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Big Blue View mailbag: It’s - almost - all about the offensive line

The mail’s here!

Let’s open this week’s Big Blue View Mailbag and see what New York Giants questions might come tumbling out.

Doug Mollin asks: The Consensus Big Board had Evan Neal #9 overall in the 2022 draft (the #2 OT behind Ekwonu).

Dane Brugler had Neal #3 overall (again, the #2 OT in the draft behind Ekwonu).

Taking Neal 7th does not seem to be one of the “stretches” we were all debating later in that 2022 draft. It was just going to be a matter of how good Neal would turn out to be.

Usually a huge miss like that comes from misjudging the person — low football IQ, no motor, no work ethic, no accountability, outside interests, etc. That does not seem to be the case with Neal.

How much of the Neal disaster is related to his NFL coaching? How much is on faulty scouting in the first place?

Here’s a summary from Brugler on Neal with a warning, but also “Pro Bowl Potential”:

A smooth athlete for a massive blocker, Neal bends well in pass protection and continues to rework his feet into position, using controlled hand exchange to keep rushers contained. In the run game, he has strong hands and does well at initial contact as a drive blocker, but his balance and sustain skills start to fade as the play progresses. Overall, Neal lacks elite lateral agility and needs to clean up his leaning, but he is an effective blocker thanks to his rare mix of size, athleticism and flexibility. He projects as an immediate NFL starter with Pro Bowl potential and multi-position versatility.

Ed says: Doug, I honestly don’t know. I know that the Giants were not out on a limb in thinking that Neal deserved to be a top 10 pick. Pretty much every analyst saw him as one of the top three offensive tackles in the class and had him graded as a top 10 selection. I think nearly everyone has been surprised by the depth of his struggles. I think some of his struggles are related to him perhaps not being quite as athletic as most people thought. As you said, it is not about the type of person Neal is or how hard he works. Despite his unfortunate rant about the fans, he is a good young man who works hard and wants to succeed.

I like offensive line coach Bobby Johnson. Tony DelGenio, though, recently pointed out that last season’s assistant offensive line coach, Tony Sparano Jr., is now with the Indianapolis Colts. On Friday’s ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast, James Pennington of Buffalo Rumblings questioned Johnson and said three offensive linemen drafted while Johnson was offensive line coach in Buffalo are playing better since Johnson left the Bills.

I offer those only as food for thought. I don’t know how good/bad a coach Johnson is.

Seth Friedman asks: I wrote a few weeks back about the inability of NYG to compete on either side of the ball. While the offense struggles to compete without 3 starters on the OL & Saquon injured again, the defense is a total disaster. They give up huge chunk plays, and they treat tackling as an optional exercise. Given what saw last season, most of us expected the D to improve from last year. Instead, Lawrence & Williams are invisible, and McKinney has become a total liability on the backend. Could you provide some reasonable analysis of what has happened with this team.

Ed says: Seth, I think when you look back at last season it was a bit of an overachievement. Some of the teams they beat perhaps weren’t as good as they were thought to be. Remember, there was also a stretch in the middle of last season where the Giants won only once in six weeks.

Some regression had to be expected, even if we didn’t want to see it or believe it. The schedule is much tougher, and what the NFL handed the Giants over the first six weeks of the season is simply brutal.

I disagree with your statement that Dexter Lawrence is invisible and Xavier McKinney is a liability. I think you are venting a bit.

The biggest issues have been talked about ad nauseum — injuries and the continued struggles of Evan Neal have decimated the offensive line, and the quarterback isn’t playing as well as he did a year ago.

I think many people wanted to believe the Giants were “fixed” and they would take that step into the upper echelon of the NFC. Reality is setting in, though. This is Year 2 of a long-term rebuild and expectations were probably too high for this season.

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Joseph Niczky asks: Why do you think the Giants offensive line has been so consistently bad for the last decade? This year, injuries have been a problem, but healthier versions of the line have performed poorly in previous years, and many of the players the Giants intended to start this year struggled while healthy. As you said recently, this is not an issue of lack of resources. By my count, the Giants have used 9 day one or day two picks on linemen since 2013, plus numerous day three picks and free agent signings. In the same time period, they’ve had 3 GMs, 5 head coaches, 6 offensive coordinators, and 6 offensive line coaches. But no matter what they do, the line as a unit never seems to significantly improve. Why have they been unable to develop (or sign) offensive line talent?

Ed says: Joseph, I think all of that regime change has been part of it. At times poor coaching has been part of it. There have been some draft misses. Dave Gettleman spent poorly in the free agent market on offensive linemen.

I think that continuity is critical, and it is very difficult to develop offensive linemen in the modern NFL. These guys rarely ever practice in pads. They rarely ever hit. Because of the limited offseason time, they spend much less time with their teammates and coaches than players used to. It is very difficult to develop players now, especially offensive linemen. In all honesty, most coaching time is spent on scheme rather than technique or player development. That’s across the league.

