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Film room: Are the Giants in trouble on the offensive line?

It now looks like the battle for center and right guard were foregone conclusions, but were they the conclusions correct?

NFL: New York Giants-Training Camp TODAY NETWOR

Over the course of the 2018 offseason and preseason, the New York Giants have completely rebuilt their offensive line. The 2018 iteration of the Giants’ offensive line will feature a new starter at each position, which has prompted speculation that the line has been “fixed.”

The left tackle, right tackle, and left guard positions have been locked down since early in the pre-season. The center and right guard positions, however, have been more unsettled.

At center, the question was between 2017 starter Brett Jones and reserve guard turned center Jon Halapio. Jones played well at center after Weston Richburg was lost for the season to a concussion — Well enough that the Giants were able to let Richburg depart via free agency.

At right guard, the Giants will be starting veteran free agent Patrick Omameh. Omameh was initially signed to replace Justin Pugh at left guard, but has moved to right guard after the team drafted Will Hernandez. Right guard isn’t a totally unfamiliar position for Omameh, but he hasn’t been a full-time starter there since 2014 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Behind Omameh, there former Cleveland Browns offensive lineman John Greco. He is also the backup center.

But now, it seems that the offensive line is set after the Giants traded Jones to the Minnesota Vikings, naming Halapio a game-day captain against the Lions, and both he and Omameh have played all of the starters’ reps at their respective positions in preseason.

Thus far, the perception of the duo’s performance has been mixed at best. Considering we likely won’t see them again until the Giants take the field against the Jacksonville Jaguars, we should take a close look at the film.

Run blocking

The part of the Giants’ imparative in hiring Pat Shurmur, completely rebuilding their offensive line, and drafting Saquon Barkley was to return to being able to run the football effectively. For a run play to be successful, the entire offensive line needs to block cohesively, as a unit. But, as this is taking the preseason play of the Halapio and Omameh under the microscope, we’ll be focusing on them.

The Giants struggled to move the ball on the ground against the Detroit Lions and New York Jets, particularly with Jonathan Stewart at running back. The first offensive play against the Jets shows a recurring problem for both players that has hamstrung the Giants’ rushing attack.

Play 1

The Giants opened the game with old-school power football. They are in the “I” formation, with their two-tight end formation, and interestingly, Sterling Shepard is lined up in the backfield.

The Giants run a counter play, with Shepard lead blocking for Stewart. The left side of the line gets a great push and this could have been a big play to open the game instead of just a 1-yard gain.

To see where the play went wrong, we need to watch the center and right guard — specifically, their hands.

Both Halapio and Omameh are slow getting their hands up off the snap, letting Jets’ defenders engage them first. Omameh is blown up, quickly losing leverage and being shed almost immediately.

Halapio’s late hands let the nose tackle get his hands into the center’s chest plate, allowing him to control Halapio until Stewart gets close to the line of scrimmage. Then the nose tackle simply sheds the block and makes the play on Stewart.

This was a problem which consistently cropped up when the Giants ran the ball with the starting offensive line.

Play 2

The Giants can scheme their way around this.

Here we see the Giants running up the middle, and instead of putting Halapio and Omameh on islands with defensive linemen, they double team one lineman. The angle makes it difficult to see, but their hands still appear to be late. But, together they are able to dig him out of the hole and create a crease.

On the other side of the line, Will Hernandez and Nate Solder double team the other defensive tackle, with Hernandez coming off the block to take out a linebacker at the second level. This play was undone by missed blocks on the perimeter of the left side.

Sterling Shepard was unable to block safety Jamal Adams while Evan Engram struggled to block outside linebacker Josh Martin.

The Giants’ run game, as we’ve seen it, can be effective, but they will need to be careful in designing the scheme to manipulate the defense, as in this play.

Here, the Giants line up with the bulk of their personnel on the left side of the formation, forcing the Jets to match, leaving the right side of their defense lighter. The Giants then run to that lighter side, once again getting Shepard involved as an extra blocker.

Halapio and Omameh double team the nose tackle, and Halapio is able to get his hands up, get the tackle’s chest, and establish leverage. With the nose tackle under control, Omameh is able to work to the second level — though he isn’t able to get in front of the middle linebacker.

The run ultimately goes for five yards, largely due to the double team on the right tackle, a good block from Ereck Flowers (with an assist from Shepard), and some nifty running by Wayne Gallman.

Pass protection

For all the fretting over edge pressure, Eli Manning has always been a quarterback who could make due with questionable offensive tackle play as long as he has a firm interior pocket.

We have already taken a look at this play from the skill position perspective, but now we turn to the offensive line.

The Jets bring five rushers on this play, while the Giants keep six blockers to protect Manning. As this is a three-level read, the Giants need to give Manning the time to read the deep, intermediate, and the short areas of the field, as well as find his check-down option if need be.

As it so happens, Solder, Hernandez, Halapio, Flowers, and Rhett Ellison all have one-on-one blocks, while Omameh is left without an assigned rusher. Focusing in on Halapio and Omameh, the two do a much better job of getting their hands up to engage defenders off the snap. Halapio, in particular, is able to get the snap off crisply while still getting his hands on the nose tackle first, inside his shoulders, and establishing leverage.

Omameh remains close by, but doesn’t engage, likely so he can pick up any late pressure along the interior when it is clear that the running back is releasing into a route.

Manning gets some pressure from the right side as Ellison is forced back by OLB Jordan Jenkins. However, the pocket in front of him holds up long enough for him to step into the throw, delivering an on-time and accurate pass.

Final thoughts

When the Giants were rebuilding their offensive line, it was widely assumed that the decision to go with Halapio and Omameh would lead to a line that could run block but would struggle to pass protect. So far, once teams began to game-plan in the preseason, the opposite has been the case.

There have been a few culprits, but upon slowing the tape down, the inconsistent hand usage stands out.

It shouldn’t be surprising, really.

Omameh was a left guard in 2017, and relearning movement patterns he hasn’t used consistently in three years takes time. Halapio, on the other hand, has had to learn an entirely new movement pattern. The action of snapping the ball and immediately taking on a nose tackle or 1-technique is even quicker than what is needed for a guard.

The two probably shouldn’t be written off yet. They will continue to get practice throughout the season, as well as game experience. Players can, and do, improve throughout the season, but this will also be an area which demands attention.

If the duo does not improve and force the Giants to limit themselves continually scheme their rushing attack around them, the decisions to move on from Brett Jones and D.J. Fluker could loom large.