clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Film analysis: Should Nick Gates continue to start at center?

Let’s review Gates’ first start since his horrific leg injury

New York Giants v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

New York Giants interior offensive lineman Nick Gates suffered a gruesome leg injury in Week 2 of the 2021 season. Gates suffered a broken tibia and fibula in his left leg that required seven surgeries. The road to recovery was arduous for the now 27-year-old offensive lineman, but few people on this earth embody toughness in the manner that Gates personifies on NFL game days.

Gates received his first start since his injury due to Jon Feliciano’s nagging neck injury on Thursday against the Dallas Cowboys. Gates’ number was called to man the middle of an injured offensive line unit with two other replacement players (Jack Anderson at left guard & Tyre Phillips at right tackle).

Not only did Gates play well, but according to Pro Football Focus he received the highest offensive and run-blocking grades of his career.

Gates’ healthy return is a much-needed addition to an interior offensive line unit that’s struggled over the last few games. Here are Nick Gates’ snaps from Week 12:

Here are quick breakdowns of some of Nick Gates’ reps against Dallas on Thanksgiving.

(Gates is No. 65)

Run blocking

This is the Giants’ first run of the game off the zone read. The Cowboys are in an OVER front, and the Giants motion Richie James (80) to the weak side. The OVER front has the 1-technique to the weak side of the formation, which allows the Giants to ACE block the 1-technique and have the guard climb to the second level.

Before Mark Glowinski (64) contacts the 1-technique, Gates fits his hands inside the defender and controls his upper body. Glowinski’s contact gets the defensive lineman off-balance and out of position; the defender’s chest is well in front of his feet, and the defender attempts to readjust, but Gates does not allow it. As the defender tries to come to balance, Gates torques him to the ground and finishes his block with authority.

In Gates’ first run-blocking rep as a starter, returning from a devastating injury, he goes to IHOP. However, he wasn’t satiated quite yet.

Gates and Jack Anderson (77) block the 2i-technique Osa Odighizuwa (97). Anderson does a good job quickly transitioning off the COMBO block and locating Leighton Vander Esch (55). Gates ensures control of Odighizuwa by perfectly framing the block, with prompt timing, to assume full control after Anderson took the penetrating Vander Esch.

Gates gets his outside hand on the midline of Odighizuwa and uses his inside hand to subtly grab underneath the “9” on the back of his jersey. Gates explodes into contact while driving his feet, displacing the defender from his area of the field. Saquon Barkley (26) runs right behind Gates’ block for a touchdown. The power of Gates is apparent and noticeable.

Gates executes another COMBO block, this time with Glowinski, against a 2-technique. Glowinski comes off the COMBO in an attempt to seal the B-Gap from Micah Parsons (11), so Gates quickly assumes the full responsibility of Quinton Bohanna (98). Like the Energizer Bunny, Gates’ feet just keep going and going, through contact, until the whistle is blown, just like he does against Vander Esch in the play below:

It’s a similar block from the play above; however, on this play, Gates effectively contacts three Dallas defenders. He chips Neville Gallimore (96), puts his elbow into Damone Clark (33), and then gets his hands on Vander Esch, who contacts Gates’ face mask. Carlos Watkins (91) does well to stay low and split the double team of Anderson and Andrew Thomas (78) because the former had to quickly climb due to Clark’s positioning. The blocks up front were not sustained, but Gates finishes this play in a very Nick Gates type of way.

New York runs split-zone with Barkley on a post-snap orbit movement for eye candy. Gary Brightwell (23) gets tackled by Demarcus Lawrence (90) due to a missed block from the H-Back Chris Myarick (85). However, Gates assists Anderson with the 3-technique before locating Vander Esch and pinning him to Daron Bland (26). If the backside defender was effectively cut, this may have been another explosive run for Brightwell.

In space

Mike Kafka and Brian Daboll found success using counter runs and other power/gap concepts that require the center to have the athletic ability to pull into space. They also use the WIPE technique often on weak side zone runs where the guard blocks down on the 1-technique and the center pulls around to locate the linebacker.

Gates did some of these responsibilities in Jason Garrett’s offense, and he checked the boxes before the injury. In his return to action, he still showed the athleticism and mobility to kick into space, locate, and finish blocks with tenacity.

