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Film Study: How has Marcus McKethan played through three games?

New York Giants v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Legendary New York Giants general manager George Young often spoke of the Planet Theory. Young, who served as Giants general manager from 1979-1999, constructed the roster and presided over the Giants’ first two Super Bowl victories. His planet theory was simple and to the point:

“There are only a very few human beings on the planet who are big enough and athletic enough to excel along the line of scrimmage in the National Football League”

Marcus McKethan, a 2022 fifth-round selection by Joe Schoen out of North Carolina, perfectly fits Young’s theory. After the Week 1 shutout loss against Dallas, the Giants opted to start McKethan at right guard over veteran guard Mark Glowinski. McKethan, who passed his physical in the beginning of August, tore his ACL during the Blue/White scrimmage of the 2022 season. For all intents and purposes, he’s a rookie.

McKethan possesses massive size, incredible length, and a better broad jump than Andrew Thomas, John Michael Schmitz and Josh Ezeudu.

Through three games, and 137 pass-blocking plays, McKethan has surrendered 10 pressures and two sacks with one penalty. The last two games were worse than his Arizona tape. His inexperience with striking, handling counters, timing, and optimal positioning in pass protection is evident, but it’s easy to understand why the Giants are giving McKethan a shot along a battered offensive line.

Firstly, there’s not a lot of secure talent to compete with McKethan; secondly, his power at the point of attack is NFL quality. His power while COMBO blocking - deuce (tackle/guard) and ACE (center/guard) - is palpable. McKethan has a MACK truck quality to his hits; at times, it doesn’t appear as if he hit hard until the reaction of the defender unfolds.

Still, despite the exceptional play strength, his raw nature was exposed in the last two matchups, and he must improve if he expects to earn a starting role on this Giants' offensive line, which is certainly within the range of outcomes for the 24-year-old, 6-foot-7, 335-pound athlete.

[McKethan is No. 60 and is playing right guard]

Run blocking

Mckethan and Evan Neal (73) truly form a 700-pound block, and the result of those blocks is desirable for the Giants. New York ran a zone read play where Jones kept the football. Dre’Mont Jones (55) is the 3-technique over the outside shoulder of McKethan, whose power and torque put Jones in a precarious situation that was seized by Neal. The two large human beings drove Jones well out of the play and into the ground.

As bad as Neal has looked through these four games - and, unfortunately, it’s bad - I have enjoyed the COMBO blocks between him and McKethan in the run game.

The two, led by McKethan on initial contact, uprooted and drove Jonathan Ledbetter (93) out of his 3-technique position. Talk above paving a path. Ledbetter was the snow, and McKethan was the shovel; the big second-year guard out of UNC eliminated the veteran defensive lineman from the play, with help from Neal.

It’s impressive for a man of McKethan’s incredible size to get as low as he did before finding a way to rebalance himself and finish the block in an ideal fashion. Blocks like this must get offensive line coach Bobby Johnson fired up.

The COMBO popped again against Kevin Givens (90) of the 49ers on this RPO pass to Parris Campbell (0) in the flat. I love how both linemen keep their feet churning through contact, which is consistent when properly framed and they’re together on the double team.

Another good COMBO is shown by the pair of young linemen. Saquon Barkley (26) narrowly missed a touchdown right off the backside of Neal.

This appeared to be an RPO check free access to Hodgins, who was one-on-one to the outside, but most of the blockers were executing pass-type sets - except John Michael Schmitz (61) and Marcus McKethan. The COMBO drove Kevin Strong (92) off the line of scrimmage and into the end zone, with the ball snapped between the six and the seven-yard line.

Schmitz and McKethan removed Ledbetter on this shotgun zone run. McKethan is very heavy-handed and provides force on contact. Ledbetter’s chest is jolted back at the point of contact, which was assisted by Schmitz, but also seemed to primarily be a product of McKethan exploding low-to-high into contact.

Power G-Lead (play-side OG pulls) with McKethan pulling is a sign of respect for the big man. Not many people on this earth at his size can kick into space in a controlled manner and locate a much smaller first-percentile person type of athlete like McKethan does above. He also tossed the defensive back out of the club.

The execution of this play could be better, as Ledbetter separated from McKethan, but the raw power and ability to relocate his target once separation was established is not something every lineman can do, especially not ones that are the size of a mountain.

Wham double trap

The Giants run a lot of GH-counter with the backside guard throwing the kick-out and H-back lead blocking to the most dangerous man. It’s a play that features two pullers. However, against the 49ers' wide even defensive front that has two incredibly athletic and instinctive linebackers on the backend, the Giants employed a wham double trap play that allowed two ‘free’ offensive linemen to climb to the second level. Matt Breida’s touchdown was scored on this play:

I heard the play has also been referred to as ‘Crunch.’ Nevertheless, the Giants TRAP players must have the speed and control to get out of their stance and locate a temporarily unblocked defender before said defender understands the rushing concept. Below is the second time the Giants ran this concept against the 49ers, and McKethan’s stance gave Dre Greenlaw a clue:

McKethan is ever so slightly off the line of scrimmage, which is a tell-tale sign of a pull. A lot of linemen do this to give themselves an edge or a better angle, and it’s not surprising that McKethan aligned in this manner against the 49ers.

This is the first time the Giants employed the wham double trap rushing concept against San Francisco. In order to allow Daniel Bellinger’s (82) wham block to land, McKethan is tasked to strike Arik Armstead (91) to allow Bellinger to locate the very large defensive linemen. What is impressive to me, though, is the timing and execution of McKethan’s trap on Javon Hargrave (98).

