The New York Giants placed a great emphasis on their offensive line this past offseason, completely tearing it apart and rebuilding it from the ground up. With new players at every position, what did they look like Friday night against the Detroit Lions in their second game together?
The bad news
It is generally my policy that when I’m faced with a choice between bad news and good news, I’ll choose to start with the bad news to start and finish with the good news. And this, this might have been the ugliest play of the night for the Giants — even if it didn’t hurt them in the grand scheme of things.
The Lions are in a nickel package, showing man coverage under a Cover 1 shell. They don’t appear to be showing pressure, and indeed they don’t bring any extra rushers.
The Giants come out in their 11-personnel, shotgun set with Evan Engram and Wayne Gallman as the tight end and running back. The Giants keep just five blockers, with Engram and Gallman releasing into routes. This appears to be designed to be a quick-hitting play, but it just doesn’t happen quickly enough.
From the left tackle to the center, this play goes as planned. Nate Solder, Will Hernandez, and Jon Halapio combine to effectively handle the right defensive end and three technique. The right side of the line, however, is a mess.
Most obvious is Ereck Flowers, who gets beaten by former Giant Devon Kennard. Flowers starts the play well, looking reasonably balanced in his kick slide, with his hands up, not lowering his head and lunging in to contact. However, the play falls apart when he fails to use his punch and deliver a jolt to the much-smaller Kennard. Instead, Kennard uses a long-arm move to get his hands on Flowers first and get under his pads. At this point Flowers seems appears to panic, stopping his feet and lunging, which makes it easy for Kennard to get around him.
That might not have been so bad if it weren’t for Patrick Omameh being beaten badly next to him. Omameh loses the hand battle with the defensive tackle across from him almost immediately. He comes up to block him, but never establishes a solid base, playing on his toes and with his feet close together. The defensive tackle was past him in an instant, with a free rush up the middle to Webb.
Webb might have been able to step up and away from Kennard if he had a clear pocket in front of him. If so, he might have had the second he needed to find Gallman open in the flat. But instead Webb took a blow to his throwing arm as well as a hard hit from the defensive tackle in his face.
A mixed bag run blocking
Things get a bit better on this next play. The Giants are faced with a second and short after a 9-yard run by Gallman, and the Giants elect to pick up the last yard the tough way.
They line up in their 12-personnel package with Webb under center, with Gallman behind Webb. Once again the Lions are showing man coverage underneath, with a four-man front — though they only use two down linemen.
Solder and Hernandez combine to absolutely maul the 3-technique, moving him back nearly five full yards. Engram gets the unenviable task of having to block Ezekiel Ansah. And while Ansah makes the tackle to stop Gallman, Engram did enough for Gallman to pick up the first down and then some.
On the right side, Flowers redeems himself some by blocking the left defensive end with some serious authority. Flowers has always been a mauler when turned loose as a run blocker, and in this case he powers his man well away from the play. Omameh does a decent enough job at right guard. He is stymied early, but manages to establish enough leverage to create a bit of push toward the end of the run. He doesn’t open a hole, but does prevent the big defensive tackle from closing it.
The player that stands out — and not in a good way — is Halapio. Halapio’s job is to release to the second level and block the middle linebacker, clearing the way for Gallman. Instead, Halapio lets his pad level rise as he hits the linebacker and gets bounced back into the hole himself.
With Halapio pushed back into the running lane, Gallman has to slow slightly and adjust his angle, giving Ansah the chance to wrap him up from behind. Had Halapio blocked the linebacker as designed, Gallman’s 3-yard gain might have been more like 5 or 6 yards.
The play of the night
Finally we come to what was, almost certainly, the play of the night for the first team offense. Backed up on a third-and-long, Davis Webb, Sterling Shepard, and the offensive line all show up to make a highlight-reel play.
The Giants line up in their 11-personnel set, but unlike almost every time they used this in recent years, this time they showed an alignment which essentially guaranteed good releases for their receivers down the field.
The Giants draw up their protection scheme well, keeping Engram and Gallman back to pass protect, giving them seven blockers to account for the Lions’ four rushers. The Lions do attempt to attack the right side of the Giants’ line with a tackle-end stunt, but Omameh and Flowers pick it up well, with Flowers passing the end off to Omameh, easily picking up the looping tackle and ushering him past the pocket.
Keeping seven blockers means that the Giants are trusting three receivers to defeat seven coverage players. And thanks to Shepard’s route running on the post-corner route, the Giants’ alignment making it almost impossible to disrupt his release, and Webb’s great throw, the Giants almost make the play look easy.
What conclusions can we draw from the play of the Giants’ first-team offensive line against the Detroit Lions? The biggest conclusion is probably that they are not yet a finished product. Each player had some good plays and some bad plays.
While there were some legitimately ugly plays by the offensive line, it is encouraging that they could come together for some highlight plays. Building the chemistry to play well together consistently will take time — if it ever comes. However, fans need to bear in mind that this was only their second start together, with only two of the players having played their position at the NFL position (and only Solder played that position last season).
Each of the five members of the Giants’ offensive line have issues to work on, as does the line as a whole. But there are also glimpses of a solid foundation upon which to build.