Dallas is in a nickel personnel package with two linebackers on the field, and safety Jaron Kearse (27) rolled down to the weak side in the box. The Giants use what I’ve seen deemed as a WIPE technique on this weak side run. Instead of having Gates reach the 2i-shade, Glowinski blocks down, and Gates has the foot speed and control in space to swiftly pull around him to locate the second-level defender.

Kearse goes to fill the 4-hole to the weak side, and Gates meets him at the line of scrimmage in a very pleasant manner; Gates explodes into contact, lifts the 220-pound safety in the air, and slams him to the ground. An intimidating and commanding play from Gates.

This play isn’t as technically proficient as others for Gates. Clark does a good job disallowing Gates from making clean contact as the center pulls around Glowinski’s block on the 2-technique. Clark stays low and uses his hands well to defeat Gates’ block and assist in tackling Barkley for a small gain.

New York uses a jumbo tight end personnel package with Korey Cunningham (70) aligned to the play side off-tackle, along with two tight ends outside of him - that’s a lot of people to one side of the offense.

The Giants run G-Lead with the center following the play side guard to the field. The four blockers outside of Glowinski (play side guard) block Dallas’ defense down the line of scrimmage, creating a seal. Vander Esch and Anthony Brown (3) are on contain duties, but the Giants have both Glowinski and Gates kick the players out to allow Barkley to find a crease for a solid gain.

Pin blocks

The pin blocks on pin-pull concepts are typically easier than pulling and locating in space. All the offensive lineman has to do is block down on a defender and not allow him to work around or through the block. Gates did a good job acting as a wall in these situations. Here are three plays where Gates pins the defender:

The strength and power are noticeable in different ways. In the first clip, Gates physically removes the player from the screen; he drives his feet through contact, explodes upward into Gallimore, and never allows the defensive lineman to reestablish leverage.

In the second clip, Gates has an important pin-block on the HB-pitch misdirection handoff to the wingback. Gates can’t allow that 2i-technique to penetrate at all, for Brightwell was tight to the line of scrimmage on the jet sweep. Gates absorbs the contact, bowed back and all, which allows Brightwell to find space for one of the better runs of the day.

What I love most about the third play was Gates’ framed his block to defeat the 2i-technique assuming Jones would hand the football to Barkley on the zone read with two TRAP blocks up front. Gates readjusts his hands underneath the inner arm-pit of Bohanna and does not allow the defender to create any separation - he restricts space as much as possible. Once Gates notices Jones’ kept the football - and was in trouble - he keeps his feet moving through Bohanna to create an escape path to the inside and away from Parsons.

If you look closely at Gates’ eyes, you’ll see him notice Parsons’ movement and adjust his own blocking strategy against Bohanna. Parsons does an excellent job containing Jones, and Gates showed the mental processing to adjust his block to give Jones a last resort at a positive play.

Pass protection

One of the biggest issues along the Giants' offensive interior offensive line is the pressure due to bull-rushing defenders. New York struggles to consistently anchor down to create a clean pocket. Gates did not have that issue on Thursday.

Odighizuwa swats Anderson’s arm down before attempting to run through Gates. The Dallas defender does well to hinder Gates’ ability to land his right hand; Odighizuwa gets chest-to-chest with Gates at a lower pad level and an advantageous position with his outside arm. Somehow Gates uses his outside arm to break the contact with Odighizuwa and not allow the defender to engage in his bull rush.

Not allowing Odighizuwa to get his hands cleanly inside forced the defender’s pad level to rise. Gates absorbs the rush, sits back on his hips, and uses his strong base to handle the power of Odighizuwa, while eventually earning his chest and raising his center of gravity. Good job by Gates to hand fight and not capitulate ground against the power rush.

This play isn’t as technically sound, but it’s against Odighizuwa, and the defender gets chest-to-chest again. Gates initially lost the pad-level battle, and Odighizuwa is able to lift Gates up and push him backward until Gates gets his feet on the ground and stands the defender upward. It’s impressive that Gates was able to recover after a rough start, but to be fair, he does also hold the right side of Odighizuwa on the lower portion of the “9.”

As we just witnessed, Gates does a good job recovering and winning reps, despite a less-than-ideal start. He does the same in the play above; Watkins uses a double swipe to catch Gates leaning forward and further his momentum downward. Watkins attempts to go through the A-Gap and around Gates, but the center knows to pin Watkins to his right guard, Jack Anderson.