I know many have been taking shots at Giants GM Joe Schoen over his offensive line draft picks the last two seasons, but I think that’s a little unfair. Evan Neal hasn’t been good, but no one predicted he would struggle like he has. There are a lot of teams that would have been happy to draft Neal in 2022. John Michael Schmitz looks like a good player. Josh Ezeudu is playing a position he shouldn’t be playing. Marcus McKethan missed all of his rookie season and was probably rushed into action too soon this year.

I have more questions about some of the decisions Schoen and Daboll made about backups than I do about draft picks or the players they intended to use as starters this season.

If you have not listened to the interview I did with former Giant offensive lineman Rich Seubert, you should. He raises a lot of good points. Here it is:

Mark Cicio asks: Of course this is about the offensive line. My question... Is this line really that far from being a good one?

Depth to me is the biggest issue, which is entirely obvious. But a pro bowler in Thomas, an adequate young guard in Bredeson, a bright young center in JMS, and hopefully an improving RT in Neal (as per our very own Nick Falato).

An off-season investment in a top guard (draft or FA), some serious depth shopping, and a little more luck in regard to injuries. It really isn’t that much.

Am I that far off base? And if not, in my opinion, that will finally be the time we can honestly judge Jones as a QB. Because once again “we have failed him”.

Ed says: Mark, let me build on my answer to the previous question.

Here is the starting line the Giants intended to have:

LT — Andrew Thomas; LG — Ben Bredeson; C — John Michael Schmitz; RG — Mark Glowinski; RT — Evan Neal

That should not be a bad group. I know Week 1 against Dallas was rough, but that group should be league average. The impact of Thomas’ absence can’t be overstated. He is a great player, and him anchoring the left side would mean the Giants could swing all of their help over to Neal on the right. Now, both sides are problematic.

I think it is still possible that Ezeudu, Schmitz, McKethan and — yes — Neal turn out to be good players. Time will tell.

I think you are right that you continue to add to this group in the draft. You upgrade from Glowinski to a (hopefully) higher caliber of free agent, if you can. You just keep adding, keep building. It’s never “done.”

I think the Giants made a mess of the depth. They still have not explained, and will never explain, why they cut Tyre Phillips. He is a perfectly competent backup at at least three positions — right tackle and both guard spots.

If they don’t believe in Matt Peart, which they obviously don’t since Ezeudu — who shouldn’t be at left tackle — is playing there while Peart only gets on the field as a jumbo tight end, why is he on the roster? Why didn’t they sign a veteran swing tackle rather than stockpiling slot receivers or signing Bobby McCain, a veteran safety they don’t use?

We can also talk about Nick Gates and Jon Feliciano. Gates was never going to re-sign with the Giants. He got a three-year, $16.5 million contract ($8 million guaranteed) to start with Washington. He wasn’t getting that to be a backup for the Giants. Feliciano took a one-year, $2.25 million deal to be a backup for the San Francisco 49ers. He probably would have taken that to stay in New York. He is adequate at best as a starting center, but certainly better than Shane Lemieux, Jaylon Thomas and Jalen Mayfield as a three-position interior offensive line backup.

In retrospect, those are the things I think the organization might like to do over.

Mendy asks: I am beginning to be concerned about Joe Schoen’s personnel decisions on the draft, free agents, and trades. Except for maybe JMS, saying all the others have underperformed is an understatement. After last season, he said his main goal was improving the run defense. The results of those efforts and starting two rookie cornerbacks have resulted in a disaster so far this season.

Our offensive line has been a problem for many years. Despite Schoen’s efforts to get some players there, they have disappointed as well.

While some in media have defended him by saying it’s too early to tell about these players, to paraphrase Yogi Berra “it gets late early here”.

Ed says: Mendy, I think that’s somewhat unfair to Schoen. In some of my previous answers I have laid out some areas where I think the Giants have made mistakes. Overall, though, I think Schoen had done a good job. And it is still very early in his tenure as GM.

I think the run defense has disappointed. The counter to that, though, is looking at who the Giants have played. I wouldn’t call the defense a disaster to this point. Not as good as was hoped, but not a disaster.

The only reason the Giants began the year starting two rookie cornerbacks is that Tre Hawkins, a sixth-round pick, played way better than expected throughout the summer.

I have said this before, but it is way too early to toss in the towel on any of Schoen’s draft picks.

Schoen has built a talented front office. There is good communication from the coaching staff to the front office to the scouts. The start to this season hasn’t been good, and maybe this season is going to go completely sideways. Give Schoen time, though, and I think he will hit more often than he will miss.

Elijah asks: Have I missed something, or have the Giants not thrown a screen play this year?

