Remember when all the discussion around the New York Giants was about Odell Beckham Jr. not attending OTAs because he was training on his own?
Yeah, that was nice.
Now we’re back to that old refrain about left tackle Ereck Flowers.
Recently, Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap wrote about Jerry Reese’s failure to improve the offensive line in free agency, with a focus on Flowers’ left tackle position.
Just two games into the season, I think the jury is still out on that. Reese did sign D.J. Fluker, and I agree with Ed that he will (eventually) succeed John Jerry at right guard. If he does so, it’s because he is a better option and an upgrade.
The basic conclusion is that the signings of Brandon Marshall, Jerry, Fluker, and Keenan Robinson could have been scrapped in exchange for a big-name lineman, throwing resources as the offensive line as they did the defense the year prior. The argument is that Eli Manning’s age prevents the Giants from thinking about sustainability.
The problem is that that is not how Jerry Reese operates. When he spent money in the 2016 offseason, it was to acquire relatively young players who were just entering their primes and would ultimately out-play their sizable contracts. Reese was panned for the signings at time, but he was ultimately proven right and short-circuited a rebuilding process that “should” have taken years.
A scout at heart, Reese has always looked down the road. He would prefer to build through the draft and develop less expensive rookies and fill around them with free agents rather than overpay for core players in free agency. Those options just weren’t there in free agency or the draft. The only clear upgrade at offensive tackle was Andrew Whitworth, and as the folks at Mile High Report concluded, he is playing at an unsustainable level at 35 years old. The Giants were faced with a choice between overpaying an aging tackle who’s play could fall off a cliff at any moment, or sticking with young players who were working to improve.
As we all know, he stuck with Flowers and Bobby Hart.
That decision wasn’t made in a vacuum. The Giants are also faced with the reality that four of their best players will be entering free agency over the next two years. Offensive linemen Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg could be hitting the market after this year, and superstars Odell Beckham and Landon Collins after next season. Reese could have splurged on an offensive lineman, but doing so might have cost him his offensive interior, best offensive player, and best defensive player.
But that’s not all.
The New York beat writers are swarming both Flowers and Ben McAdoo for not publicly flogging him, moving him to right tackle, or benching him completely.
But maybe, just maybe, McAdoo has a clue about what he is doing.
Nobody should be surprised that Flowers struggled when Justin Pugh moved from left guard to right tackle.
It doesn’t fit the narrative, but Flowers didn’t give up a QB pressure in the first four games of the 2016 season. He had a bad game against a tough Packers’ defense, but rebounded against the Ravens and Rams. His 2016 season didn’t spiral out of control until Pugh was lost for six games to a knee sprain and the Giants were forced to use a trio of players to man the left guard spot.
In Week 1, with Pugh next to him, Flowers was actually the Giants’ cleanest pass protector, giving up just two pressures in 38 pass attempts (a 95 percent pass blocking efficiency rating, something I thought we all agreed would be good enough). He had one bad breakdown and it was at a bad time, but Flowers was not the problem with the Giants’ offense in Dallas.
Then came the disaster against Detroit.
The Giants gave up four sacks in the first half, most of the pressure coming through Flowers. The Giants’ made an adjustment at half-time and began scheming him help, and protection improved but breakdowns elsewhere crippled the offense.
The Giants’ offensive line is a problem as a whole. Nobody is denying that.
Flowers needs to play better. Everyone knows it, especially McAdoo and Flowers. Moving him to right tackle isn’t going to help matters, nor is benching him, or publicly destroying him.
Fans are searching for options, and right now the best practical one might be to leave the offensive line alone.
Leave Flowers at left tackle and let him get used to playing next to Brett Jones while scheming them some help from running backs and tight ends. Do more with the passing game to create mismatches and open opportunities for players who aren’t Odell Beckham Jr. to create after the catch. Oh, and run the ball to take pressure off the offensive line and the running game.
Practically speaking, the Giants have to ride with Flowers.
He has to play better. He has to learn to trust his technique and his linemates, and he has to play with authority. The Giants have to put him — and the rest of the offense — in position to succeed.
Barring a complete and utter meltdown, the question about Flowers’ future at left tackle is one the Giants will have to answer after the 2017 season is over. For now, they just have to play the hand they have as best they can.