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Big Blue View mailbag: Offensive line, Wink Martindale, more

The mail’s here!

At 1-2, the New York Giants have raised more questions than they have answered thus far in the 2023-24 NFL season. Let’s open the Big Blue View Mailbag and try to answer some of them.

John Brenner asks: Enjoyed your critique of the offense in Monday’s article, but you threw out some vagaries with regard to potential solutions.

If you’d be willing to be more specific, would you give us your starting five O-line, your starting 3 WR’s, and elaborate on why you think those players could be the winning formula?

Also anything specific the coaches must do as far as strategy and implementation?

Ed says: John, sure I can be more specific.

In terms of the offensive line, I think the one head coach Brian Daboll said they hope to use on Monday night — provided everyone is healthy — is the right one. That is:

LT — Andrew Thomas
LG — Ben Bredeson
C — John Michael Schmitz
RG — Marcus McKethan
RT — Evan Neal

First of all, I am not ready to give up on Neal at right tackle. He has some worrisome issues, but I want to let it play out. He was terrible Week 1, but somewhat better the last two weeks. The last thing I want to do is give up on the No. 7 overall pick in the draft too quickly. Let’s see if the arrow keeps going up, especially if McKethan settles in decently next to him.

I like the idea of playing McKethan. He’s a powerful run blocker who needs to develop in pass protection. Mark Glowinski and Shane Lemieux are not long-term answers. Considering what they have, I’m fine with playing McKethan and giving him a long enough runway to see if he can do the job.

Josh Ezeudu is not part of this equation. Bredeson was better than Ezeudu last season. He was better than Ezeudu this summer. I like the idea of the Giants using Ezeudu’s fiour-position versatility to be the first guy off the bench at every spot except center. That means only one spot changes if someone other than Schmitz suffers an injury. I think that’s a great role for him.

At wide receiver, Isaiah Hodgins and Darius Slayton have to play. Like everyone else, I want to see Jalin Hyatt get more snaps. I understand he still has things to learn, and never expected him to the team’s No. 1 receiver this year. Still, he threatens the defense in a way that not even the speedy Slayton does. The Giants can’t be going entire games without even targeting him.

The slot is interesting. Parris Campbell has 11 catches, but is only average 4.3 yards per reception. I think what I want to see, and what we likely will see, is Wan’Dale Robinson taking more of those slot snaps as he gets acclimated in his comeback from last year’s torn ACL.

I believe Robinson fits the way the Giants want to employ their slot receiver, an underneath catch-and-run guy sometimes used out of the backfield or in a gadget-player way, more than Campbell does.

I still think Campbell could be valuable to the Giants. I just think Robinson is better suited to the role Campbell has been playing.

Robert Biggerstaff asks: Is Simmons strong enough to replace injured Ojulari? He seems explosive enough.

Ed says: Robert, in my view the answer is no. Isaiah Simmons is 6-foot-4, 238 pounds. I’ve been next to him and I’m pretty sure that’s accuate. Azeez Ojulari is listed at 6-3, 240 by the Giants, but had admitted to being a solid 15 pounds bigger than that in the past.

Simmons can rush off the edge on occasion, but I wouldn’t want him out there trying to set the edge against the run. The Giants are using him primarily on passing downs for a reason — he’s not a good run defender.

For what it’s worth, Kayvon Thibodeaux is listed at 258 pounds, Boogie Basham at 274 ns Jihad Ward at 285.

Philip Joseph asks: Why doesn’t Wink use a three- or four-man line. Having traditional 300 pound or more linemen. This will free up Thibs and AO to rush from various position.

Wink uses only two D lineman the majority of the time.

Dex and LW are always double-teamed sometimes even triple-teamed.

Having Thibs, AO, Basham and Ward setting the edge defeats their talent and are up against 300 lbs. O- lineman.

Your take?

Ed says: Philip, I don’t know what NFL you are watching where you can find anyone using four 300-pound defensive linemen on anything other than goal line plays. That does not happen anywhere.

For reference, here is how often the Giants have aligned in various defensive formations:

The Giants are theoretically a base 3-4 team, but NFL defensive coordinators will tell you there really is no such thing as a base defense any longer. The Giants have had three down linemen on 36% of defensive snaps. They have had four down linemen on 20% of snaps.

Edge defenders now do a variety of things. Players like Kayvon Thibodeaux, Azeez Ojulari and the other Giants edge players are sometimes asked to play as 4-3 defensive ends, sometimes asked to stand up, sometimes asked to rush, and sometimes asked to drop into coverage. Nobody puts 300-pounders out on the edge.

