The GMen were on the brink of a 2nd straight 0-3 start. Giants fans were beginning their 2019 NFL Draft research. New York’s offensive line, which had been awful through the first 2 games, looked to have no shot against J.J. Watt and the Texans defense. But something happened on the way to the 2019 #1 overall pick. The Giants offensive line put on their big-boy pants and won at the point of attack for much of the afternoon in Houston.
It started on the very first drive of the game. The Giants faced a 3rd-and-5 from their own 30-yard line. The Texans wanted to challenge back-up center John Greco right from the start. They rushed both J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney right up the middle. Greco and running back Wayne Gallman picked up the rush just long enough to allow Eli Manning to find Odell Beckham, Jr. for a first down.
We wrote last week that at some point it comes down to the individuals up front executing their assignments. The Giants O-line did just that on Sunday. With Pat Shurmur mixing in different types of runs on their first drive (Outside zone, power, inside zone, draw), the Giants were able to control the line of scrimmage and allow their playmakers to do what they do best. They jumped out to an early 7-3 lead.
So far, what we’ve seen from Pat Shurmur this year is that he likes to be versatile with his formations. We’ve seen him align his receivers to one side and his running backs/tight ends to the other. We’ve seen him put Odell Beckham Jr. in the slot often. We’ve seen him put Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram on the perimeter. The below play is a great example. This was on a critical 3rd-and-2 with the Giants leading 20-15 late in the 4th quarter. The Texans matched up with linebacker Zach Cunningham. Barkley on a linebacker is a matchup the Giants will aim to exploit all season.
You can see that the ball skills and athleticism are heavily skewed in Barkley’s favor.
All of Shurmur’s maneuvering with personnel and formations is in an effort to create mismatches for Eli Manning. The Giants were able to generate and attack mismatches inside in the passing game against the Texans. Beckham and Sterling Shepard were hit several times in the slot for nice gains. Manning finished the day an impressive 25-29 for 297 yards, with 2 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions.
Overall, Shurmur really did a good job of keeping the Texans off balance just enough to allow his offense some breathing room. He called 3 play-action boots and had success each time. Eli was 3-3 for 54 yards on these plays. This helped at least temporarily thwart Houston’s pass rush.
The benching of right tackle Ereck Flowers was a long time coming. Flowers has struggled since arriving in New York and has even regressed since his rookie year. Chad Wheeler did an okay job as his replacement. Let’s just pause for a second before we call him the missing link to this offense. Wheeler was beat, and beat bad, several times by J.J. Watt.
You can’t blame Wheeler too much for getting beat here. It’s J.J. freakin’ Watt for crying out loud. On a side note, look at how Watt gets both of his big hands on Wheeler’s shoulders. This is deliberate. Making contact and controlling a lineman by his shoulders instead of hitting him in the center of his body makes it easier to get the lineman off balance and toss him aside.
Aside from some highlight-reel plays from Watt and an unproductive 3rd quarter, the Giants offensive line came to play. They controlled the line of scrimmage in the running game for much of the day.
Saquon Barkley (17 carries, 82 yards, TD) finally had some consistent room to work with. Barkley has been phenomenal at getting yards after contact so far. In fact, yards after contact are pretty much the only way he gained any yards in his first 2 games. Barkley has already had plenty of standout moments. On Sunday, he showed off his burst and acceleration. Check out this play below and see how quickly he gets to the edge and outruns the defense.
Barkley is special, no question.
Also of note on this play, check out the blocks made by right guard Patrick Omameh. First, he helps out on the nose tackle, knocking him to the ground. Then he blocks the linebacker to the play side and helps spring Barkley.
The Giants finally showed some signs of life on Sunday in Houston. Maybe this is the beginning of that offensive line starting to become comfortable with each other. They still have their issues, but this performance was certainly promising.