Kevin Zeitler: The Good, the Great and The Ugly
The Giants offensive line was not a complete mess last season. Whenever there was a quality run play, you could almost ensure that it involved left guard Will Hernandez or right guard Kevin Zeitler.
Zeitler, a 2012 first-round selection of the Cincinnati Bengals, was acquired by the Giants in a trade with the Cleveland Browns for Olivier Vernon in March of 2019.
Upon his arrival in New York, he instantly became a positive veteran presence on the offensive line. The team's most consistent offensive lineman--and it wasn't even close--Zeitler was responsible for many of the holes opened for Giants running backs last season.
He is difficult to shake in pass protection when he gets his hands on a defender, and he can be devastating in the run game. There's not much negative in his game, though he did get a little overzealous, which led to some struggles.
Still, there is a lot to like about this veteran guard's game, so let's look at a few clips featuring the good, the great and the ugly in his game.
(Zeitler is No. 70 in the clips, which come via NFL Game Pass.)
The Good: Pass Protection
In this first clip, Zeitler has a 3-tech lined up against him in an obvious pass situation. The scheme has him on the "man" side of the protection, so he is locked up on that 3-tech.
On the snap, he kick-slides, and the defensive lineman tries to make an inside move, but Zeitler was able to post to stop his penetration.
The defender then tries to adjust outside and is stopped by the Giants guard. As a last resort, the defender attempted to jump to knock the quarterback's pass down.
In this next clip, Zeitler is on the "zone" side of the blocking scheme. On the snap, he retreats to stop the A-gap rusher. He engages with the rusher until the center comes over there and knocks the defender off.
Once he feels the center blocking, he turns out and helps with the defender that the right tackle is blocking. His ability to assist multiple teammates is one of the most underrated aspects of his game.
In this final clip, Zeitler has a defender directly over him. On the snap, the defender tries to bull rush Zeitler, but he is able to anchor down and stop the defender from pushing him back into the quarterback.
The defender tries to go inside, but because Zeitler has such proper hand placement, he is able to clutch the defender and not allow him to escape.
He also moves his feet well so that the block remains in the framework of his body. That makes him a sticky blocker for any defensive lineman to get past.
The Great: Run Block Positioning
In this first clip, Zeitler has to handle the Bucs' defensive tackle. The Giants are running a zone to the left.
Zeitler is able to push the defensive tackle a few yards back. He gets a little help by the right tackle at the end, but by that time, he has already displaced the defender.
Because of how much the defender is pushed back, the back is able to cut off his drive block and gain a few extra yards.
This next clip is another zone run to the left. Zeitler's initial path allows him to help the right tackle control his block, but then he comes off that block to take the linebacker.
During this play, Zeitler effectively helps a teammate but then is able to collect the defender threatening his gap just in time for the running back to use that block as a great place to cut off and gain a few extra yards.
Once again, Zeitler has taken on a defense built to stop the running game and is able to make a hole.
In this final clip, the Giants are running to the right, and Zeitler has a defender in the B-gap. On the snap, he is able to reach the outside shoulder of the defender and seal the gap.
The running back is able to explode off that block and gain yardage. Zeitler not only uses his speed and technique to reach the outside of the defender and possess him long enough for the running back to realize where the hole is going to be.
The Ugly: Overaggressiveness
There's nothing necessarily wrong with an offensive lineman being aggressive, but when he becomes overaggressive, that can work against him.
In this clip, the Giants were running a zone play to the left. On the backside of the play, a lineman has to stay attached to a man once he engages.
Zeitler starts well, but he gets too anxious and tries to take over the defender completely. He loses balance and eventual contact with the defender who is able to shake him off.
If he had exercised a little more patience with the block and allowed the defender to try and engage to get by him, he would more than likely have held onto the defender throughout the play.
In this next play, the offense is running a buck sweep to the right from the shotgun. Zeitler pulls and is aiming for the first man outside of the right tackle's block. The play was a read play for the quarterback, so there was a chance that the ball could be handed off, or the quarterback might pull it if the backside overcommitted.
Zeitler appeared as if he was looking for a kill shot, and allowed the defender to avoid his block from the inside. He should have been able to latch on to the defender who would have allowed the other guard and the running back to get to the outside.
Luckily for Zeitler, the quarterback pulled the ball and gained yardage going opposite the play.
In this final clip, the Giants are running a version of power. Zeitler has a 1-tech on his inside in the A-gap and a 4-tech outside of him. Hernandez, the left guard, pulled right, and the center was supposed to replace him. It should have been an easy down block on the 1-tech for Zeitler.
On the snap, he takes his down blocking steps, but in his anxiousness to explode on the defensive tackle, he lowered his head. When he did, the defensive tackle swims around him and is able to disrupt the run play.
Just 30 years old, Zeitler still has plenty of good football left in him. He is a solid player whose only glaring flaw is when he becomes overaggressive, and that is a flaw that is one that he can get under control.
A rock-solid presence who strikes the appearance that he has to be dragged off the practice field kicking and screaming, Zeitler's football IQ can serve him well and help get some of these young offensive linemen the team added up to speed.
While in most cases it takes years to determine who "wins" a trade, based on last year alone--the quality of play and the availability, the Giants got the better of the Zeitler-Vernon trade.
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