Setting the edge doesn’t “defeat their talent.” It is part of their job in the modern NFL.

We have reached the ‘does Wink Martindale suck?’ portion of the mailbag:

Jerry Panza asks: Well aside from no one tackling, do you think the players on the D are still buying into Wink’s system? Wink’s D the last few years in Baltimore were so-so. You quoted Yogi last week “it gets late early out there”, so do you think the Giants made a bad hire with Wink being his system is so familiar? Seems other teams know how to work around what he does.

Mark Cicio asks: Do you think Wink’s job on the Giants will be in jeopardy if the defense keeps on its current path? It just seems like the defense, and a number of the players, have taken a step back... even last year I had my doubts but still thought it wasn’t him. I’m not so sure now that is true, and that he isn’t adjusting his gameplan to best suit his players.

I would even venture to say that the defense is a bigger let down than the constant O-line issues.

Your thoughts?

Scott Meyer asks: Like most Giants’ fans the last 4 games have been brutal for me to watch (with the exception of the second half in AZ). Despite not being competitive in the 3 losses (including the philly playoff game) I still feel like the team is headed in the right direction. Schoen, Daboll, and Kafka have all made a significant impact to bring the Giants into the modern day NFL. The one area of the team i have concern with is the defense. I know part of the issue is personnel and performance but i feel like a bigger part of the issue is scheme. Wink has had success in this league but seems less willing to adapt his defense than other coaches. He is know for bringing pressure but it seems like that pressure comes to the detriment of the team more than its benefit. To me the 2 main goals of pressure are 1) sack the QB or 2) pressure/confuse the QB into bad decisions. It would seem that some of those bad decisions would result in turnovers yet last season the team had the fewest interceptions in the NFL and this year have yet to produce a turnover through 3 games. On the flip side teams have been able to exploit his pressure in certain situations like long yardage third downs by calling screens. Do you think Wink is as much of a problem as the players? Do you think he will show an ability to adapt or is “Wink going to Wink”?

Ed says: No, I don’t think the Giants made a bad hire with Wink Martindale. Geez, everybody loved Martindale’s “pressure breaks pipes” philosophy and his blitz-happy nature a year ago. Three games and all of a sudden the guy can’t coach? Ridiculous.

It was crazy to see the Giants blitz more than 80% of the time against the San Francisco 49ers. What choice did they really have, though? The 49ers were better and if the Giants sat back and played straight up that wasn’t going to work. So, they went all in.

I have some quibbles with how certain players are being used, and I have expressed them. I think Thibodeaux needs to go forward more often. I understand why he is there, but playing the slot is not the best use of Adoree’ Jackson. Xavier McKinney is a good center field zone coverage safety playing way more man coverage than he did in 2021, his best season. The Giants are not changing an entire defensive scheme for

Yet, it’s not the scheme. Thibodeaux and McKinney need to play better. They need to make the plays they have a chance to make. Leonard Williams and Bobby Okereke, too. When guys are in position to make plays and they don’t make them that isn’t the coordinator’s fault. It’s the players’ fault.

As for Scott’s question, Wink is pretty much going to Wink. The Giants knew what they signed up for when they hired him, and he isn’t going to change. That doesn’t mean he is going to blitz 80% of the time every week, but he is always going to use pressure.

Joseph Rivage asks: Hi Ed, If the level of subpar play continues with the team, do you see there being changes to the offensive or defensive coordinator positions after the season is over?

Ed says: Joseph, see what I said above. Martindale and Mike Kafka haven’t forgotten how to coach. It’s been THREE games.

After the Giants overachieved a year ago Brian Daboll won a Coach of the Year award, Kafka and Martindale got head coaching interviews with other teams. and the staff was generally looked at as one of the best in the league.

As I said above, I have questions about how certain players have been used thus far but this is a tremendous coaching staff. The Giants have played two of the best teams in football, they have had injuries to Andrew Thomas, Saquon Barkley, Ben Bredeson and Azeez Ojulari. They have too many impact players not making any impact.

I think some adjustments need to be made, and I think the Giants have a quality coaching staff that understands that.

Gino Phillips: Given the two of the NY Giant offensive linemen came from North Carolina in the 2022 draft, and their performance has been to date unsatisfactory, more so in pass protection, it reminds me of my concern following that draft.

I recall that their college QB, Sam Howell, had a great junior year, but his performance fell off his senior year. That might have cost him a round or two in the draft that year. I seem to remember reading that much of that was attributable to poor offensive line play in front of him, especially in pass protection.

Do you have any recollection of those observations or reports on the two lineman’s pass protection grades in college?

