Giants Unit Review: The Complexities of the Offensive Line
Football is the total team sport, but when it comes to offensive line play, that statement has never been more accurate. Offensive line play can be compared to dominoes where if one dominoes in the intricate pattern is slightly out of place, it can affect the overall pattern, ruining what can otherwise be a beautiful effect.
So what about the Giants’ 2019 edition of the offensive line? This was a unit that, on paper, was thought to be one of the most promising renditions the team has had since 2011? How could general manager Dave Gettleman, who vowed when he was first hired to fix the darn unit, have possibly screwed this up this bad?
There is no single answer to these questions, not when you’re talking about five individuals that are the dominoes and who must work in concert to achieve the desired result.
Breaking that average down in terms of direction, the Giants averaged 3.09 ALY (29th ) off the left end (29th); 3.73 ALY (23rd) behind the left tackle spot; 3.9 ALY (26th)behind the guards and center; 4.11 ALY (18th) behind the right tackle and 4.80 ALY (11th) off the right end.
Now before anyone jumps to conclusions, keep in mind that just because a run went behind the right guard, doesn’t mean that it was Kevin Zeitler always leading the way.
And these averages do not include the impact or lack thereof of a lead blocker, though in looking that large discrepancy between the left end and right end ALY, it’s logical to assume that the tight end was on that side to provide an extra push.
There are a few other rankings of note from Football Outsiders regarding the Giants offensive line’s run blocking that bear mention.
The Giants were stuffed for zero or negative yards on 20% of their rushing attempts, putting them toward the bottom of the pack (the worst percentage was 23% held by Pittsburgh and the Bucs; the best was 13% by Dallas and Baltimore, and the league average was 19%).
And the Giants ranked 24th in second-level yards, a ranking that usually means that a team lacks offensive linemen who can quickly fire out to the second level beyond the line of scrimmage to pick off a downhill defender.
What about pass blocking? The Giants ranked 25th, allowing 41 sacks (one more than the league average), but their adjusted sack rate (which doesn’t count instances where there is a sack recorded when the quarterback holds the ball for an infinity) is 8.1%.
Now let’s look at each of the primary five starters beginning with left tackle Nate Solder. Solder never admitted to it nor did the Giants, but there is little doubt that his ankle on which he had the cleanout procedure before training camp, wasn’t right all season long.
Solder looked to have trouble driving forward in run blocking, and his footwork in pass blocking was at times awkward, again likely due to the ankle not being right.
Add to that the mental and emotional burden resulting from Solder’s young son's third round of chemo, and one can’t begin to imagine how the emotional strain Solder must have been under during the season, though at the same time, if you’re on the field, there is an expectation to be met.
People look at second-year guard Will Hernandez’s performance and scream that he regressed. But if we remember the domino theory, where one man is reliant on the other, it’s fair to wonder how much Hernandez was affected by Solder’s play and that of center Jon Halapio’s.
It’s also fair to say that Hernandez’s strengths, such as his mobility, weren’t properly utilized by the coaching staff
But Hernandez isn’t blameless in what appears to be a step back in his development, as there were times where his mental game wasn’t as sharp as it had been in his rookie season. But the youngster has much too much talent to discard and as is the case with the rest of the line, better coaching should get him back on track.
There isn’t a more stand-up guy than center Jon Halapio. Unfortunately, it’s hard to ignore all those rushing attempts by Saquon Barkley up the gut that were stuffed. Halapio was very much part of that problem.
When you see an offensive lineman on the ground after the play or getting pushed backward, that usually points to balance and footwork issues as well as the inability to establish an anchor.
Halapio suffered an Achilles injury in the regular-season finale, but in all likelihood, he wasn't a lock to regain his starting job in 2020 anyway.
Kevin Zeitler battled through a shoulder issue, which at times appeared to compromise his power, especially in the run-blocking department. Zeitler was one of the most consistent offensive linemen, especially in pass protection.
Zeitler is such a cerebral player that one wonders if a move to center is in his immediate future, especially if the team is looking to get Nick Gates onto the field as a starter.
The signing of right tackle Mike Remmers was always going to be a gamble, especially since he was coming off off-season back surgery. He held up well for the most part and was serviceable, but there were on-going issues with balance upon contact and his inability to hold his ground on run-blocking that was concerning.
Where Do They Go From Here?
If nothing else, the Giants must get an offensive tackle in the draft. They have their franchise quarterback and a franchise running back. They need a franchise left tackle to complete that youthful trio to serve as the team's cornerstone on offense for the next decade-plus.
If Gettleman can trade down with a quarterback-needy team and pick up an extra first-round pick, the dream of the Giants coming away with an impact player on defense (Isaiah Simmons anyone?) and a stud offensive tackle could become a reality.
That young tackle could start his rookie season on the right side, as the Giants, due to salary cap ramifications, are probably not going to part with Solder (who by the way started his NFL career at right tackle).
After the 2020 season, the Giants could then move their rookie right tackle to the left side and look to address the right tackle spot either through the draft or free agency, unless they pick up a sleeper pick who develops into a viable option.
If center isn’t in Zeitler’s future, they’ll need to address that position as well. But having seen Gates play guard and tackle, he just looks like more of a natural at guard. With him having shown he belongs out there, the coaches will need to find a spot for him to play. Right guard is the most logical spot if Zeitler to center works out.
The Bottom Line
The offensive line had its issues, but they weren’t all on the talent. Part of the blame is on the rookie quarterback who between holding onto the ball longer than he should have—per Pro Football Focus, Daniel Jones averaged 2.70 seconds before attempting a pass. Jones also was responsible for setting up the protections, something that he occasionally flubbed.
We can talk about personnel all we want, but it will be of the utmost importance to get a good offensive line coach into the building.
As of this writing, the identity of head coach Joe Judge’s choice for offensive line coach is unknown. This is a vital hire, so let’s hope he chooses well, especially if the Giants are contemplating drafting an offensive tackle to one day replace Solder.