NFL action. Therefore my play selection from here on out will have him in the backfield. I also wanted to highlight the young man’s first touchdown (on his birthday, no less). Hopefully the first of many.
But on to the play itself.
The Giants are on the Buccaneers 4-yard line on second down, after Gallman failed to gain a yard on a first-down run. The Giants stay in their base “11” personnel, but throw an interesting twist at the defense:
The Giants have three receivers to the offensive right: Sterling Shepard in what is, effectively, the “Y” or tight end position, Odell Beckham Jr. in the slot, and Brandon Marshall at the “X” position at the top of the screen.
At the bottom of the screen, tight end Evan Engram is lined up in the Flanker (“Z”) wide receiver position.
At the line of scrimmage, Fluker is once again matched up on former Giant Robert Ayers, who is playing the 2i-technique off the guard’s inside shoulder. Gerald McCoy is playing the 3-technique across from John Jerry. Instead of just rushing straight upfield, the two tackles run a twist in the middle. McCoy rushes hard to his left, attacking the right A-gap, while Ayers rushes the left B-gap.
Jerry helps to move McCoy over to the A-gap, where he is double-teamed by Richburg and Fluker. He can’t quite get back into position to get a block on Ayers, but by then Gallman is running his wheel route and Eli is about to throw the touchdown pass.
Fluker and Richburg do a great job of handling McCoy, with the big guard sinking his hips and using his advantage in size and length to keep McCoy from getting anywhere close to penetrating the pocket.
A solid rep by Fluker, and a “Happy Birthdy” to Gallman.
Play - 3
On to the strength of Fluker’s game — that is, using his strength to bully defenders in the run game.
This “pin and pull” run to the right is a play the Giants used a couple times this game, and tended to have success with it. The concept is fairly simple. The right side of the line (right guard, right tackle, and tight end) get the defense flowing toward the center of the field. Meanwhile the left guard pulls around to make sure they have a numerical advantage on that side and finish off any defenders that might be in the hole.
That is (almost) exactly what happens.
Engram, as an in-line tight end, has the defensive end Noah Spence, and he does a decent job of getting him moving inside. Engram holds Spence up long enough for Jerry to pull around and get between Spence and Gallman, while also preventing LB Kendell Beckwith from having a clean shot at the running back. It isn’t perfect, and Spence is still able to make a lunge at Gallman, and Jerry doesn’t pancake Beckwith (like you’d hope from a pulling guard on a linebacker), but it’s enough. Gallman shows good patience in waiting for his blocks to develop, but no hesitation to explode through the hole. That’s enough to upset Spence’s timing and get through to the second level.
Fluker and Justin Pugh have the double-team on McCoy (once again the 3-tech). It is their job to prevent him from getting any kind of penetration — which would upset the timing of the pulling guard, impact the running lane, and basically blow up the play. They perform their job admirably, not only keeping McCoy out of the backfield, but driving him back a solid five yards.
Once into the secondary, any defenders are Gallman’s duty. He gets a good, tight hold on the ball and runs squarely behind his pads. He doesn’t quite have the speed to break CB Brent Grimes’ and S Justin Evans’ angles and get a breakaway run, but he is able to finish the run and pick up a 13-yard gain.
Play - 4
Finally we have some straight ahead, inside zone, power football from the Giants.
They are in a “12” personnel package, with Rhett Ellison and Jerell Adams lined up inline, with Ellison on the left, Adams on the right.
By this point in the game, Weston Richburg is out of the game with a concussion, and Brett Jones is the center. He and Fluker get the double team on the 1-technique to open the initial hole. Once the hole is initially opened Fluker works up off the double team to the second level, where he blocks the middle linebacker, who is coming up to make the tackle in the hole. The big guard gets good position on the linebacker, pushing him well out of the play, giving him a little shove as the play ends. That last isn’t integral to the play — it’s just an insight into Fluker’s mindset.
The play could have gone for more than seven yards, but Jones isn’t quite able to hold up his block and the defensive tackle is able to make a play on Gallman as he runs by. The rookie running back shows off his determined running style and manages to pick up another four, or so, yards after contact.
Perhaps this play goes for more if Richburg is in the game and able to sustain that block for a second (even half a second) longer. It perhaps might have even gone for a big gain if the receiver (Beckham, I think) makes the block in the secondary.
But as it is, the Gallman made a good, tough, seven yard gain following Fluker.
Fluker isn’t Zack Martin. Nor is he Marshal Yonda, Gabe Jackson, or even Rich Seubert.
But, as Ben McAdoo said after the game: He did some good things at right guard.
The Giants have struggled to run the ball, but their three biggest runs all came behind Fluker. The first was a 14-yard run by Paul Perkins. The second was Eli Manning's 14-yard touchdown run, and the final one was Wayne Gallman's 13-yard run.
He also held up reasonably well in pass protection. In what feels like a first for this year, the right guard and right tackle picked up and neutralized a tackle/end stunt, creating time for Manning to throw a 10-yard strike to Brandon Marshall.
I have to note this from Pro Football Focus, who chose to highlight Fluker’s single worst play:
Gerald McCoy put on a show against D.J. Fluker in Week 4— Ryan Smith (@PFF_Smith) October 3, 2017
McCoy - 91.4 overall, ranked 2nd/110 DI
Fluker - 33.0 overall, ranked 66th/67 G pic.twitter.com/jpINsorChz
He really didn't! But whatever you say https://t.co/RNx7CTkZWC— Duke Manyweather (@BigDuke50) October 3, 2017
I did not see this. I did not see this at all and I agree with Duke, to the point where I wonder whether they watched the same game that I (we) did ... Or whether they’re struggling to tell their left from their right.
As I mentioned before, Fluker was by no means perfect. He was beaten a couple times in pass protection and found himself on the ground a bit too often. However, his power and toughness were a welcome change at the right guard spot. For the first time since Geoff Schwartz manned the position defenders were seen bouncing off in pass protection, and there was a definite push in the running game.
Fluker might not be an All-Pro at the position, but the Giants were able to run the ball with him there, which helped open up other aspects of the offense.
It remains to be seen whether or not Fluker will keep the right guard job when Bobby Hart returns from his ankle injury. We already saw a dramatic improvement in the offense when Brett Jones and Fluker took over for Jerry in the third preseason game, only to have Jerry regain the starting job.
The Giants' coaches at least have to consider keeping him in the starting lineup. Itight not be the position and heralded name that many would have preferred, but it appears as though Jerry Reese did find an upgrade for the offensice line. Now the question is whether or not Fluker earned another chance in the eyes of the coaches.