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New York Giants offensive line mid-season grades

Let’s look at the group Dave Deguglielmo now coaches

NFL: SEP 20 Giants at Bears Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New York Giants head into their bye week on an encouraging two-game winning streak that narrows the division lead. Aspirations for the playoffs have grown in the last two weeks, and the development of the offensive line has been at the forefront of the new inspired hope. The Giants’ offensive line has mostly controlled the line of scrimmage against Tampa Bay, Washington, and Philadelphia. On the season, the Giants rank 16th in the NFL by averaging 110.5 rushing yards per game (RYPG), much of that is a product of quarterback Daniel Jones who leads the team with 384 rushing yards on the season.

The new-look Giants’ rushing attack has been revitalized in the last three contests against respectable competition, specifically the Buccaneers who allow the least amount of rushing yards per game on the season. In the last three games, the Giants average 139.3 rushing yards per game. Coincidentally, the stabilization of the offensive line coincides with Joe Judge spending much more time with the offensive line in practice. That culminated in offensive line coach Marc Colombo being let go and replaced by Dave DeGuglielmo. Hopefully, the bye week drama doesn’t affect the play of this offensive line. The upward trajectory of the line has resulted in two victories, and a loss against Tampa Bay that is mostly shouldered by Daniel Jones. However, the entire season has not been pretty for the Giants’ offensive line, so let’s dive into a holistic view of how the unit has performed individually, and collectively, on the season.

Tackles

According to Pro Football Focus, the Giants have two tackles that unfortunately fall in the top 10 of pressures allowed on the season; Fleming has allowed 24 pressures on the season, and Thomas 44, which is the most pressures allowed by an offensive lineman. Thomas currently ranks 106th in pass blocking and 88th in run blocking among tackles. Fleming ranks 103 in pass blocking and 106 in run blocking. And then there’s Matt Peart, who has only played 107 offensive snaps (57 pass, 50 run). He ranks 78th in pass protection, but 7th in run blocking (take it with a grain of salt because of the limited sample size). Peart has progressed more than I would have thought at the beginning of the season.

Andrew Thomas

It’s no secret that Andrew Thomas struggled significantly early in the year. The whispers of Ereck Flowers were granted a megaphone, and his inability to handle counters, protect his inside, and keep his balance were evident in every game (excluding week one ironically enough where he relatively held his own for his first start). Then a switch seemed to flip when he squared up against Jason Pierre Paul and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Since that matchup, his power steps, and kick slide are much more controlled, he doesn’t overset outside which limits the alley for the inside counters, and he’s done a much better job adjusting his hands/leverage throughout each rep. Here are some of the technical flaws we were all seeing earlier in the season:

Thomas was opening up too wide, wildly missing with his punch while lunging, and giving an easy inside alley for counters. He was also losing to power moves inside due to balance and footwork issues. To compound the issues of protecting the B-Gap in pass protection, he would either overcompensate, or just be sloppy with his technique, and get beat by speed to the outside.

Here, he lowers his head and extends at the hip while in a vertical set against the San Francisco 49ers. Kerry Hyder (96) just chops his outside arm downward, forcing Thomas’ momentum forward and not allowing the rookie tackle to get in position to flush the defender up the arc. Thomas has to be stronger with his outside arm and protect the top of the arc. Against the Cowboys, he attempts to jump set Demarcus Lawrence (90) but allows Lawrence to get hip to hip. Similar to the play with Hyder, Lawrence chops Thomas’ outside arm, uses speed to get to his upfield hip, and then he rips through the outside portion of Thomas while bending through contact and cornering into the pocket.