Gates quickly transitions to establish two points of contact on Watkins, with his right hand on the near hip. Gates then uses the contact of Watkins on Anderson to firmly establish his left hand on the breastplate of Watkins before pulling the defender close to him, which halted his rush.

Vander Esch blitzes right at Gates on the cross-dog blitz with a looping Parsons from the field side. Vander Esch gets a good start on Gates with momentum, but the center calmly walks back while pushing the linebacker tight to the guard, restricting the space for Kearse on the twist. It may not seem like much, but Gates noticing Kearse on the blitz and then using Vander Esch to close the A-Gap is a smart play from Gates that makes Matt Breida’s (31) job easier.

Gallimore attempts to win through the half-man to the outside of Gates, but the center gets his hands inside and pushes Gallimore backward. Gates pulls the lineman close to him, with his elbows tight, and the defender in full control until the whistle is blown. Gates also receives an assist from Glowinski early in the rush.

Gates displays good patience and calmness under pressure, as Dorance Armstrong (92) and Lawrence slant inside and away from the Giants protection shift. The A-Gap is compromised by Armstrong due to Glowinski kicking out in the direction of protection (call me “Nicky rhymes”). Gates contacts Armstrong, which hindered the pass rusher while still maintaining a presence to deter Lawrence from attacking the A-Gaps.

Lawrence eventually attempts to work around Armstrong but removes himself from the play; Gates has positive identification with Lawrence until the last second before fully sandwiching Armstrong to Glowinski, providing Jones space to evade outside.


Here are three plays where Gates showed awareness to locate the looping Dallas defender when Dan Quinn dialed up the twist games up front.

The final clip looks bad on Gates. He does a solid job transitioning Armstrong to Glowinski before turning for Lawrence - it’s very well executed by Dallas. Gates notices Lawrence a bit late, but Anderson is also on Gates’ left side, unoccupied.

Despite the late notice, if we look closely at Gates’ right foot, he can’t generate the power off the ground to explode left and pick up Lawrence because he steps on Glowinski’s left foot. It’s one reason why it looks a bit awkward.

Final thoughts

Nick Gates’ story is sensational, and his overall effectiveness on Thanksgiving was truly impressive. His underdog tale includes an unlikely undrafted path to the 53-man roster that he achieved, despite spending his rookie season on injured reserve. He then played every position along the offensive line other than left tackle before the catastrophic leg injury last season.

Defying the odds, Gates was able to overcome the incredible obstacles on his path and found his way back to the field. Not only is he back on the active roster, but he might be the best interior offensive lineman currently on the Giants. It’s an extraordinary story for a remarkable human being.

The current interior offensive line is a mess, with Josh Ezeudu (neck), Feliciano (neck), and Shane Lemieux (toe) all missing the Dallas game with injuries. To my knowledge, the injuries are not considered serious. Still, I believe it is difficult for the Giants to return Gates to the sixth-offensive lineman role, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Feliciano is truly Wally Pipp’d.

Feliciano has more snaps at right guard (1,789) than he does any other position; his second-highest played position is center (979), but he also played 366 snaps at left guard last season for the Buffalo Bills (he has 689 total at LG).

If Feliciano is healthy enough to play, the Giants should contemplate using him at either guard spot, especially if Ezeudu is injured. Right guard Mark Glowinski’s inability to hold up in pass protection, specifically against power moves, has hindered the overall ability of the Giants’ offense, and Feliciano would be an upgrade over Jack Anderson on the left side.

I feel a bit apprehensive when advocating to jumble up the offensive line this late in the season when a player like Feliciano has only operated at center with the Giants, but this team may be in a position just to find their best five-to-field. The offensive line continues to be a problem. The return of Evan Neal is welcomed, but the issues on the interior persist, so I would have Glowinski on short-leash, and hopefully, Ezeudu can return on the left side.

The return of Gates is admirable, and it’s consistent with his tough mentality and temperament. Mixing up the offensive line should, at the least, be considered by Bobby Johnson, Mike Kafka, and Brian Daboll. That mix-up should not deviate from who started at center against Dallas. To me, Nick Gates should remain in the starting lineup.