Despite Cries to the Contrary, Dave Gettleman Has So Far Kept Off-Season
Promise to Revamp Offensive Line and Recommit to Running Game.
The Giants gain their first victory of the season with a very well rounded effort against the Texans. However, Big Blue is not without their own problems. Starting center Jon Halapio breaks his leg in Week Two against the Dallas Cowboys forcing Brett Jones into action, and beleaguered right tackle Ereck Flowers is (finally) benched in favor of Chad Wheeler.
Rewind back to Week One against Jacksonville - With both Jon Halapio and Ereck Flowers starting, the Giants rush 23 times for 114 net yards. Together Jonathan Stewart and Saquon Barkley account for 20 attempts. Five plays go left (behind either guard Will Hernandez and tackle Nate Solder) for 16-yards; five plays go up the middle (Jon Halapio) for 6-yards. But ten plays go right-side (guard Patrick Omameh and tackle Ereck Flowers) for 92-yards, which includes Saquon Barkley's fourth quarter 68-yard touchdown run. That play started middle but then bounced right through Ereck Flowers' lead block. But if you subtract Barkley's romp, the Giants run right nine times for 24-yards.
Jon Halapio and Ereck Flowers start again at Dallas. This turns out being a bad day for not just the offensive line, but for all involved - Coach Shurmur and offensive coordinator Mike Shula included. The Giants all but abandon the run game, rushing only 14 times all game for 31-yards. Eli scrambles three other times giving the Giants a total of 37-yards on the ground. Halapio sustains a broken leg with six minutes left in the third quarter. Prior to his injury, the Giants attempt a mere ten rushes for 27-yards. Post injury, the Giants attempt another four rushes for four more yards. All told, the Giants rush left six times for 19-yards. They rush middle seven times with but one yard to show, and four other rushes go right for 17-yards.
With Jon Halapio out for the season, and Houston's J.J. Watt looming, Coach Shurmur benches Ereck Flowers. And low and behold, Sunday ushers in a remarkable change in chemistry, and perhaps even fortune. Or does command decision and better execution rule the day?
PASS PROTECTION IS A BIG BLUE ISSUE
In fairness to Chad Wheeler, J.J. Watt is an extraordinary specimen and arguably the best NFL creature at his position. The Texans predictably sack Eli Manning four times and rough him up six other times (J.J. Watt alone accounts for three sacks, and five QB hits). Wheeler struggles against Watt's speed rushes, and at times is simply outsmarted. Back in Week One, the Jaguars sack Eli twice and get in six other touches. After which Dallas sacks Eli six times and tag him with eight other QB hits in Week Two. Suffice it to say pass protection remains a Giant issue. After three weeks, they've allowed twelve sacks and 20 other QB hits. That's no way to keep your 37-year old quarterback healthy and on the field. His greatest ability will ultimately be his continued availability.
And that's why the running game is of paramount concern. Eli is at his best working off play action.
With Brett Jones and Chad Wheeler starting for the first time together, the offensive line provides just enough space and time for Eli Manning, and creates just enough daylight for another 100-yard ground effort. Eli connects on 25/29 (86%) for 297 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, Saquon Barkley, Jonathan Stewart, and Wayne Gallman join together on 25 rushes for 115-yards. The Giants run left six times for 22-yards. Although three plays up the middle go for negative yardage, they run off-center ten times for 18 net yards. The right side has another big day, with nine rushes going their way resulting in 75-yards gained and a touchdown.
OUT OF THE DARK; INTO THE DAYLIGHT
The Giants are clearly rushing middle/right - towards their weakness - with a noticeable measure of success. Through three games, they've rushed left-side 17 times for 57-yards. They've gone up the gut 23 times for 40-yards, and have rushed right-side 22 times for 169-yards. The latter is more than the 2017 Giants entire rushing totals through their first three games as they elect to run a mere 46 times for a grand total of 147-yards. Through three games this season, Saquon Barkely alone has rushed exactly 46 times for 216-yards. Otherwise, the Giants have rushed for 263-yards to date. Meanwhile, Eli Manning is down to 81 pass attempts versus 117 pass attempts at this time last season.
This is Dave Gettleman at work. With the benching of Ereck Flowers, the offensive line left behind by former general manager Jerry Reese is officially purged. Of course, there is still much work to be done and more improvements to be made. For the moment, however, it appears as if Gettleman has accomplished in one off-season what Reese failed to adequately address over the last six or seven seasons. Despite a disappointing 1-2 start, the first three games of this season prove that out.
At the same time, this is not a ringing endorsement.