McKethan struck Armstead, stayed square, flashed eyes to his trap assignment, and exploded off his outside foot to violently contact one of the better interior defensive linemen in football. His short area quickness looked great on this rep.

Pass protection

Pass protection always starts with a blocker’s footwork, and McKethan stayed poised while limiting any space for Dante Stills (55) to create any separation. Everything is tight in this play for McKethan; his elbows are inward, fully engaging his pectoral and deltoid muscle groups for control. His inside hand landed outside on the shoulder pad, but McKethan turned it inward to avoid yellow laundry while keeping his feet active and staying in front of the defender.

Besides footwork, a blocker’s eyes are essential to success. McKethan’s eyes are a bit late on this simulated pressure. The 3-technique slanted inside to occupy McKethan and Schmitz, which created a two-on-one versus Neal. While engaged with a defender, McKethan noticed Jesse Luketa (43) entering the B-Gap. In deceptively athletic fashion, McKethan dropped his outside foot, opened his hips, dipped low, and contacted Luketa with his outside shoulder, which put the former Penn State linebacker on the ground. Exceptional work from McKethan here.

McKethan anticipated the twist above and did an excellent job noticing it post-snap. Anchor issues were a problem for McKethan in Weeks 3 and 4, but that wasn’t the case against the Cardinals. He stonewalled B.J. Ojulari (18) on the E/T twist; the younger brother of Azeez is not one to generate power with his rushes, but I appreciate McKethan’s awareness and center of gravity at the point of contact; he’s 6-7, and he’s significantly lower than Ojulari at the point of contact.

Firstly, Neal covered good ground in his vertical set to cut off Victor Dimukeje’s (52) angle. Anything positive about Neal is welcomed - he did not look good in Week 4. As for McKethan, he absorbed the power rush, got his shoulders pushed back a bit, but rested on his hips and wide base to keep the pocket intact.

McKethan cleanly landed his outside hand on the breastplate of Jones, who attempted to bend around the edge of the guard and win with speed. Jones quickly realized the problem with that plan of attack. It doesn’t look like McKethan has a ton of force behind his engagements at the point of attack, but there’s so much raw power that’s perceivable when most of these defenders almost end up on the ground after receiving, ostensibly, limited contact from McKethan.

Issues in pass protection

Here are a bunch of Mckethan’s negative plays over his first three starts:

There’s a lot to chew on throughout the negative plays above. For starters, a lot of the bad plays from the Seattle game were in the second half, where McKethan was fatigued. The Giants possessed the football for 36 minutes in the game, and we see a technical breakdown from McKethan’s use of hands. He tonged, lunged, and hugged defenders and seemed to lack the lateral agility and quickness to close gaps as securely as we saw in the better clips. He looked tired.

McKethan struggled to anchor on a few of the plays above. Arik Armstead ran right through McKethan on the two-point conversion late in the third quarter; Armstead also drew a penalty against McKethan using a power rush move, which was also late in the third quarter. The long levers of Armstead, coupled with his overall power, put McKethan on the struggle bus. Armstead won the leverage battle and won the matchup. For what it’s worth, through three games, McKethan has a surprisingly low hat for a man of his size.

Armstead also used finesse moves to avoid and separate from McKethan throughout the game. It happened twice with a swim move and once with a double swipe that created immediate separation. Armstead understood McKethan’s punch timing. The young guard is raw and didn’t vary his punch. Also, McKethan is still learning how to combat counter moves and quick pass rush plans that are employed by talented defensive players.

Final thoughts

McKethan has tantalizing power and force, with movement skills that aren’t synonymous with 6-7, 335-pound human beings. He’s had a turbulent few weeks as a starter after a strong game in Arizona, but context is important. Yes, he seemed fatigued down the stretch of Weeks 3 and 4, but should that be a shock? He tore his ACL at the beginning of August last season and is now starting under questionable circumstances.

These last two weeks were less than ideal for McKethan. There was no Andrew Thomas, no Saquon Barkley, and the Giants lost both Schmitz and Bellinger on the failed fourth-and-1 tush-push at the end of the first drive. Ben Bredeson, who is not a natural center, was forced to play there, which put Shane Lemieux back into the lineup. Plus, the loss of Bellinger affected how the Giants wanted to call protections and employ 12 personnel. Entering Week 4, the Giants ran 12 personnel (two tight ends) on 34% of their snaps. They had five plays in 12 personnel against the Seahawks - all on the first drive.

So, to recap, McKethan’s worst game happened with a non-center at center to his left, Lemieux at left guard, a guard playing tackle in Josh Ezuedu, a game plan that was scratched due to a lack of true 12 personnel sans Bellinger, and yet another negative game script where pass-rushers could tee-off, all while playing next to the struggling Neal - that’s not exactly a recipe for success.

McKethan is a developmental player with upside who would benefit from some conditioning. There’s a lot to get excited about with McKethan; for starters, he is the perfect example of George Young’s planet theory, and the Giants are fully aware. They pull him, get him out on the run, and he can operate in space

His movement at the point of attack in the run game is wildly impressive, and he typically does a solid job framing his blocks, keeping his center of gravity low, and using his hands to control/steer. The overall pass protection is adequate at best but becomes poor as games progress; on the bright side, though, that should improve with better conditioning. He’s still a raw player that veteran pass rushers exploit by exposing tendencies and using several moves to separate; those pass rushers just can’t allow McKethan to get those vice grips onto their chest, lest they risk eliminating themselves from the play.

McKethan should remain the starter at guard for the time being. He still has a lot of development to go, but there’s a lot to appreciate. Only a few men on earth have his size, power, pop-on contact, and body control on the move. With the current state of the interior parts of the Giants’ line, there’s no reason not to start this very intriguing young football player for another week.