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Film Study: Who Played Better, Brett Jones Or D.J. Fluker?

The two players got their chance at right guard against the Jets. How did they really play?

NFL: New York Jets at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The competition for the New York Giants’ starting right guard position finally seemed to have opened up in the third preseason game.

Coaches and players alike insist that it was always the plan to rotate John Jerry, Brett Jones, and D.J. Fluker with the starters and give them all a chance to impress. It might not have been the plan to pull Jerry, the incumbent starter, after just one series.

That did give the coaches, and fans, the opportunity to see both Jones and Fluker play a pair of series with the starting offensive line.

Let’s see how they did.

Brett Jones

Play 1

We’re starting with Jones’ second play with the starting offensive line, and doing so for two reasons. First, because it’s his second rep and that will set a baseline for the reps to follow as he (hopefully) gets more comfortable with his linemates. Secondly, this is the snap that stood out for everyone in remembering how Jones played.

Pro Football Focus graded this play out as a “pressure” given up by, and a loss for, Jones. (They graded Jones out with a 43.4 overall)

The Jets send a straight 5-man rush on the play, with four down linemen and an outside linebacker rushing. That puts each of the Giants’ offensive linemen in a one-on-one situation — not ideal, considering the players some of them have to deal with.

Jones has the honor of being matched up on Muhammad Wilkerson, a player who is big and long, at 6 feet, 4 inches (with 35-14 inch arms) 315 pounds, quick, and explosively powerful.

Jones stays low out of his stance at the snap of the ball, using his natural leverage to keep balance while he absorbs Wilkerson’s momentum. He uses his hands well, shooting them inside and getting inside the bigger player’s framework. Jones goes backwards, but as he does he uncoils his hips and extends his arms. He has to give ground while he does so, but it also forces Wilkerson’s pad level up and reduces his ability to drive.

While Jones ends the play uncomfortably close to Manning, by the time Shepard is open and the ball is being thrown, Wilkerson can’t get there, has lost his momentum and is starting to be driven back.

PFF might have counted this play as a loss, but I'm counting it a win. Jones had to give ground, but he was always in control and kept a bigger, longer, stronger, and more athletic defender from getting to his quarterback.

I’d also like to take a minute to look at the rest of the line.

You can see Jones’ roots as a center in Richburg’s play this snap as well. They show similar technique dealing with larger defensive tackles, and Richburg shows some nice savvy moving the defensive tackle out of the throwing lane.

Justin Pugh has an excellent rep here against Leonard Williams. Pugh plays with the kind of technique we’ve come to expect from him, controlling Williams and stopping him cold.

All too often Ereck Flowers’ terrible reps get broadcast, but not this time. This is an excellent rep for him. He is dealing with a rush linebacker who lines up wide of the defensive front. It’s a situation in which he has panicked and struggled in the past. This time he does a great job of moving his feet, getting his hands up and into the defender and dropping his hips to anchor against the rush. The rusher never has a chance and between he and Pugh, Eli has a very comfortable pocket to his left.

Play 2

For our second play we’re going to look at Jones’ work in the run game. The Giants’ production here was inconsistent, but they did score a few good gains, and this 12-yard run was one of them.

The play is set up by blocks from Jones and Richburg, opening a nice hole for Paul Perkins.

Once again Jones comes off the ball low and hard, working the double-team on the nose tackle with Richburg. The two get under the tackle’s pads, turning him perpendicular to the line of scrimmage.

At that point Richburg works off the double-team to pick up the middle linebacker who comes crashing through the A-gap to try and stop Perkins. Rather than trying to stop the linebacker cold, he pushes him off to the side, keeping the lane open for Perkins.

Back at the line of scrimmage, Bobby Hart has pushed his defensive lineman out and back while Jones rode the nose tackle to the ground. The combination made for a wide-open hole to run through. This is the kind of play the Giants have longed to see from their offensive line.

What made it a 12-yard run, and very nearly a touchdown, was the blocking of Sterling Shepard and Travis Rudolph at the second level. They start by double teaming a defender, and when Rudolph breaks off to block Jamal Adams, Shepard angles his block to effectively force a double team. The two receivers blocking three defenders gives Perkins enough time to get past the first-down marker and almost to the goal line.

Play 3

Finally we come to Jones’ final play with the starters, and the Giants’ first offensive touchdown of the 2017 preseason.

This is pure, smash-mouth football, and with the field so compressed there’s a lot going on. I slowed the play down so we can see the vital parts, but that also means we don’t get to see Orleans Darkwa’s air-guitar celebration.

The play is made by Jones, Flowers, Rhett Ellison, Evan Engram, and Shane Smith.

