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Do the Giants have a playoff-caliber offensive line?

If they don’t, they have company in the Divisional Round

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Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

When the 2022 NFL season began, one of the biggest question marks about the New York Giants was whether their offensive line would be better than the awful 2021 version. General Manager Joe Schoen tried to do so with limited financial resources, signing free agents Mark Glowinski, Jon Feliciano and a bunch of other low-cost offensive linemen and in-season waiver wire pickups, plus using draft picks on Evan Neal, Joshua Ezeudu, and Marcus McKethan.

It’s hard to say that it worked very well, at least in this first year. Neal, the second 2022 offensive tackle drafted, finished second-worst among all rookies in Pro Football Focus overall blocking grade (44.0). He tied for second-most sacks surrendered (7) among rookie OTs behind only Seattle’s Abraham Lucas (9) and tied for fourth-most overall pressures (39, behind Charles Cross’ 48, Jamaree Salyer’s 46, and Braxton Jones’ 40), but the others played several hundred more snaps than Neal. Ezeudu showed some good and more bad (46.0 overall, seventh out of 10 rookies with at least 200 snaps) but missed half the season. McKethan never saw the field after a season-ending injury.

Glowinski played true to type given his reputation at Indianapolis - a capable run blocker and below-average pass blocker. Yet he was the second-highest graded offensive lineman on the Giants’ roster (63.4), behind Andrew Thomas’ second-team All-Pro 89.1 grade. Feliciano (57.7) was disappointing as a run blocker but adequate as a pass blocker. Of the free agents and waiver pickups, only Tyre Phillips saw considerable time because of Neal’s injury, grading as you might expect from a waiver pickup (50.5).

For the OL as a whole, only three players graded as above replacement level (60 or more) overall: Thomas, Glowinski, and Nick Gates (60.3). In 2021, the Giants actually had four players grade 60 or better, although other than Thomas, barely so (Matt Peart, Billy Price, Nate Solder). So it’s clear that Joe Schoen has not yet fixed the damn OL once and for all.

Nonetheless, the Giants are a Divisional Round team, one of eight out of 32 teams left standing. It must be a fluke of nature that the Giants are still alive with a mostly subpar offensive line. Surely they are at a tremendous disadvantage against the other remaining playoff teams?

Let’s look at the stats for every team left (only offensive linemen who played an average of at least 20 snaps per game during the regular season) to find out.

New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Data courtesy of PFF

This game is a mismatch on the OL, with the Eagles boasting one of the best and most experienced offensive lines in the NFL (No. 1 in PFF rankings). Every Philadelphia offensive lineman who has gotten substantial playing time grades better than 60 overall, and better than 60 in both pass blocking and run blocking (with one exception, as discussed below). Tackle Lane Johnson and center Jason Kelce are possible future Hall of Famers. Neither one has given up a sack this season. Johnson and Kelce have only given up 9 and 11 total pressures all season - only Chris Lindstrom of Atlanta has done as well (9 pressures in 1,047 snaps).

But there’s hope, Giants fans. Johnson has missed several games with a groin injury, though he seems to be trending to return this week. In his absence, Jack Driscoll played adequately but was subpar in pass blocking (56.2 grade, with 3 sacks and 19 pressures allowed in only 354 snaps). Jordan Mailata has blocked well overall at the other tackle position on both pass and run plays, but he can be had - he’s given up 6 sacks and 39 overall pressures. Landon Dickerson led the NFL with 14 penalties this season: seven holding, four false starts, and three ineligible downfield, according to NFL Penalties. Eight of those penalties have occurred since Week 12, so maybe opponents are seeing something on film that they can exploit.

For the Giants, the two Eagles games were the worst of Evan Neal’s season by PFF’s standards, with overall grades of 35.7 and 28.2. Neal gave up a sack and 8 total pressures in the first Eagles game. He had three penalties against the Eagles in two games. Interestingly, Neal had no holding penalties all season (let me beat commenters to the punch - because he couldn’t get close enough to pass rushers to hold them?) Every one of his penalties was a false start, and all but one came in Week 14 or later, after he returned from a sprained MCL. Is Neal still unsure of his knee and overcompensating for it at the snap?

Andrew Thomas was slightly above average in the Week 14 Eagles game overall (71.8) but had his second-lowest pass blocking score of the season (63.6) and gave up one of his three sacks and one of his three QB hits against them. Feliciano, who improved from his early season troubles beginning in Week 6, had his worst game since that point against Philadelphia (49.4), including a sack.

The Eagles’ defensive line, especially Haason Reddick, who has made a living terrorizing Giants QBs, poses a big challenge for the Giants’ OL. Daniel Jones has become adept at avoiding pressures from the right side by climbing or sliding in the pocket, which will help. Chipping the edge defenders with a tight end and keeping a running back in sometimes to pass block may be needed too if the Giants are to sustain drives.