Ed says: Yes, I remember those concerns. I also remember the scouting report on Howell, which is proving to be accurate as fas as I can tell, is that he doesn’t do his offensive linemen any favors.

Here are two pre-draft criticisms of Howell from

  • Ball pat and windup slow the release.
  • Takes too many unnecessary sacks.

Point being, he made North Carolina’s offensive line look worse than it was.

I remember discussing this topic with Emory Hunt of Football Gameplan and CBS Sports, and Emory loved the Giants’ selections of Josh Ezeudu and Marcus McKethan.

We just watched Ezeudu play out of position at left tackle for two weeks and hold his own. McKethan missed all of last season and played 20 preseason snaps this year. In my view, the kids needs to play for a while before anyone passes judgment.

Jeff T. asks: Regarding the Giants’ offensive line problems, when does the focus shift to Bobby Johnson? Personally, I feel like he should be on the hot seat considering we have spent significant capital on this position will little to no development.

Ed says: Jeff, I understand the question about Johnson. It truly is difficult sometimes to judge the work of a position coach, since we really don’t get to see it. I think Johnson is an excellent offensive line coach, the best the Giants have had probably since Pat Flaherty coached the offensive line for Tom Coughlin.

I am not going to tell you Johnson is perfect, but here is his resume as an offensive line coach:

  • 2018 (Colts) — They went 10-6, made the playoffs and were No. 5 in the league in points scored.
  • 2019-2021 (Bills) — Three straight playoff appearances, two years with offenses in the top three in points scored.
  • 2022 (Giants) — Another playoff team. Yes, I know the Giants did struggle with an undermanned offensive line.

Johnson is a good coach. Does he get any credit for how well John Michael Schmitz is playing? Does he get any slack for Andrew Thomas and Ben Bredeson being hurt? The changes Evan Neal made this offseason were in accordance with suggestions from Johnson. Is it Johnson’s fault if, despite all the work, Neal just ends up being a limited athlete who doesn’t have the balance or movement skills to get appreciably better?

It seems like a common theme this week is me defending coaches. I have my issues with how the Giants approached the offensive line in the summer, rotating players as much as they did. I think, though, that came from above Johnson.

While I do have questions about some things that have, or have not, been done I think the Giants’ issues are more about players not performing to the expected level rather than about bad coaching.

Dave Nelson asks: What is going on with slot receiver position? Campbell has not delivered as we would have hoped. Shepard seems like an afterthought. Beasley is still on the practice squad as far as I know, and Robinson looked decent in limited action. Is there a plan on how these receivers will be used in the future? Is it as simple as keep giving Robinson more playing time as he’s the only one who has looked remotely competent? How do you see these receivers being used as the season progresses?

Ed says: Dave, I have been pretty clear that the usage of Campbell, a receiver with 4.3 speed who is averaging 4.3 yards per catch, has not seemed optimal. I think the way the Giants want to use the slot receiver is actually designed for Wan’Dale Robinson, and I expect his role to increase as the season goes forward. Somebody has had to fill that role while Robinson worked his way back from last year’s torn ACL. I’m just not sure it’s the right role for Campbell.

Sterling Shepard is a spare part. Cole Beasley is on IR.

Howard Litwak asks: I’m not here to rip [Joe] Schoen, but I do think the time has come to scrutinize some of his decision-making.

For example, it seems increasingly likely that Thibodeaux and Neal were not the 5th and 7th best players in the draft. It’s absolutely clear that Glowinski was a poor expenditure, and three games into the season Okereke looks overpaid and Campbell looks pointless.

I’m not saying he’s been a bad GM, but there were people calling him among the best, and that doesn’t seem the case at all.

Ed says: Howard, I do think it is fair to wonder if the Giants will end up getting the impact you hope to get from the fifth and seventh overall picks in the draft. It is not yet time to say they won’t, but they need more than what they are getting. If they don’t end up getting it, it is certainly fair to second-guess Schoen.

I won’t kill him for signing Mark Glowinski. He did the best he could with extremely limited resources thanks to the cap situation he was handed. He had to do something, and he admitted many times he would have liked to shop for a higher tier of players but could not afford to.

Campbell was a one-year flier. I’m not getting all bent out of shape if he doesn’t work out. Okereke is different. Again, though, a three-game sample size is far too small to be drawing conclusions. He needs to play better than he has.

Seth Freidman asks: We are 3 weeks into the season, and it strikes me the Giants have played one half of decent football. Could it be that a large percentage of the roster spent more time reading their 2022 press clippings than focusing on taking the next step? The coaches aren’t blameless here, as Martindale’s D can’t tackle worth a lick, and Kafka’s offense resembles what we saw during the Joe Judge era.

