A week ago when I previewed the New York Giants’ critical matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles, I noted in my research from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) that the Giants offensive line was rated as the third best in the league with an 87.2 pass-blocking efficiency (PBE).
Eight sacks and one atrocious performance later, the unit has dropped to ninth on PFF's best offensive line list with an 84.0 PBE.
So what happened? Was there something in those Philly cheese steaks that the offensive linemen consumed the night before the big game that made them play so poorly?
Strap yourselves in, because before we bury the last of the cheese-steak wrappers from that horrendous showing, we’ll take a look at some of the offensive line issues.
Left Tackle Will Beatty
Left tackle Will Beatty, believe it or not, was the bright spot on the offensive line, even though he was credited for allowing one sack by PFF.
The one criticism that Inside Football (subscription required) took note of in Beatty’s performance this week was his run blocking.
Beatty played more of a finesse game instead of really laying into his man. When an offensive lineman plays a finesse game, he becomes more susceptible to being chucked aside a little too easily too often by more powerful opponents.
Here is an example of where Beatty didn’t impose his will on a defender, defensive end Brandon Bair, who outmuscles Beatty and gets into the backfield before running back Andre Williams can turn the corner for a positive gain:
Left Guard Weston Richburg
Rookie Weston Richburg has his occasional hiccups, no question, but he is eventually going to be a solid player as he gains more experience.
Against the Eagles, he delivered as mixed a performance as he has all year. That showing included a foolish penalty that, after the game, he shrugged off as something that “happens all the time” in football.
The play in question resulted in an unnecessary roughness penalty that came in the second quarter, turning a 2nd-and-5 into a 2nd-and-20.
Richburg was correctly flagged for the infraction, as the Eagles defender, whom Beatty had wrestled to the ground, was already down on the ground.
Yet in the heat of the moment, Richburg dove at the defender, the action drawing the flag.
Football is an emotional game, and playing in the pit is enough to test anyone’s composure. However, there was nothing to be gained by launching at a defender already on the ground, and a lot—15 yards to be exact—to be lost.
Now let’s look at the sack he surrendered on 1st-and-24 on the final play of the first quarter.
What looked to be the case here is a technique glitch. Outside linebacker Connor Barwin, who dominated the Giants offensive line all night long, charged around the edge. It looked like Richburg was supposed to fire back and then around to pick him up.
However, the rookie doesn't appear to take a deep enough step back, resulting in him getting Barwin’s outside shoulder, which the linebacker shrugged off.
Eli Manning, feeling the pressure, steps up instead of trying to scramble away. Unfortunately, the pocket before him continued to collapse and defensive lineman Vinny Curry was able to finish the sack.
Center J.D. Walton
Center J.D. Walton has actually been playing a fundamentally sound game the last few weeks.
That wasn’t the case against the Eagles, where, like the rest of his linemates, Walton struggled to sustain blocks.
At times he was too easily tossed aside, and he just seemed to have very few answers to counter the quickness and power that was thrown his way.
In this example, note how Walton is unable to stay with defensive tackle Beau Allen, who ends up casting the Giants center aside to get into the offensive backfield.
Right Guard John Jerry
Of the six penalties committed by the Giants offensive line, right guard John Jerry was called for three: one for offensive holding and two for false starts.
However, that was the least of Jerry’s issue. More often than not, his run blocking lacked punch.
Here’s an example from the second quarter. With his receivers covered, Manning scrambled on a 3rd-and-10, picking up one yard.
However, he could have had even more yardage had Jerry been able to impose his will on his man.
Manning, seeing a wide open patch of green before him (and likely unsure about throwing the ball to rookie Williams, who is open on the 14-yard line) tucked the pigskin away and took off.
It was a good decision by Manning, who no doubt realized that the majority of his offensive linemen had the Eagles defenders well behind him, and that he had the wide open field to gain some of the necessary yardage.
The only flaw in the plan was that Jerry, circled in red, played "pat-a-cake" with defensive tackle Bennie Logan rather than laying into him and driving him out of the way.
If Jerry plows into Logan and drives him out of the way, then Manning likely picks up at least five yards on the play, if not more.
Instead, Logan swats Jerry’s "block" aside as though he was swatting away a gnat and stops Manning for a one-yard gain.
Right Tackle Justin Pugh
Contrary to what some frustrated fans who checked in with me on Twitter during the game said, right tackle Justin Pugh, who grew up in Eagles country and who told Jordan Raanan of NJ.com that his closest childhood friends are still Eagles diehards, did not purposely pick this game to turn in a stinker.
Pugh, who per PFF gave up four of the Giants’ eight sacks (Inside Football opined it was three, but still, anything more than zero is too many for an offensive lineman to surrender), also contributed to the penalty party when he was caught holding in the second quarter.
Where Pugh struggled the most, though, was in handling the Eagles' inside pass-rush moves.
Let’s look at one of the sacks he gave up to Barwin early in the second quarter.
Worth noting in this case is that the video shows Pugh with what appears to be a brace on his left elbow, his inside elbow (see the cutaway frame).
A reasonable question to ponder given what happened is if the Eagles spotted this and adjusted to throw a lot of inside pass-rush moves at Pugh, or was it simply just one of those nights?
Whatever it was, Pugh, being the stand-up guy he is, didn't duck his critics afterwards.
Is it time to panic given the meltdown the offensive line had on the field?
Everyone has a bad game, and it was unfortunate that the five offensive line starters picked the same critical division game to collectively lose their respective battles in the pit.
Whether this is the start of a trend or an aberration remains to be seen—remember this is the same group that manhandled J.J. Watt and the Houston defensive front. So it's likely that this meltdown against the Eagles was just one of those days.
The other question on the minds of fans is if a change is coming on the offensive line, especially with Geoff Schwartz inching closer to a return from the temporary injured reserve list.
Based on what head coach Tom Coughlin told reporters last week before the Eagles disaster, it would be surprising if a change is made this week.
“Continuity is the key ingredient. Being able to do that has helped,” Coughlin said. “Communication is so important. I think that has definitely helped us as we have grown and it has gotten a little bit better.”
The Giants will probably look to regroup along the offensive line this week against the Dallas Cowboys defensive front.
The outcome of that pit matchup could very well determine if the Giants, who have a bye week after that game, decide to break up the current starting five, which, barring anything unusual happening in practice this week, will play their seventh straight game of the season as a unit.
Advanced statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required) unless otherwise noted.
All quotes and information obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced. Follow me on Twitter @Patricia_Traina.