Luckily for the Giants, Thomas has found a groove and he’s been much better in the last three games. Here are a few quality pass reps from Thomas against Philadelphia in MetLife Stadium:

As a run blocker, Thomas could still improve. He’s incredibly strong at the point of attack, but he could frame the blocks a bit better and clean up his hand technique. He could lower his pad level and explode low to high more consistently. When he’s blocking down on power/gap (something he does often in combo/climb situations), or in DUO/Zone with good angles, he’s very effective ... as you can see here:

He’s also been coming along on base type blocks; here’s a rep against Tampa Bay:

The strength is apparent as he just limits the space and walks a 5-Technique out of the hole. Yes, William Gholston (92) throws him on the ground at the end of the play, but he’s totally displaced from his assignment. If Evan Engram had handled Jason Pierre-Paul (90), then the play would have been a much larger gain (that assignment isn’t easy for Engram). Thomas has been adequate at climbing to the second level and locating as well:

His length and strength assist him here, but the lunging can still leave him a bit susceptible.

I’m going to assign separate grades for Thomas based on his first 7 weeks, and the last 3 weeks. Andrew Thomas’ grade will have an invisible asterisk as a caveat acknowledging that he’s a rookie that is learning. I’m assigning Thomas a D+ for the first 7 weeks, and a B- for the last 3 weeks; according to my suspect, mediocre, math skills - that averages to a C.

  • Weeks 1-7: D
  • Weeks 8-10: B-
  • Overall: C

Cameron Fleming

Fleming has been splitting some time with rookie third-round pick Matt Peart. He still receives the majority of the snaps, and I support the split. Starting two rookie tackles and a first-year center on the offensive line would provide an opportunity for creative defensive coordinators to design very exotic looks to confuse protections for the line, and the young Daniel Jones. If Peart isn’t fully ready from a mental standpoint, I have no issue with the rotation. Fleming is a marginal pass protector that has a big body and can get in the defender’s way but beat him with speed, and you may have a problem on your hands. He also struggled with power against Aldon Smith in the Cowboys game:

This play isn’t indicative of Fleming’s overall skill set, but it happened and an upgrade at right tackle is necessary for the future. The pass protection skills, questionable foot speed, and inconsistency of the 28-year-old renders him as a solid depth piece, but ideally nothing more. Fleming still has the ability to generate a lot of power through his hips at the point of attack; it’s something he does at a solid rate in the run game:

The 17-yard scamper by Wayne Gallman on Monday Night Football was a product of Fleming and Kaden Smith doing an excellent job. These types of plays happen for Fleming on film, they’re just not consistent. He’s a player who can start in a pinch, but not a player you’d want to be your starter.

Grade: C-

Matt Peart

Here is a review of Peart’s 26 snaps from Week 6 against the Washington Football Team.

Here are tweets of all24 of Peart’s snaps from the Giants second game against Washington:

Just in case you missed the best block in the tweet above, here it is:

Peart’s length, foot quickness, and surprising strength have me really intrigued. So, why did he play only 10 snaps against the Eagles? This play might have had something to do with it:

Peart doesn’t get enough depth and allows Brandon Graham (55) to push right through his upfield shoulder. His feet aren’t active, his hips open a tad too early, and he’s just not in position to execute the block from a wide rusher, especially one as stout as Graham. These mistakes haven’t been persistent with Peart.

This clip above is so smooth from Peart. He transitions off a chip down to locate the linebacker and pivots like a power forward in the low post off his right foot to seal a defender away from the running back. A very nice rep.

Peart has certainly exceeded my year one expectations and I’m happy he’s earning snaps on the field. Peart and Thomas are going to be the long-term answers at tackle for the Giants, and early indications suggest that Peart is the real deal. My grade for Peart must be analyzed in context — what he’s shown as a developing player in a limited role.

Grade: B+

Guards

Kevin Zeitler

Kevin Zeitler has allowed 21 pressures and zero sacks in 2020, and a lot of those pressures were on poorly-handled stunts that shouldn’t be blamed on one player. There’s only been a few times where Zeitler has cleanly lost in pass protection, and he does a good job framing his blocks, transitioning off combos, pulling into space, and locating defenders at the second level as a run blocker. According to Pro Football Focus, Zeitler ranks 45th in pass protection among guards, and 75th as a run blocker. Off the eye test, I find this somewhat hard to believe. He was a bit better last season, but the dropoff isn’t steep. Zeitler is currently the best, most consistent, Giants’ offensive lineman.