Flowers and Engram start out by crashing inward, preventing the Jets’ defensive line from setting a firm edge on the left side of the offense. At the same time Ellison blocks an outside linebacker at the second level. The other linebacker is blocked by Shane Smith while Jones completes his pull to come around and seal the defender blocked by Engram.

The middle linebacker is Darkwa’s responsibility.

He starts his run inside but as he gets close to the line of scrimmage he uses a great jump-cut to the outside. The linebacker, reading Darkwa comes up to attack his initial running lane. However, he gets caught up in the trash created by Flowers, Engram, and Jones.

The result is a clear path for Darkwa to easily score a touchdown.

D.J. Fluker

Play 1

The highlight of our first play is Travis Rudolph’s spectacular catch and run, bailing out quarterback Josh Johnson. But we’re going to keep our eyes on the offensive line, and the right guard position in particular.

The Giants are backed up inside of their own 10-yard line, which makes it utterly unsurprising that the Jets send pressure — looking for a safety of their own.

The pressure comes in the form of an A-gap blitz from the middle linebacker while the SAM linebacker up on the line of scrimmage drops in coverage of Evan Engram. It isn’t a particularly exotic blitz design, but it does get a free runner at the quarterback when Darkwa misses his assignment.

Fortunately, Bobby Hart, Fluker, and Richburg combine to give Johnson room to roll out to the right.

Fluker and Richburg combine to double team the nose tackle while Hart takes the defensive end one-on-one.

Hart does a good job of forcing the defensive end around the pocket — at least until Johnson scrambles wide of him and the defensive end gets a clear shot at the quarterback.

Fluker and Richburg easily shut down the nose tackle, and Fluker shows solid technique while doing so. He enjoys a size and strength advantage, and keeps his hips low and base wide to make use of it. He also shows solid hand usage to keep the tackle engaged and keep him from breaking free while he (Fluker) keeps his head on a swivel to pick up any stunts or late blitzes.

Ultimately, this is a pretty routine play from the right side of the line, but that routine execution gives Johnson the room to avoid the initial rush and creates the opportunity for Rudolph’s spectacular play.

Play 2

We’re going to slow things down again and get back to the power run game.

The Giants decide to run to the right, almost directly behind Fluker. The Jets do a great job of rallying to the ball and limiting the gain, but the Giants do a good job of opening a hole at the line of scrimmage.

Fluker takes the nose tackle while Weston Richburg takes the three technique, who is his responsiblity because Justin Pugh pulled around to the right. Fluker handles the nose tackle easily, setting up the inside seal for the running lane.

Bobby Hart and Rhett Ellison double team the defensive end while Evan Engram blocks the SAM linebacker to set up the other half of the running lane. It appears as though Darkwa is supposed to run behind Pugh and fullback Shane Smith, but sees a bigger sliver of daylight to the left. Unfortunately, the Jets safeties are reading the pulling guard and it leads them to the hole Darkwa was attempting to run through.

Play 3

For our final play we’ll be moving from a power run to one that relies more on finesse.

At its heart this is an outside zone, but it also employs plenty of motion from the skill position players. The Giants line up with the quarterback under center and in an “11” (three-receiver) personnel package.

Rudolph is the lone receiver at the top of the screen while Evan Engram, Sterling Shepard, and Roger Lewis Jr. are in a bunch formation to the right. There’s a lot going on, so I’ll start on the outside before moving inside to Fluker.

Rudolph runs a decoy post route to occupy the corner covering him, while Shepard runs a slant route to draw coverage from the free safety and keep him away from the play.

Lewis runs a fake end around to add more motion and confusion for the defense. The players running in opposite directions momentarily freezes some of the defensive linemen and linebackers while they find the ball.

Finally, Engram pulls across the back of the formation to cut off back-side pursuit by the outside linebacker.

Moving inside, Bobby Hart does a nice job of getting Wilkerson to flow to the outside and runs him out of the play, opening one side of the hole. Next to him Fluker has to take on the nose tackle — though the Jets have shifted their line to the right. He isn’t able to take him out of the play, and ultimately winds up losing his footing. Ideally you would like to see Fluker keep his feet and sustain his block through the whistle or be able to get downfield and make another block.

However, Fluker is able to hold his block long enough for Darkwa to make his cut upfield and break through to the second level.

Final Thoughts

This wasn’t to make a case for Jones or Fluker to be the Giants’ starting right guard. Instead it is to look at how both did with the other four starters, against the Jets’ talented starting defensive line.

Both fared well. Not perfect, but they did well enough for the offense to function as intended (considering the absence of Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall).

There have been reports that John Jerry was back with the starting unit in practice this week. However, what we saw in the third (and most important) preseason game is that the right guard job is definitely up for grabs, and both Brett Jones and D.J. Fluker have an opportunity to grab it.

It will be interesting to see what the Giants do at the position in the final preseason game, and that could be informative before the roster is set in preparation for Week 1.