Word of Muth
Dive into the details of offensive line play with a former all-PAC-10 left tackle

Word of Muth: Bad Reputation

Word of Muth: Bad Reputation
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Muth

The Giants lost to the Buccaneers this past Sunday to drop to 0-4 on the season. Only a quarter of the way in and New York's season might be over. It's a disappointing start for a team that had real playoff aspirations coming into the year. To rub salt in the wound, the Jets, who seemed to be trying to build a roster that would lose, are 2-2.

There are a lot of disappointing parts of this season for New York, but the one area where the team has lived up to expectations -- or, more accurately, down to expectations -- is the offensive line. The biggest concern for this Giants team going into the year was their offensive line, and they haven't done much to alleviate those worries. They haven't been great pass blocking, but I think where they've really struggled is the running game.

(Click here if you are having trouble loading the image.)

This is the first play of the game, and it set the tone for the rest of the day. The Giants didn't come particularly close to blocking Gerald McCoy (93) on Sunday, and this play was clearly no exception. What's really disheartening is that they're trying to double-team here and he still makes a tackle for loss.

The biggest issue is Ereck Flowers' (74) first step at left tackle. He doesn't gain any ground, and he allows McCoy to split him and John Jerry (77) immediately. As a result, McCoy wedges himself between them, and the offensive line can't generate any movement. The only good thing about starting a game like this is that it's hard for it to get any worse as an offensive lineman...

(Click here if you are having trouble loading the image.)

... unless you're John Jerry, who follows up an awful double-team with an absolute whiff on the second play. Jerry's footwork here is fine, but his hands suck. He's all head and has no answer for McCoy coming underneath him. Ideally he would keep his inside hand low and behind him to catch McCoy's rib cage when the defensive lineman swims inside. But Jerry's back hand is right down the middle of the McCoy, so when he moves inside, he comes up with air.

Flowers is bad again here too. Not as bad as Jerry is, but he's also getting his ass handed to him. If you're the play-side offensive tackle on an outside zone, you have to do one of two things: 1) hook the defensive so the back can get outside, or 2) widen the defensive end so the back can stretch the defense before cutting it up. Flowers isn't doing either. He's gets knocked back a yard, allows the defensive end to keep his outside leverage, and hasn't widened him an inch. Those were back-to-back ugly football plays.

[ad placeholder 3]

(Click here if you are having trouble loading the image.)

It wasn't just the left side of the line that struggled (and struggled with McCoy in particular). That's D.J. Fluker (76) playing right guard. You may remember Fluker as a former first-round draft pick for San Diego who people weren't sure was quick enough to play tackle. After watching him on Sunday, I don't think he's quick enough to play guard either.

Like Flowers on the first play, Fluker does himself in with a poor first step. It's hard to see because the tight end (Rhett Ellison, 85) is in the way, but trust me when I say Fluker takes a big old bucket step off the snap. He never recovers from the false start and it's another tackle for loss for McCoy. I actually think Weston Richburg (70) at center does an OK job here. His footwork and target are good, McCoy just swims away from him (which should make Fluker's job easier), that's why he doesn't get much contact with him. He does a good job of keeping his balance after getting less of McCoy than anticipated, which is harder than it looks, and redirects to get a piece on a very aggressive linebacker. Not great, but also not bad.

(Click here if you are having trouble loading the image.)

It wasn't just McCoy who spent time in the Giants backfield. That's Robert Ayers (91) torching Flowers around the edge. This has got to kill Giants offensive line coach Mike Solari. Flowers is doing something called punch-and-peel (a.k.a. step-and-hinge). He has to step inside to make sure the defensive tackle (Clinton McDonald, 98) doesn't come screaming upfield before the center can get over, then wheel out to get a hand on the defensive end. Flowers gets too heavily involved with a defensive tackle who isn't really a penetrator and is too lethargic turning out. This is a pretty simple block to make and Flowers just blows it.

Obviously I'm cherry-picking the worst of New York's performance to make a point. They weren't always getting dominated by Tampa's front, and certainly held their own at times. But as bad as the negative plays were, the thing I really left the game thinking was that there weren't enough wins for the New York line. They had plenty of stalemates, which are OK sometimes, there were not a lot of times where I thought someone for the Giants really kicked the hell out of someone for the Bucs. The result was a lot of plays where each of the Giants might have graded out OK individually, but you look at the collective and realize there's nowhere to run or not a great pocket for Eli Manning to get comfortable in.

