We knew the Giants’ offensive line was going to be an issue heading into this game. The Ereck Flowers – Demarcus Lawrence matchup appeared to be the most problematic. However, the O-line struggled across the board. When you can’t get push in the running game and can’t protect an immobile quarterback, the offense becomes severely hindered. This is what happened on Sunday night against the Cowboys.
Eli Manning was sacked 4 times and under constant duress. When the Giants utilized a 5-man protection and had more receivers running routes, Manning did not have time to let the routes develop downfield and was forced to get rid off the ball early with dump off passes to Saquon Barkley (14 receptions!). When the Giants left their running backs and/or tight ends in to block or chip to help out their tackles, fewer receivers went out into routes. Then it became a simple numbers game, and the Cowboys had more than enough defenders in coverage to handle the few receivers coming their way.
We will say, the route concepts the Giants were running left a bit to be desired. They didn’t attack zone coverage with multiple receivers in the same zone to put defenders in conflict. They didn’t attack man with mesh concepts or pick plays. It was a lot of isolation and spreading receivers across the field to different zones.
In defense of Pat Shurmur’s route concepts, Dallas defensive backs were able to sit on shorter routes because of the pass-rush pressure being generated. No route combination that challenged them high-low (deep route-short route) really threatened the Cowboys as a result.
Dallas was able to generate pressure with a 4-man rush all night. They also utilized well-timed blitzes that picked apart the Giants’ protection schemes. Help was nowhere in sight for the GMen, as even their backs and tight ends struggled to provide support. For instance, fullback Shane Smith (released Wednesday) got beat by his blitzing defender twice on the same drive for sacks. The Cowboys brought many of these blitzes on early downs, which left the Giants in numerous unmanageable 3rd-and-long situations.
At some point, it boils down to this: Your players on the field have to be able to execute. Your offensive line has to be aware of and ready to handle stunts and twists. Individuals need to win their 1-on-1 matchups. If they don’t, it largely doesn’t matter what plays are called, you don’t have much of a chance as an offense.
The Giants failed in this respect in Week 2. Right tackle Ereck Flowers, despite some of the help he received, still got beat numerous times. Left guard Will Hernandez was a split second too slow reacting to a well-timed Cowboys blitz that led to a sack-fumble in the 3rd quarter. Left tackle Nate Solder got pushed back into Eli’s lap several times and has yet to perform like the highly coveted free agent signing he was. Right guard Patrick Omameh missed a blatant stunt right in front of him as shown below.
Omameh’s man, Tyrone Crawford, was rushing towards his outside shoulder, away from the quarterback. That is a telltale sign of a stunt. Omameh was not ready for it though.
To not be aware of a stunt in that situation, and for the entire offensive line to not be prepared for a Rod Marinelli defense (which is notorious for stunting) is damning.
On the bright side, some of this should improve as the line plays together throughout the year. On the darker side, Center Jon Halapio is done for the season. His replacement John Greco might be a veteran, but he does not move particularly well. Eli Manning can’t be too excited about this development.
This leads us to our next issue. Eli Manning does not look comfortable in the pocket. Honestly, would you be? Manning has been getting beat up for the last half decade behind underwhelming offensive lines. He’s not willing to hang in the pocket because when he does, he often gets pressure. He doesn’t have the ability to elude free rushers, so he needs a clean pocket. This is obviously a significant problem.
We are focusing a lot on the Giants here, but credit has to be given to Marinelli and that Cowboys defense. They generated pressure with their front-4 using stunts, twists, and by winning 1-on-1 matchups straight up. Well-executed blitzes left the Giants’ O-line looking confused in their blocking assignments. The mental strain Marinelli’s scheme put on the O-line hindered their ability to perform physically.
Just look at the below sack-fumble, which we referenced earlier. It looked like the Cowboys were trying to show the pressure late and overload the blitz to one side. The nose tackle crossed center Jon Halapio’s face to take him away from the blitz.
The idea here was to leave 2 blockers for 3 rushers.
The Giants actually did a decent job of picking this up (in theory). They slid into the blitz and had the numbers to protect Eli.
However, rookie left guard Will Hernandez was late recognizing and reacting to linebacker Damien Wilson (#57) blitzing, largely because his rush was timed perfectly.
There is clearly a difference between picking up a blitz from a numbers perspective and doing it physically on the field.
As previously mentioned, Marinelli brought some of these blitzes on early downs, leaving the Giants in unmanageable 3rd-and-long situations. The strategy and scheme were too much for New York to handle. They were outmanned physically against Dallas, and Marinelli’s schemes made life extra difficult for a line that hasn’t played together much. The result was a completely suffocated Giants Offense. The GMen need to come up with some answers soon if they want to avoid a repeat of the disaster that was 2017.