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Film breakdown: How Evan Neal performed vs. Carolina

NFL: Preseason-Carolina Panthers at New York Giants Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

New York Giants second-year right tackle Evan Neal saw his first action in Friday’s 21-19 victory over the Carolina Panthers. Neal had a problematic rookie season. The seventh overall pick in the 2022 draft surrendered 39 pressures and seven sacks last season, as the former Crimson Tide member dealt with an MCL injury that forced him to miss four games in the middle of the season.

Neal comported himself well on Friday with one damning mistake that led to a Tyrod Taylor sack on his last play. His performance wasn’t flawless, but it was encouraging.

Pro Football Focus graded Neal with a 73.8 pass blocking grade, which is currently his third-highest pass blocking grade in his career (Week 2 Carolina; Week 17 Indianapolis). He graded well, and he passed the eye test, so let’s get into some of those clips:

Evan Neal is No. 73

Here are all of his plays from Friday’s win:


Let’s start with the Carolina twist game. Neal’s sack was against a twist; we’ll get into that, but first, here are two savvy twist pickups from Neal.

Neal displayed good patience on most of his plays, and here’s a microcosm of that against a wide rusher. The defender to Neal’s left is a 4i-shade at the start of the snap; Neal quickly checks his intentions, understanding the space between himself and the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMOLOS). Neal doesn’t punch; he waits, sees the EMOLOS crash inside, and then effortlessly transitions to the initial 4i-shade. Once the transition happens, Neal gets both hands on DeShawn Williams (96) and mirrors the defender, which allowed Daniel Jones (8) to step up and find a rushing lane.

Neal is up against another 4i-shade with a wide rusher. He is very disciplined with his kick-set; he stays square to the EMOLOS, waiting patiently to see the defender’s intentions. His inside hand is primed for contact, since the closest defender to his inside is on his inner shoulder. Promptly, Neal noticed the EMOLOS’ path and, again, effortlessly received the 4i-shade, shifted his weight to the inside, and created a wall between the defender and the pocket.

Similar alignment, only the 4i-shade is more of a 3-technique (outside shoulder of Glowinski, rather than inside shoulder of Neal). The EMOLOS, Kobe Jones (91), sold the twist well. Neal is square to target and ready to punch, as Jones sold the bull rush, which briefly put Neal back on his hips to absorb the contact. However, Jones slanted inside, and Neal pivoted off his outside foot to wash Jones into Glowinski’s block, but Neal’s hips were inward on the push; this allowed the 3-technique to loop around the penetrator and sack Tyrod Taylor.

Neal doesn’t always do a great job protecting his outside shoulder, but his length typically allows him to shove the defender up the pass-rushing arc. The timing of the twist and Neal’s positioning rendered his length irrelevant on this play. A bad way to end the half, but his overall game wasn’t anything to be ashamed of.

Pass protection

Neal receives some help from Matt Breida (31) with the chip on this third-and-7 pass. Neal frames the block well and anticipated the bull-rush. Neal’s struggles last season were discussed ad nauseam throughout the offseason - anchor wasn’t necessarily one of those issues.

Neal is massive; going around the mountain worked better for defenders than trying to go through it. Neal absorbs this bull rush and stands the rusher up in his tracks. Yes, Breida contacted the rusher, but the defender’s steam was exhausted by that point Neal’s hands were latched on like vice grips. A great play on third down.

Jones pushes Neal back a bit in the clip above, but he sits back on his hips and just walks back while refitting his outside hand underneath Jones to establish an advantage. Jones does a good job staying low to generate force through contact, but Neal is too strong to capitulate.

Another good example of his solid anchor. It’s great to see rushers explode low to high into contact and, within milliseconds, they’re standing straight up with no ability to generate power through the ground. Neal’s ability to anchor against power was excellent in this game.

I also want to highlight the set; it’s nothing out of the ordinary, per se, but it seems - in most of these clips - more controlled, poised, and confident. His feet are determined and more precise. Neal also does well to hand fight with his inside hand.

Here’s the first play for the Giants offense. Neal has a 4-technique over top of him with a wide rusher that forced his set to be more vertical than usual. He gains solid depth in his set and absorbs the bull rush. Neal strikes with his inside hand on the defender’s inside shoulder while bringing his outside hand underneath the breastplate of the EMOLOS; this allowed Neal to steer and control the defender’s upper body, as the power rush is halted in place.

Neal framed this block well on the 45-degree set, as the EMOLOS attempts power but quickly reconsiders once he realized Neal’s positioning. Neal absorbs, gets underneath the defender’s punch to locate his exposed chest, and then uses his power to fold the defender to the deck as he attempts to bend the edge. As Jones employs his second move, he attempts to break Neal’s outside hand grasp - it did nothing. Impressive and confident rep from Neal.

Protect that outside shoulder

There were a few plays where Neal surrendered some ground around his outside shoulder. It’s not a loss or a terrible rep by the second-year tackle; most of the time he can use his reach to protect the sanctity of the pocket. Still, these issues were prevalent last season and typically stem from sub-optimal positioning.

DJ Johnson (52) presses Neal’s outside shoulder and the tackle’s hips opened, which gave Johnson a path into the pocket. Neal recovered, but some would argue that he held with his outside hand, although the hold didn’t look egregious, which is a skill in itself. Despite the possible hold that wasn’t called, Neal didn’t allow Johnson to clearly win the rep; Neal conceded some space and Tyrod Taylor (2) maneuvered the pocket well until he found a receiver.

Jones threw a club/rip combo at Neal, and the club landed flawlessly against Neal, who punched prematurely and got beat around his edge. Neal was able to recover and force a tough angle into the pocket, which was irrelevant since Matt Peart (74) lost badly and that forced Taylor up into the pocket, and, eventually, into another defender’s arms.

Run blocking

This play just displays Neal’s strength and ability to finish, albeit against a linebacker. Jones levitates for a split-second. I also want to highlight Neal’s redirection ability and how quickly he transitions his weight once he heads back inside.

The Giants incorporated WHAM last season and it kept the rushing approach fresh, while allowing multiple offensive linemen to freely release to the second level. Neal is one of them on the play above, and he takes the linebacker for a ride, although the linebacker did a good job staying low and contacting Gray, but the rookie powered through for a touchdown.

Strong-I zone run by Eric Gray (20) with an excellent combo block by Neal and Ben Bredeson (68) against the 4-technique. Neal’s hands are tight on contact and he is generating push against the defender. Bredeson contacts the inside hip of the defender and the path is clear for Gray to the play side. Unfortunately, Peart can’t protect the back side and the tackle is made in pursuit.

Final thoughts

Neal played well in his first action of his second season. It wasn’t perfect, but his feet were clean, he framed his blocks well, and he handled counter and secondary moves with ease. I was pleased with his performance, but there’s still consistency issues in pass protection, especially with protecting his outside.

Neal only had five run blocking reps in the game. He looked adept and powerful at the point of attack. Neal is one of the Giants X-Factors. If the Giants are to reach their high ceiling, then Neal must experience a second-year leap; that leap doesn’t necessarily need to be commensurate with Andrew Thomas’ second-year jump, but continuous development and positive progression for Neal will take this offense to a new level. We saw preliminary signs of that on Friday.