It’s Saturday, so let’s get right to your Big Blue View Mailbag and see if we can answer some of your questions.
Nate Carter asks: Nick Gates is struggling at center, but does seem to have some potential as a lineman. Kevin Zeitler had been mediocre at best and he can be traded freeing up $12mm next year. The question is: Would it make sense to attempt to trade Zeitler during this reason, recouping cap money this year and freeing up $12M next, and then moving Gates to RG?
Ed says: Nate, there are two parts to that question — the Zeitler piece and the Gates piece.
Zeitler: I’ll be honest. I’m a little worried that Zeitler, 30 years old and in his ninth season, may have begun to regress a bit. It’s too early to know for sure, but his play thus far is not up to his career standards. Now, trade him? I think you consider it if you’re the Giants and you believe that a) Will Hernandez is a better player than we’ve seen the first three weeks and b) you believe that Shane Lemieux is a starting-caliber guard. If you believe those things and you can get a couple of mid-round picks for Zeitler (I don’t know if you can) you have to consider it.
Gates: Even if you trade Zeitler, I’m not moving Gates. As I said above, I’m doing it to get Lemieux onto the field. I’m not doing it so I can move Gates. You’re going to downgrade the line from Gates-Zeitler to Gates-Spencer Pulley? That doesn’t help anything, short- or long-term. Coach Joe Judge said the other day that Gates at center is not an experiment. Did anyone really think this was going to be a smooth, perfect transition for Gates — who has never been a center or a starting NFL offensive lineman — in this environment? If so, you were kidding yourself.
That said, I still think there is a chance Gates can be a capable NFL center. Let’s give him time to prove one way or the other whether or not he can do the job.
Jason Byam asks: I can’t for the life of me figure out why the Giants can’t run block? I bought into the excuses this off-season. Shurmur’s lack of creative running scheme, Hal Hunter, needing an upgrade at center over Halapio, zone scheme instead of power, blah blah blah. What is the actual problem?
Ed says: Jason, you sent me three questions. The others I think I have touched on in various ways, or will be touching on as the season progresses. So, let’s work with this one.
Maybe the reality is the players on this line just aren’t physically talented enough. I’m not buying that yet, though.
I also don’t want to make an excuse, but I do absolutely believe that the lack of real offseason work is part of the issue. As offensive line coach Marc Colombo said the other day, the Giants are “thousands and thousands of [practice] reps behind” where they would be in a normal season. Yes, every team is in that situation but this is particularly devastating for an offensive line that has three new starters and a first-time center.
Every offensive line expert I talked to this offseason, including former NFL center Brett Romberg and long-time offensive line coach Paul Alexander, said that considering the lack of practice time it would be difficult for the Giants’ offensive line to function if they chose to go with a first-time center. That view is so far proving to be correct.
The reality is that since real two-a-day training cam practices were done away with and offseason programs were shortened and made less physical it has been more difficult to develop cohesive run blocking, even with what now passes for normal work.
Combine all of that and what we have seen from the Giants’ offensive line thus far shouldn’t be surprising. I think, though, that I agree with Colombo. I’m optimistic it will get better as the season progresses.
Kyle Kilday asks: So the Giants have a bad offensive line; a starting tight end who cannot block, a triage backfield, and a mobile QB with suspect pocket awareness. Why don’t they try incorporating some spread concepts and go no huddle, at least some of the time?
This organization just seems plagued by an inability to find coaches who can think on their feet, particularly in-game. Like, yeah, it was a weird offseason, and they’re young, but these are professional football players who should be able to handle being told, “hey, when we call this play, run an inside curl route.”
Ed says: Kyle, I get the frustration but I don’t think you are being entirely fair here. It’s been three games. In a year without a real offseason. If you’re expecting to see the kind of wide open, creative offenses the Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams run then you aren’t being realistic. Those are all established teams with coaches, quarterbacks and offensive lines that have been together for a while. They also have more talent than the Giants right now.
The Giants are at the beginning. They are still trying to figure out what they can run and what they can block, and they are doing it without Saquon Barkley and Sterling Shepard — the best running back and arguably the best wide receiver they have.
If I recall, the Giants ran a lot of spread against the Steelers, using empty sets. They have tried to use some tempo. I have my issues with what Jason Garrett has done thus far and I think he needs to be better, but I still believe you have to have patience, give him a chance to figure out what he has, give the offensive line and the quarterback time to grow, and see where it goes.
Jesse Sorel asks: What’s the deal with Nate Ebner getting defensive snaps? The 6 or so years Nate spent on the Patriots he only had a few or so defensive snaps. Bill Belichick is a great defensive mind and never really had Nate play defense. Why does [Patrick] Graham have him out there getting quality snaps? He didn’t look gd against the Bears missing a tackle on the first Bears TD. Then gets 13 snaps against SF. I know Peppers got injured but Love and Ryan couldn’t handle the safety duties? What position is he playing? I think he got LB snaps vs. Bears. I’m not watching tape, how did he do vs. 49ers. To me I think Judge has a bond with him and that’s why he’s getting defensive snaps. I don’t think he even played defense for Ohio State. Why is he playing defense on the Giants after 10 years with Buckeyes and Pats never playing D?? Is anyone in media after last game grilling Judge or Graham about Ebner.