Plays like the one above are routine for Zeitler, and they’re perfect for the blocking style of any team, let alone the Giants. He chips to assist with his ACE block and then he climbs, locates, and finishes at the second level. Zeitler does the same thing with DEUCE blocks (combo with tackle). He’s smooth with his transitions, understands blocking angles, and quick to engage/disengage.

I don’t subscribe to the shed Zeitler’s contract after the season mindset, although that outcome may materialize as it would free up $12 million against the 2021 cap. I think he’s an integral part of what the Giants want to do up front, and he’s been steady while donning Blue. A 30-year-old offensive guard is not that old, and this team may not be as far away as we think.

Grade: B

Shane Lemieux

Rookie fifth-round pick Shane Lemieux has been a pleasant surprise as a run blocker. The perception of Lemieux coming out of Oregon was that he was an incredibly effective run blocker in tight spaces, which has proven to be accurate. I am also surprised at his ability to quickly pull, locate, and kick out.

He’s been handling this responsibility well. Lemieux has played 221 offensive snaps. He started three games since Will Hernandez was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. He’s given up 14 pressures and two sacks in that time period, and Pro Football Focus ranks him second-to-last in pass blocking among guards. It hasn’t been pretty as a pass blocker for Lemieux, which is one reason why I’m not on #teamstartLemieuxnomatterwhat. Hernandez has been a much better pass protector than Lemieux. For a fifth-round rookie, he’s been great, but the physical limitations in pass protection were on display the last three games, albeit the last game was a bit better:

I detail these GIFs and his entire first start here.

These same problems persisted against the Washington Football Team. Most of the pressures Lem ieux gave up in the Eagles’ game were a bit more unconventional, and not as much him losing at the point of attack. He did have some solid reps in pass protection, and, of course, in the run against Washington. Here’s a quick video:

Lemieux isn’t perfect in pass protection, but he does maintain his reputation as a physical blocker on the line of scrimmage, despite a low grade of 112th among guards as a run blocker:

The lower leg drive, quickness to engage, ability to out-leverage and the sheer power are great to see. In a phone booth, Lemieux can do damage, and he’s proven adept at pulling/trapping. He needs to get better in pass protection to maximize his skills, but his length will always work against him. He’ll have to find better ways to engage, handle himself on contact, stay balanced, and react in a more proficient manner to what the defender is doing.

Grade: C

Will Hernandez

The heat on the seat for Hernandez isn’t boiling, but Giants’ fans seem a bit disappointed by the third-year second-round pick out of UTEP. I haven’t sold all my Hernandez stock, but I think he’s an average player who we expected to be very good. Hernandez ranks 78th among guards in pass blocking and 84th as a run blocker - not great. He started 7 games and filled in for Zeitler after the concussion against the Eagles. He’s given up one sack and 21 pressures on the year.

I wish Hernandez provided more stability and was a bit more consistent as a run blocker. I don’t feel he’s a liability in this area however, he doesn’t consistently command the line of scrimmage. He’s had to play alongside either poor talent or inexperienced players in his first three years, and that hasn’t helped him. There have been several plays throughout the years where Hernandez was put into precarious situations, and there are times where he makes impressive individual efforts in subpar conditions:

In the first GIF, Nick Gates struggles with the outside release of the nose and Andrew Thomas has to respect the edge defenders blitzing ability, which leads to a 3-Technique and 1-Technique both colliding into Hernandez, who does enough to allow Jones to throw one of his dimes. The second clip shows good processing to see the threat and come off the chip quickly to pick up Evan Engram’s blown assignment off the heels of Thomas giving up the inside. He displays solid quickness and explosiveness to locate the aggressive defensive back, while showing impressive upper body strength to finish the play.