(Click here if you are having trouble loading the image.)

This play is fine. At right tackle, Justin Pugh (67) does a good job with the help of a chip. Fluker passes off a slanter nicely before tripping himself. Richburg is good. Jerry is getting pushed too far back into the pocket, but he's fine. Flowers is the only one who isn't at least average here, and even he's not terrible. He gets bull-rushed into Eli's lap, but he's still engaged and Eli still has time to make a throw.

The problem is, this is a high point for the Giants offensive line. It's fine blocking, but other than Eli's long touchdown run, you just don't see New York have those plays where Eli has all day to sit in the pocket before finding a guy after the zone has broken down. Paul Perkins doesn't have huge or consistent holes to romp through on his way to the second or third level either.

[ad placeholder 4]

This Giants line isn't terrible, they just aren't very good, and they're blocking for backs (quarterback and running backs) who need a good line to produce big plays. If the Giants had a Russell Wilson back there, a guy who could move around, their mushy pockets wouldn't be as big of an issue, because at least they do a decent job of staying engaged with their guys. But they don't have great players behind them, so five guys being "meh" just leads to a choppy offense that relies on either perfect playcalling or Odell Beckham doing something spectacular to move the ball down the field. That's not a consistent path to success.

Even Pugh, who I thought played well, wasn't knocking guys around. I can't really recall Pugh getting beat, but I also don't remember him creating a lot of holes. If he was playing next to someone like a La'el Collins, an inconsistent player who shows flashes of ass kicking, I think Pugh would be incredibly valuable as a guy who can be counted on to be a consistent performer. But playing next to D.J. Fluker, just doing OK isn't creating the room the Giants need.


9 comments, Last at 08 Oct 2017, 11:58am

1 Re: Word of Muth: Bad Reputation

“The problem is, this is a high point for the Giants offensive line. It's fine blocking, but other than...”

“This Giants line isn’t terrible, it just isn’t very good”

The problem is, this *game* wherein they weren’t terrible, just not very good, was a *season* high point. In previous games, especially the first two, they were absolutely terrible. When Hart gets back out there...

2 Re: Word of Muth: Bad Reputation

The more I read these articles, the more I'm convinced we dont have a way to statistically measure offensive line quality. Thus, we can't compare it to how it was in the past and we can't then compare it to teams across the league so that we can accurately say - Eli is terrible because his oline stinks vs eli is terrible even if his o line were the 2000 era chiefs.

O line complexity may be right up there with secondary play.

3 Re: Word of Muth: Bad Reputation

Ben, I've asked this question before but --- is poor technique the result of intrinsic poor habits, poor coaching, or is it because the type of player you are trying to block changes week to week that you have to change your habits to the opponent?

4 Re: Word of Muth: Bad Reputation

“If the Giants had a Russell Wilson back there, a guy who could move around, their mushy pockets wouldn't be as big of an issue, because at least they do a decent job of staying engaged with their guys.”

I hate comments like this about Eli because it’s a complete cop out for Jerry Reese. You have a classic pocket passer QB who has won championships. There is nothing deficient about Eli Manning and I think some in the media need to stop painting it that way. It’s not right. Eli is not the issue and he’s been adapting VERY well to this crap show around him. Russell Wilson isn’t any kind of answer. Russell Wilson would make a few more plays behind this line, but he’d also be largely ineffective and or injured.

6 Re: Word of Muth: Bad Reputation

...have you SEEN the Seahawks line?

I doubt he'd be more ineffective or injured. This isn't a shot at Eli, whom I think is decent (and when he's on, he's ON), but more that I think Russell Wilson is underrated, in large part because of his poor o-line.

I do agree that it's a cop out for Jerry Reese, though, because very few teams draft Russell Wilson but everybody (with a few exceptions) drafts linemen.

5 Re: Word of Muth: Bad Reputation

Jerry was one of the guys involved in the Richie Incognito / Jonathan Martin bullying wasn't he? Between that and his play, I don't know how he still has a job.