Ed says: Seth, I’m not buying the ‘press clippings’ theory. I guess I’m just feeling combative this week with a fan base ready to jump off the bridge and looking to assign blame.

The Giants are 1-2, and most analysts would have told you that is exactly what they would have expected for them at this point. They played disappointingly against Dallas. They were undermanned against San Francisco and the result was predictable.

No, the coaches aren’t blameless, but I think I’ve been clear. Martindale isn’t the one trying to tackle. Kafka isn’t the one who hasn’t been able to block, or catch. There are some things the coaches need to do better and a lot that the players who are expected to be the Giants’ best players need to do better.

I don’t believe, though, that the Giants were overconfident heading into the season.

Jim Jordan asks: With reference to the ongoing saga surrounding Evan Neal, I am firmly in the camp of let him play and see if he can figure things out. I suspect his struggles have cost him the confidence to play freely and fluidly, and instead have him overthinking every move, making him stiff and slow to react. Anyhow, the recent narrative seems to suggest that maybe he’s less athletic than everybody through he was coming out of college. If so, I guess my question is, how can that happen? Front offices, coaches and pundits had hours of tape from Alabama to study, as well as live game observations, his week at the Senior Bowl and his performance at the combine. And presumably, before spending the 7th overall pick of the draft on him, I’m sure the Giants brought him in for a workout. With all of that data available, how could so many professional talent evaluators come to the conclusion he had the athletic skills to thrive in the NFL if now, they’re seeing the exact opposite. I really don’t get it. Any explanation you have to offer would be greatly appreciated.

Ed says: Jim, that is certainly an understandable question. Let’s be realistic here — every team in the league had Neal pegged as one of the top three offensive tackles in the draft class and a likely top 10 pick. It’s not like the Giants were out on an island by themselves thinking he was worth the No. 7 overall pick.

Everybody saw the size, the strength, the pedigree, the box jump video, and thought this was an accomplished player with a lot of athletic gifts. Remember, though, even at Alabama Neal only played NFL-caliber pass rushers a few times each season.

One other thing. Neal did not do the athletic testing stuff at the Combine or at his Pro Day. In retrospect, you wonder if the people around him knew that the numbers would not be what people anticipated and that doing so would hurt his draft stock.

One more point. Everybody saw the issues that we have pointed out — some of the balance and handwork issues. NFL evaluators, though, thought that Neal’s pedigree, his work ethic, the athleticism they believed they saw would make those issues correctable once he got into the NFL.

Scouts are always projecting what they think a player will become. To this point, Neal hasn’t become the player the overwhelming majority of evaluators thought he would.

Mendy asks: Why haven’t they signed Pugh or Collins.?

Do the Giants still think the guys they have will improve substantially?

I think they made a big mistake thinking Neal will improve in the second year like Thomas did. Also seems like they made a mistake thinking Glowinski would be the answer at guard. If you don’t have a good offensive line, you can’t run and you can’t pass. This is exactly the problem with the offense now and has been the problem for a few years.

Ed says: Mendy, let me take each player individually.

If the Giants sign La’el Collins that is an admission that they are giving up on the idea that Evan Neal can be a right tackle. They are not ready to do that.

As for Justin Pugh, there is still a possibility that will happen. I know Pugh wants to play for a real Super Bowl contender. Are the Giants that? I don’t know this, but could Pugh be hesitant because he isn’t sure what the Giants are?

The Giants will start Marcus McKethan for a third straight week at right guard on Monday. Maybe they think the best thing they can do for their future is play the kid and find out what he can do rather than turn to a 33-year-old stop gap.

As for Mark Glowinski I say over and over that he was never a long-term answer. He was always a short-term solution as the Giants tried to build via the draft and waited until they had financial resources to chase a higher caliber of free agents.

John M. Scott: This might sound blasphemous, but I’ll ask it anyway: was McAdoo wrong for benching Eli to see what he had in Geno Smith?

Ed says: John, I’m going to answer this the same way I did years ago. Ben McAdoo did what he did, in my view, because Eli Manning was never ‘his’ quarterback. In my view, he knew he was going down, thought Manning was part of the reason, and took the games played streak Manning was so proud of and so known for down with him.

Geno Smith was caught in the crossfire. Had McAdoo’s decision really been about what was best for the franchise Davis Webb would have been the replacement for Manning. There was never any point in playing Smith because he wasn’t going to be the long-term replacement for Manning.

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