These are similar plays, with different wrinkles, that former Giants’ head coach and play caller Pat Shurmur called quite often with Hernandez last season. It’s a gap concept where the backside guard, Hernandez, pulls to the play side B-Gap, also known as the 4 or 6 holes depending on if the tackle is covered or uncovered. He’s a solid pulling guard, who excelled in this area at UTEP.

Hernandez also possesses a good anchor and he does a solid job handling speed to power rushers. Consistency is key for Hernandez, but the tools are there. And, much like Gates, he’s always looking for work during plays, which you can see below:

He’s a player who can start in the NFL, but not one that has unlocked the next level. It just doesn’t seem like he’s progressed since his promising rookie season where he finished 44th as a run blocker and 39th as a pass blocker, according to PFF. The jury isn’t out on Hernandez, but I do expect more in the second half of the season. Once he’s fully healthy and up to speed, I expect a rotation similar to the tackles between Hernandez and Lemieux.

Grade: C

Center

Nick Gates

It’s no easy task to slide from an undrafted tackle to starting center in an unconventional offseason, but Gates has done so admirably. It was a rocky start against the Steelers’ front, but he’s progressed more than I expected since that week one debut. You can go back and look at my reactions from that game.

According to Pro Football Focus, Gates ranked 31st among centers in Week 1 offense, 32nd in pass protection, and 23rd in run blocking. With all the fill ins and injury replacements, he now ranks 34th in run blocking among centers, and 33rd in pass blocking. Although those PFF grades aren’t great, I don’t see a liability on the line; I actually see a progressing player who can possibly be the long term center for the Giants if the trajectory continues to ascend.

We saw this GIF when watching Lemieux above. Now watch Gates as he quickly gets his hands inside and drives through his hips while imposing his power on the defensive lineman. He’s been good on the pin-pull as a pinning center, which is an advantageous block:

Gates is a very gritty player with a ton of competitive toughness, which is a necessary trait to play on the interior offensive line. Hand technique isn’t great, and he can get a bit high due to being 6-foot-5, but he’s been an adequate starter who continues getting better.

There’s also a few reps this season where Gates shows exceptional core strength to not allow defenders to flow and restrict rushing lanes. Since his pad level tends to get high, he needs this core strength (along with subtle holds) to limit the access of defenders disengaging at the line of scrimmage.

While the play below doesn’t necessarily work from a net gain perspective, just watch the athletic ability of Gates in space to locate a pursuing defender. He’s had a couple plays this season where he does a very good job getting outside and picking up second level defenders, as I alluded to previously.

Gates has played some of the best nose and 1-Techniques: Akiem Hicks, Fletcher Cox, Da’ron Payne, and even some other defensive linemen that bump inside like Aaron Donald, Jonathan Allen, and Cameron Heyward.

Gates will lose reps early on and still have the ability to find ways to create rushing lanes, like we see above. His technique isn’t exactly refined, and he struggles against the stronger defensive tackles. He gets off to a horrendous start against Payne above, but sees what the running back is doing and adjusts to eliminate Payne. That’s processing ability. That’s instinct. That’s typically learned with experience, but he’s adjusted to the mental speed of the game and will overcome early rep mistakes, due to his intelligence.

My reservations about Gates this season were mostly in the play strength department when covered against nose techniques; he seems to lose the push battle in these situations. We saw this last season when he was playing guard against Christian Wilkens of the Dolphins; the power of Wilkens seemed to be a bit much for Gates when head up. It was also evident in Week 1 against the Steelers from a strength, and quickness perspective:

As you can read from my article that week, it wasn’t all bad from Gates against the Steelers. Since that game, Gates has shown signs of progression that can’t be understated. He still has a ways to go, but I love his tenacity and feel there’s definitely something to mold with here.

Grade: C+