Ed says: Jesse, it’s really very simple. Who else is going to play? Joe Judge and Patrick Graham know Ebner very well. No matter what they say, don’t you think they know Ebner isn’t a great defensive player and would play someone else — if they had someone else? Xavier McKinney is on IR. Linebacker David Mayo is on IR. Linebackers Cam Brown and Tae Crowder are late-round draft picks who the coaches don’t believe are ready for extended defensive roles, or maybe any defensive roles at all, yet. Devante Downs hasn’t been very good, and comes off the field in obvious passing situations, anyway. Backup safety Adrian Colbert has been hurt. When the Giants go with extra defensive backs, who else are they going to put out there? Right now they don’t have anybody.
That might get worse this weekend. Jabrill Peppers won’t play, and Julian Love might not play. I don’t know how healthy Colbert is. Ebner might have to play a lot. It’s not ideal, but with everything that has happened so far this season with the Giants’ secondary it’s the hand they have been dealt.
Oh, and yes, Judge has been asked about Ebner playing defense. We see it. What’s Judge supposed to say? I know he doesn’t belong out there, but everyone else stinks and he’s the only guy I’ve got left?
Jeff Newman asks: Ed, citing your recent article in Big Blue View regarding data showing that both contact and non-contact related injuries in both games and in practice were significantly higher on artificial turf than natural grass, why would any team that can have grass on both their playing field and practice field use artificial turf? Grass would give them a competitive advantage because they would have less injured starters. With the amount of money invested in players, you would think owners would do everything possible to ensure their starters stay on the field.
Ed says: Jeff, there are a lot of factors. One, of course, is cost. Grass is more expensive to maintain than any of the various artificial playing surfaces. Another is the fact that so many of these stadiums are multi-use. MetLife Stadium, for example, is home to two football teams. In a normal year it is also home to dozens of concerts or special events. All of that would pretty much destroy a grass surface. It doesn’t do anything to a Field Turf surface. Northeast or Midwest weather might have something to do with it. More and more stadiums are being built as domes or with retractable roofs.
Players, sadly, are commodities. Stadiums are commodities, too. If owners feel like an artificial surface allows them to get more from their stadium commodity then that’s what will get installed.
Jacob Willett asks: Who are the “dogs” on the current GIANTS? Most of the better players on the team come across as nice guys. Now I’m not saying you can’t win with them, but you have got to have a few guys that got that dog in them to offset that. Jacobs, Seubert, Kiwanuka, and Bradshaw come to mind from the championship years as you these kind of guys with a mean streak. I’ve heard “heavy handed” from McAdoo and now Judge with his NY toughness but this team personnel wise has looked mostly finesse for the better part of a decade with Reese and now Gettleman. Is ownership asking for too “clean” of prospects?
Ed says: Jacob, I know what you are getting at but I am just going to say I really hate this whole “got that dog” in him thing that players and fans talk about. There are dogs who are Pit Bulls and Rotweilers. There are also dogs who are Poodles and Chihuahuas. I wish we could just stop with this whole “dog” thing.
I think you’re probably looking at guys like Jabrill Peppers, Logan Ryan, Blake Martinez, maybe eventually Dexter Lawrence or Lorenzo Carter on defense. Kevin Zeitler and Saquon Barkley on offense. Those are probably the guys who would hold others accountable.
Bruce Frazer asks: There have been several reports written over the last couple of weeks indicating that Will Hernandez seems to be showing signs of regression from his promising rookie year. Are there possible feelings within the organization that perhaps they overvalued his potential?
Ed says: Bruce, I think that when you watch Hernandez you have to begin to wonder if he will become the player the Giants hoped he would. That said, we are three games into a 16-game season and there is time for things to change. As for the how the organization might feel, I couldn’t tell you right now. There has to be some concern, but I don’t know how much there might be.
Neil Sharma asks: Call me crazy, but I think this Giants team could see a very similar trajectory as the Miami Dolphins did last year. Both teams had a first year HC and started off really bad, the Dolphins losing their first 7 games with the first four being embarrassing losses. They rebounded after the bye week, going 5-4 to end the year and this season they lost by 10 to NE, only 3 to Buffalo and were really good on TNF. After the next two games against the Rams and Cowboys, the Giants play 4 of 5 against Washington and Philadelphia before a bye week. Is it crazy to see them winning 3 of these 4 games, then being a way more competitive team in the second half fueled by adjustments from the coaching staff as well as young guns improving?
Ed says: Neil, I don’t think you’re crazy at all. Will your scenario happen? I don’t know. No one does. It is, though, the type of thing that Giants fans should be hoping for, and the type of thing Joe Judge, his staff and his players are working for. This was never going to be easy, especially in a year where a pandemic wiped away spring on-field workouts. What everyone from John Mara on down is looking for are signs that the Giants are better at the end than at the beginning, that things are going in a positive direction, no matter what the final record is. I keep saying this team is at a beginning with Judge and a new staff. Three games have been played. There are 13 to go. Let’s see what happens.