The offensive line has been the major concern for the New York Giants has been their offensive line — specifically the offensive tackles.
After all, left tackle Ereck Flowers has yet to even come close to living up to his ninth overall draft selection in his first two years and Bobby Hart struggled in his first year starting.
The interior offensive line, by comparison, has been seen as relatively stable. Left guard Justin Pugh and center Weston Richburg both dealt with injuries in 2017 (a sprained knee for Pugh and torn ligaments in his snapping hand for Richburg), but they have also played at Pro Bowl or All-Pro levels as well. John Jerry has largely been regarded as an “adequate” starter at right guard. Hardly spectacular, but as a dependable pass protector who showed some progress as a run blocker, the feeling was that he would be okay for now.
No, the scrutiny has been concentrated on the tackle positions, particularly Flowers.
Through the first two preseason games, reality has been the inverse of what was expected. The Giants’ offensive line has struggled, but it has been the interior, rather than the edges, that has been the problem.
Pugh and Richburg have been inconsistent in getting a push up front in the running game and pass protection has been a concern.
John Jerry has been a liablity in both phases of offense. He has never been a reliable run blocker, but he has been especially bad in the first two games of the pre-season. Likewise, his inability to pass off blocks or anchor against bull-rushes has compromised his pass blocking.
We’ll start with his pass protection.
Pass protection has been John Jerry’s calling card for his entire career, but this is just not good.
The Giants are in their typical third down set — the shotgun alignment with three receivers on the field.
The Browns call a T-E (tackle-end) stunt, where the left defensive end loops behind the 3-technique and rushes inside. Ideally, the right guard would pass the defensive tackle off to the right tackle and defend the looping tackle. But that just doesn’t happen here.
Jerry is late off the snap and kind-of leans his shoulder in to tackle, essentially taking his hands out of the equation and forcing he and Hart to double-team him. Because he never extends his arms, Jerry can’t pass the tackle off to Hart to take the guard.
As a result the defensive end gets a free run at Eli Manning, picking up the sack and killing the Giants’ drive.
Making matters worse, he did almost the exact same thing on the very next play (the first play of the Giants’ second drive.
Run Blocking has never been Jerry’s strength, and often quite the opposite. For the second week in a row, the Giants opened up with a run, and it didn’t go well.
A lot went wrong on this play — it was a comedy of errors that ended a potentially promising run. The running back tripped over Evan Engram, who had tripped over Justin Pugh, but the first domino was John Jerry.
This looks like the kind of inside zone run with a pulling guard that formed the foundation of the Giants’ running game in 2016. Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, and Bobby Hart all do their jobs well enough for there to be a sizeable hole to run through.
The problem starts with the left defensive tackle getting past Jerry and into the backfield. Jerry looks to be late off the snap and appears to be the last offensive lineman moving on the play. By the time Jerry makes contact, he is perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, which generally constitutes a loss. The quick penetration by the defensive tackle crowds the backfield, which sets off the rest of the chain reaction.
Unlike the rest of the starting offensive line, Jerry is facing direct competition in the form of free agent acquisition D.J. Fluker. A former 11th overall pick, Fluker is known for his power and impressive wingspan. He also made waves early in training camp with his energy an enthusiasm.
I was only able to capture the first part of this play in slow motion, but for our purposes, that’s the most important part.
The Giants line up in a 12 (two-tight end) personnel set with Geno Smith under center. Going by the offense’s past trends, this is likely a running play. Instead it’s a play-action pass. The Browns call an aggressive defense, rushing seven players and dropping just four in coverage.
Fluker ultimately has to block a defensive end, Carl Nassib, who tries to run over the massive guard with a bull-rush. He initially has some success, putting Fluker back on his heels. However, rather than being bowled back into Smith, Fluker is able to drop his hips, extend his arms, and re-anchor against the power move, stopping Nassib cold. Nassib is a big, long defender, and it’s a testament to just how strong Fluker is that he was able to counter the momentum and assert himself.
Just after the GIF cuts out, Nassib tries to counter and go around Fluker, but he is able to control the rusher.
By the end of the play pressure winds up leaking to Smith from three different sources but he has the time to find tight end Matt LaCosse for a short 4-yard gain.
Here we have a nice off-tackle power run by the Giants from an “11” personnel grouping.
The run is made by a great jump-cut by Wayne Gallman and a trio of blocks from the right side of the offensive line.
On the edge, tight end Matt LaCosse sets a great edge with a strong block of Nassib. Inside, right tackle Adam Bisnowaty and Fluker combine to double-team the left defensive tackle.
Gallman, reading the strong-side line backer who comes up to make the play, jumps out of the B-gap to the outside run. The linebacker is completely unable to pursue because Fluker works off the double team and up to the second level and simply engulfs him. Just after the gif cuts out, Fluker pancakes the linebacker, taking him out of the play, and Gallman is able to pick up 11 yards before being tackled by the safety.
The run wasn’t entirely due to Fluker — he, Bisnowaty, and LaCosse all did their jobs well — but the outside linebacker might have been able to limit the gain if it weren’t for Fluker taking him out of the play entirely.
Is Fluker the answer at right guard? At this point nobody can say that. However, he has played well in each of his appearances thus far in the preseason. Granted he has gone against other teams’ back-ups, but he has shown off his size and power, solid footwork, a willingness to look for work, and the kind of “nasty” you want to see from an offensive lineman.
On the flip side, it’s impossible to say that Jerry has done anything but disappoint with the starting offensive line. It has gotten to the point that the interior offensive line’s performance is hindering the coaches’ ability to evaluate and teach the rest of the of the offense.
It is also worth noting that reports from practice on Wednesday were that back-up center Brett Jones took a few snaps at right guard with the starting offensive line. He might have leap-frogged Fluker on the depth chart, or it might be cross training — we don't know yet. But it does show that the Giants are at least thinking about their other options for the position.
Fluker, orJones, might not transform the starting group, but the coaches have to see if they are an upgrade at right guard. They owe it to the rest of the offense.