Ereck Flowers and the Giants’ offensive line have struggled to protect Eli Manning so far this season.
Entering the 2017 NFL season with hopes of winning the NFC East, the New York Giants have been one of the most surprising teams in the NFL, entering week 5 owning an 0-4 record. In week 1, the Giants were demolished by the Cowboys and held without a touchdown, with the score being 19-3. Week 2 against the Lions showed signs of life, as rookie tight end Evan Engram caught his first touchdown pass of his NFL career. However, the Lions pulled away late on a fourth quarter punt return by Jamal Agnew. Then, in week 3 at Philadelphia, it took the Giants over 3 quarters to finally score, in a fourth quarter in which Eli Manning and the offense suddenly exploded for 24 points. However, it was still not enough, as the Giants lost a heartbreaker on a 61-yard field goal by Jake Elliot. Last Sunday at Tampa Bay, several defensive collapses led to a second straight week of losing by a game-winning field goal, this time on a 38-yard field goal by Nick Folk (who, by the way, missed 2 field goals and an extra point earlier in the game).
Now, at 0-4, the Giants find their playoff hopes in critical condition. Keep in mind, that the Giants still have to face elite teams such as the Seahawks, Broncos, Chiefs, and Raiders. Every Giants fan must be bewildered as to how their team ended up 0-4 and there a several factors as to why (no particular order).
The Giants signed Brandon Marshall to a 2-year, 11 million dollar contract during the offseason. He was brought in to be a red zone threat and a wingman to Odell Beckham Jr. Unfortunately for the Giants, Marshall and Manning have not been on the same page at times. There have been instances where they were on the same page, but Marshall failed to make the catches. The good news is that Marshall is starting to improve, catching 14 passes for 112 yards in weeks 3 and 4 combined, while only catching 2 passes for 27 yards in weeks 1 and 2 combined.
Brad Wing has had 2 atrocious punts so far this season, and they were both at the worst possible time, in the fourth quarter. One was against the Eagles and one was against the Buccaneers. Against the Eagles, with 19 seconds to go in the fourth quarter, the Giants had a 4th and 1 from their own 34 yard line. So, they called on Brad Wing to punt and send the game to overtime. Instead, Wing’s punt was only 28 yards, which set up the Eagles to 1st and 10 from their own 38 yard line. A few plays later, Jake Elliot nailed the 61-yard game-winning kick. The other scenario was in Tampa Bay last Sunday. With a little more than 9 minutes remaining in the game, and a 17-16 lead, the Giants had a 4th and 3 from their own 42 yard line. This time, Wing’s punt was only 15, yes 15 yards. Four plays later, Jameis Winston hit Cameron Brate for a 14 yard touchdown to take the lead at 22-17. The Giants went on to lose this game by a score of 25-23.
Offensive Line and Running Game
After struggling to run the ball last season, the Giants’ running game has continued to struggle. Currently sitting at 30th in the NFL in rushing yards with 237, the running game has been close to nonexistent. Also, the offensive line struggled mightily to protect Eli Manning throughout the first 2 weeks, however there has been a slow and steady improvement. Eli underwent 14 hurries through the first 2 weeks, but has only underwent 4 in the past 2 weeks. Much of the o-line struggles have been blamed on left tackle Ereck Flowers, especially because he himself allowed 3 sacks against Ezekiel Ansah of the Lions.
Surprisingly, the Giants currently sit at 27th in the NFL with rushing yards allowed, allowing 571 rushing yards through 4 games. After being tied for 3rd in the NFL last season, with only 1417 rushing yards allowed through 16 games, the rushing defense has significantly declined this year. This in part may be due to the departure of defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who recently signed with the Colts this past offseason on a 3-year, 30 million dollar contract. Along with the departure of Hankins comes Olivier Vernon‘s health. Vernon has been bothered by a lagging ankle injury since the beginning of the season. He has been limited in practice at times, and he missed the entire 2nd half of Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers.
Over the past 2 seasons, Giants head coach Ben McAdoo’s play calling has been criticized by many fans and analysts. His play calling is very predictable at times, he opts to run the ball at the wrong times, and he is simply too conservative and lacks aggression. He has reportedly considered handing over the play calling duties to offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, but there has been no discussion about it this week.
Overall, anyone who has paid close attention to the Giants this season know that they have slowly improved each game, but they have still yet to win a game. Maybe continuing to start D.J. Fluker at offensive line will help the pass protection. Maybe Brandon Marshall will continue to improve his chemistry with Eli Manning. Maybe Wayne Gallman will earn the starting job at running back going forward and give the running game some life. As unlikely as the playoffs seem right now, if the Giants can improve and truly reach their potential that everyone was expecting coming into the season, then anything is possible.