Is it the personnel we have?

Considering defenses are living in our Oline’s backyard all season long, wouldn’t the screen pass at least temper that a bit?

Ed says: Elijah, per Pro Football Focus the Giants have run 11 screen passes this year. Daniel Jones has completed 10 of those. The problem is they have gained only 21 yards (2.1 yards per attempt).

Going further, Jones has completed 19 of 20 passes behind the line of scrimmage this season. The Giants, though, have gained only 60 yards (3.0 yards per attempt).

I like the idea of the screen pass and understand where you are coming from. The Giants just haven’t been good at it. Maybe Saquon Barkley’s absence is part of that. Maybe the lack of offensive line continuity has something to do with it. Other than giving you the raw numbers, I don’t have a good answer for why the Giants don’t execute the play better.

Billy Pilgrim asks: I don’t understand why the Giants (and other teams) don’t copy what successful teams do at the RB position. The Eagles and Dolphins have 3 man RB committees and they are the top 2 teams in the league in rushing. The Dophins payroll for their 3 is $7.1M while the Eagles payroll is $5.0M for their 3. The Giants pay over $10M for Barkley alone. The RB position is the most injury prone so why would you put all your chips on one player? 3 RBs allow you to distribute the load, minimizing injuries and being able to have quality back up for injuries. There is always an exception for a Super Bowl team to pay a player like the 49ers do with CMC, but that is an outlier that can be done when you are one player away.

Ed says: Billy, let’s be realistic for a minute. Much of the league is trending that way. I think Joe Schoen and Brian Daboll might like to do things that way. Saquon Barkley was a Giant when they arrived, though. My belief is that whenever the Giants and Barkley part ways that type of committee approach where one back isn’t chewing up a high percentage of the salary cap is the way Schoen and Daboll would like to do things.

George Field asks: My question is why have the Giants not used more 2 tight end formations to help block for Jones and Co - especially when we have Waller and Bellinger? Seems counterintuitive to start and keep using a spread offense to loosen up the defense when the 5 man o-line struggles to block anyone and the opposing defense knows it?

Ed says: George, the Giants have been in two- or three- tight end sets 31% of the time so far this season. That’s a fair amount. Let me ask, though, do you want Darren Waller kept in as a blocker? I don’t. He’s the team’s No. 1 receiver. Per Pro Football Focus, the Giants have kept him in to pass block 14 times this season. I think that’s 14 too many. Yes, they need to use a healthy amount of six- and seven-man protections to help their offensive line. Keep a back in. Keep one tight end in. Maybe use an extra offensive lineman as a jumbo tight end.

To me, the first thing that needs to get fixed is the communication across the line. It doesn’t matter how many blockers you have if those blockers can’t figure out which guys they are responsible for.

Alan Nadel asks: Things look grim, but your opinion of this fix: move Neal to LG (could be more comfortable on the left side, being between Thomas and Schmitz may help anchor him, no outside rush may help him focus, could eventually be outstanding guard, if he stays at RT Jones will get killed); put Pugh at RT with Bellinger helping (Pugh may not be great there at this stage, but probably more serviceable than anyone else they now have); put Bredeson or McKethan at RG. Everything depends on how quickly these players can get back on the field, but that OL should give Jones a better pocket and Saquon better holes, sustained drives could also restore some of the defense’s pep. Next year get a FA or high draftee for RT. Thoughts?

Ed says: Alan, no. You’re just re-arranging the deck chairs and that isn’t the solution. First of all, Justin Pugh is 33 years old, has not played tackle since 2017, is coming off a torn ACL and is sporting a massive brace on his right leg. He did not sign to play tackle and I honestly don’t think he can at this point in his career. I think putting him there would be a disaster.

Maybe eventually the Giants decide Neal needs to play guard. I’m not there yet, but it’s possible. I think it’s tough, though, to ask him to not only move inside but to switch sides of the line after two years of working to acclimate to where he is now.

I am not at the point of trying to figure out next year yet.

William Ridley asks: I’m keen to know why we are giving up so many rushing yards when we supposedly have one of the best interior D lines in the league with Sexy Dexy and Leo Williams. Sure they take some plays on the sideline but not too many.

As I am in New Zealand, games are smack bang in the middle of my working Monday so I only ever get to see some highlights and catch up on everything at your fine site, so I am sure you see a lot more than I do.

Are oppositions mostly running to the edges or are Dex and Leo not playing up to expectations by giving up all these plays?

Ed says: William, Dexter Lawrence is not the problem. I don’t think Leonard Williams has played up to expectations. I think Bobby Okereke has been inconsistent. The Giants have missed too many tackles. They have not set the edge to keep running backs contained to the inside well enough. It’s a combination of many things. You also, though, have to realize that they have played some of the best rushing teams in the league.

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