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Improvement of Giants’ offensive line a surprising, and welcome, development

“It’s about five equals one”

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at New York Giants
A well-protected Eli Manning delivers a pass on Sunday.
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

On a first down play from the Kansas City Chiefs’ 45-yard line with 4:53 left in the third quarter, Eli Manning dropped back to pass. Manning stood there ... and stood there ... and stood there some more, looking for an open receiver. There weren’t any, which wasn’t surprising without Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall playing.

What was surprising, maybe even amazing, was that as Manning stood there no Kansas City pass rusher got anywhere close to him. Sure, it was a three-tight end, one wide receiver set and the Giants began the play with eight blockers to five Kansas City rushers. Meaning, only two receivers — Tavarres King and Evan Engram — were in the route.

By the time Manning finds Jerell Adams, who has peeled off his block and wandered out as an emergency receiver, the quarterback had been in the pocket for a full five seconds — an NFL lifetime — and no Kansas City pass rusher was within 7 yards.

How things have changed

Perhaps this play isn’t a perfect illustration because of the max protection by the Giants, but the point to be made here is how drastically things have changed for the Giants’ offensive line.

The names are different.

At the beginning, the line was:

LT Ereck Flowers; LG Justin Pugh; C Weston Richburg; RG John Jerry; RT Bobby Hart.

Richburg is on IR. Pugh first moved to right tackle and is now out with a back injury. Hart played his way to the bench. Now, the lineup is:

LT Flowers; LG Jerry; C Brett Jones; RG D.J. Fluker; RT Chad Wheeler.

It all started with dinner

Fluker said Sunday night that the turnaround in the performance of the offensive line began with the realization among the group that “five equals one.”

“We came together. It’s about a commitment. It’s about five equals one. I think we did a good job with that, even with guys going in and out, switching here and there,” Fluker said.

“That starts by having dinner every Wednesday after practice. It starts there. Guys communicating, guys having fun, guys joking, laughing, eating food. That’s where it starts at.”

Those post-practice dinners began a few weeks into the season.

“We had to get a bond together, to actually hang around each other more and I think that made a big difference,” Fluker said. “It came along. It took a while but we gained that bond. We all play for each other.”

Let’s talk about Flowers

Whatever you think of Flowers, and whatever you want to say is the reason, the third-year left tackle has now gone eight games without surrendering a sack. Per Pro Football Focus, he how has a league-best streak of 318 pass-protection snaps without allowing a sack. Maybe an alignment adjustment is hurting his run-blocking, but as coach Ben McAdoo said last week “the left tackle’s number one job is to block the defensive end in pass protection.” He’s been doing that well for the past two months.

Chad Wheeler’s debut

Pro Football Focus wasn’t impressed with Wheeler’s first start, saying he surrendered five hurries and had a 46.9 overall grade. I think everyone else was. Justin Houston (7.5 sacks entering the game) finished the game with no sacks or hits on Eli Manning. Wheeler showed toughness in the run game.

“I thought Chad had a quiet day from where I was standing,” McAdoo said. “So, that’s a good day for your first start.”

Fluker, who played against Houston twice a year when he was with the San Diego Chargers, called him “a great player” and said Wheeler “did a great job.”

Obviously, one quiet game does not make an offensive lineman’s career. It does, though, provide some hope and make you want to see more.

The guys in the middle

Fluker has made a difference since his insertion at right guard. His physicality helps the run game, and the passion that drips off him like beads of sweat is infectious. Jones has stepped in seamlessly for Richburg. Jerry moved to the left side, where he had played very little since his college days, and has done a nice job.

Final thoughts

By no means should anyone consider the Giants’ offensive line fixed. There are still many questions going forward and no telling what the group will look like next season. The line’s recent good play, though, despite all the shuffling and all of the criticism the group has received, is a surprising and positive development for this season.