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‘Valentine’s Views’: Evan Engram should not be a blocker, and other thoughts

It’s time for some “things I think”

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants
Evan Engram was “trying” to block T.J. Watt on this play.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Before we move on completely to Sunday’s upcoming game against the Chicago Bears, let’s put a bow on New York Giants vs. Pittsburgh Steelers with a few things I’m thinking about.

Why Jason, why?

I guess I’m coming out firing here. This one will include my first jab at Giants offensive coordinator Jason Garrett (Dallas Cowboys fans would be proud), and a “what are you talking about?” aimed at BBV’s own Nick Falato.

What’s got me so worked up? Evan Engram, that’s what.

Let’s acknowledge that Engram has to be MUCH better than he was on Monday night for the Giants to be the kind of offense they can be. An awful drop. Probably a good chunk of the blame for the incompletion on third-and-2 at the goal line after a Pittsburgh muffed punt. An offensive pass interference penalty that I completely agree with (a receiver should never get away with fully extending an arm to push away a defender). Only two catches for 9 yards and a 0.0 rating when targeted.

So, yeah, he wasn’t good.

Still, Engram is in his fourth NFL season. He’s on his third head coach/offensive coordinator. When is someone calling plays finally going to admit what we all know, and they should know — that asking Engram to throw a key block as an inline tight end is setting him up to fail and pretty much begging for something bad to happen?

Yet, first drive of the game here we go. It’s second-and-3 at the Pittsburgh 42-yard line and Garrett dials up a run to the right — behind Engram. The tight end, of course, is completely blown up by Pittsburgh linebacker Olasunkanmi Adeniyi (let’s hope I never have to type that name again), who meets Barkley in the backfield for a 5-yard loss.

Which brings us to a worse play, and our good friend Nick Falato.

In his film review, Nick mentions the Giants’ second-and-goal play from the 2-yard line after the Diontae Johnson muffed punt. He says of this play, on which T.J. Watt hit Jones’ arm just as he was throwing to cause a play that was ruled incomplete rather than a fumble, that “the play call is fine, the execution was poor.”

Nick, my friend, what on God’s green earth are you talking about?

When is it EVER a good idea to design a play/protection scheme where you have Engram isolated one-on-one AS A BLOCKER against the opposition’s best pass rusher. In this case, against Watt?

Of course Watt blew up the play. Of course he hit Jones. The Giants were just fortunate not to turn the ball over.

I just don’t get it. Why do coaches continue to ask Engram to do things he can’t do?

I’m going to agree wholeheartedly with Nick on the design of the play where Jones threw the goal line interception. Awful decision by Jones, but the play design needs to be scrapped.

Three tight ends to the left, which crowds that side of the field. Play action to the left, which moves the defense that way. A roll to the left, which puts Jones under pressure and in an awkward throwing position since the design also leaves Bud Dupree unblocked.

Let’s dump that one from the playbook. Or at least run the play fake to the opposite side of the roll.

Offensive line concern

Hardly mentioned in all the chatter about the Giants’ offensive line is that neither of the team’s guards, Will Hernandez nor Kevin Zeitler, played well.

Zeitler, who should be the Giants’ best lineman, gave up four pressures and had an awful 29.5 pass-blocking grade. Hernandez, coming off a sub-par 2019, didn’t start 2020 well. He gave up five pressures and had a 27.4 pass-blocking grade.

A quick note about Nick Gates. I couldn’t tell you if there were calls that he missed. I only noticed one time, though, that Gates was physically overwhelmed in the game. On a fourth-quarter handoff to Saquon Barkley that lost a yard Pittsburgh Tyson Alualu pushed Gates several yards into the backfield to destroy the play. I’m not going to kill Gates for one missed block.

So much for “cleanup”

Giants’ linebacker Blake Martinez has always been a tackling machine. He had 144 or more in each of his last three seasons with the Green Bay Packers. The complaint about Martinez is that he has been a “compiler,” a guy who makes tackles down the field rather than at the line of scrimmage. Even Martinez said he felt that in Green Bay he was asked to do “cleanup” work rather than attacking and making plays.

Well, that does not appear to be the case with the Giants.

Martinez had a team-high 11 tackles on Monday. All 11 went for what Pro Football Focus calls “stops,” which are defined as “tackles that constitute a “failure” for the offense.”

Saquon Barkley not an every down back?

That, apparently, is the opinion of former Giants running back Tiki Barber.

For years I have had a thing about discounting pretty much anything Barber says about the Giants. This, though?

It’s pretty much impossible to disagree with the idea that Barkley’s pass protection is a problem. Because it is. Because he apparently can’t. Barkley was charged with a sack Monday when he let blitzing defensive back Mike Hilton sail on by untouched. The problem for the Giants is this. Barkley is a great receiver. The best way to defend him? Blitz him, make him stay in and try to block, which he has yet to show he can really do.

We already started to see last season that there were times Pat Shurmur took Barkley off the field for added pass protection. You don’t want your best weapon on the sideline when you’d like an opportunity to put the ball in his hands, but Barkley’s pass protection issues and how the Giants deal with them are worth watching.

Joe Judge and protecting players

Judge coaches Giants players hard. His language isn’t always nice — though to my amazement he has yet to drop an F Bomb during a Zoom call with media. He made it clear this week, though, that he understands he has a young, developing team and that public criticism from the coach is not something they need to hear right now.

“It’s my job to support the players,” Judge said. “I think it’s our job internally to make corrections and adjustments that are necessary ... I think that no matter what tone you do it in, it’s always about teaching.”

I think that’s perfect.