Dallas Cowboys vs. San Francisco 49ers

Data courtesy of PFF

This is a matchup of teams with traditionally strong offensive lines. Zack Martin of the Cowboys (no sacks this season) and Trent Williams of the 49ers (one sack this season) are possible Hall of Famers, and Williams was the highest rated OT in the NFL this year by PFF (93.0).

Still, there are weak links. On the Dallas side, rookie Tyler Smith, while playing well overall (71.4 grade), has given up six sacks and 39 overall pressures and been penalized 13 times. Connor Mc Govern has pass-blocked well but been awful as a run blocker. For the 49ers, really only the two tackles, Williams and Mike McGlinchey (71.5) are above average, and McGlinchey has surrendered 6 sacks and been penalized 10 times. Center Jake Brendel is adequate but has had 12 penalties. Spencer Burford has been below average (49.6), especially against the run. Still, as a whole these are two of the better OLs in the NFL, ranked No. 7 and No. 12 by PFF.

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Buffalo Bills

Data courtesy of PFF

This game provides the ultimate answer to the question posed by the title of this article: Yes, the Giants have a playoff-caliber offensive line, not because it’s that good but because two of the favorites to reach the Super Bowl don’t have offensive lines that are any better.

The Cincinnati Bengals had an awful OL last season yet reached the Super Bowl. They almost won it...but their OL let Aaron Donald through to sack Joe Burrow as he was about to release what might have been the game-winning pass. They set about to fix their own damn offensive line once and for all last off-season, signing free agents La’el Collins from Dallas ($7M per year), Ted Karras ($6M per year) from New England, and Alex Cappa ($8.75M per year) from Tampa Bay and drafting Cordell Volson. All four started for the Bengals this season, along with former first-round pick Jonah Williams. Wow. Extreme Makeover: Cincinnati.

But it hasn’t worked. The overall PFF scores of the five starters range from 51.6 to 67.6. They have given up 27 sacks (vs. 22 for the Giants’ top seven). Williams, their 2019 first-rounder, surrendered 12 sacks. Volson has given up 38 total pressures, Williams 43, and Collins 34. Giants fans criticize the Glowinski signing ($6.1M per year), but Cincinnati in three free agency shots has gotten about the same ROI from each one.

Meanwhile the Buffalo Bills, the poster child for how to build a Super Bowl contender from a long-moribund franchise, source of Giants wunderkind GM Joe Schoen, haven’t shown that they can fix their own damn offensive line either. They hit pay dirt by drafting Dion Dawkins in 2017 (73.5 grade) but even he surrendered 30 pressures this season and had 12 penalties. Free agent Rodger Saffold ($6.25M), once among the best in the NFL, appears to be near the end of the line, having dropped to a 43.7 grade with 36 pressures and 10 penalties. The rest of the line had grades from 51.4 to 61.8, and promising 2021 third round pick Spencer Brown has regressed in year 2 (51.4 grade and 42 pressures). No wonder Josh Allen runs so much.

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Data courtesy of PFF

The upstart Jaguars are something like the Giants minus Andrew Thomas: A bunch of OK to barely acceptable players who compete but are lucky to have a mobile QB who can escape pressure. As a group they are good at helping Trevor Lawrence avoid sacks (only 17 for the starting five), and only rookie third-round center Luke Fortner has performed well below average overall.

The Jags’ equivalent to Andrew Thomas, LT Cam Robinson, is their second-highest paid player ($17.58M per year), but only scored 67.6 in overall PFF grade. How much more will an Andrew Thomas contract extension cost? The Jags also signed free agent guard Brandon Scherff, formerly with Washington, to a $16.5M per year three-year contract during the off-season. He graded at 59.0.

The Kansas City Chiefs went on a spending spree two years ago after Tampa Bay’s DL hounded Patrick Mahomes mercilessly in the Super Bowl. They have almost managed to put together a top-flight OL since then (No. 4 ranking by PFF), although their line is a study in contradictions:

  • Good: The Chiefs had two inspired draft picks in 2021: C Creed Humphrey, the fourth-ranked OL this year in the NFL (90.0) and highest-ranked center; and G Trey Smith (71.5), passed on by every NFL team multiple times because of fear over his blood clot problem yet still truckin’ after two NFL seasons.
  • Bad: Kansas City paid big money to free agents OT Orlando Brown ($16.66M per year) and G Joe Thuney ($16M per year). They were above average (75.8, 77.3 grades, respectively) but not great considering that they are the 10th- and fourth-highest paid at their positions.
  • Good and bad: The starting OL has given up only 16 sacks. But Wylie has given up 49 pressures, Brown 47, and Smith 32. This is probably the Patrick Mahomes effect. Either Mahomes makes the OLs look better than they are, or CBS is paying them secrety to let pass rushers through just for the entertainment value of watching Mahomes run serpentine around the backfield before he throws a pass from any arm angle between 0 and 360 degrees.