Three weeks into the 2020 NFL season and the initial returns on the New York Giants have been far less than promising. Winless and fresh off a 36-9 shellacking at the hands of an injury-riddled San Francisco 49ers team, the Giants currently sit dead last in an underwhelming NFC East division, as Joe Judge continues to seek his first-ever win as a head coach.
The team’s poor play has led to its fair share of backlash. The seat under GM Dave Gettleman’s behind appears to be scorching hot, while the “Tank for Trevor [Lawrence]” campaign has gained momentum in recent weeks amongst the fanbase.
The Athletic’s Dan Duggan took to Twitter recently to add to the budding number of negative reviews for Big Blue, shedding light on the Giants’ recent “offensive ineptitude.” Duggan deemed the team’s struggles “appalling,” some of which pre-date Judge’s arrival in New York.
Some of the stats spawned from the Giants’ offensive ineptitude are just appalling. Daniel Jones has led the team in rushing four times in his last nine games dating back to last season (never topped 54 yards in any of those games and had 22 yards in one game and 20 in another).
— Dan Duggan (@DDuggan21) September 29, 2020
Run Games Struggles Go Well Beyond a Hobbled Saquon Barkley
One would think the obvious answer as to why Jones has led the team in rushing four of New York’s past nine games would be due to injuries to running back Saquon Barkley. However, take a closer look and that argument holds little validity.
While it is true Barkley, who’s currently on IR with a torn ACL, battled a high-ankle sprain a season ago, he only missed two of the nine games Duggan referenced in his tweet above. In fact, if you delve a bit deeper into those statistics, you realize Barkley has averaged just 32 yards per game over five of his last nine games played (excluding games he exited early due to injury).
Despite some concerning statistics, no one really questions Barkley’s talents, meaning there must be a more obvious culprit for the G-Men’s running game woes.
Spoiler alert, there is.
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The Ever-Eluding Hog Molly
The Giants offensive line has been bad for quite some time now. While the aforementioned Dave Gettleman has consistently preached his affection for the “Hog Molly” since taking over the helm in New York back in 2018, he’s failed to find many players that live up to the namesake.
The unit checked in towards the bottom half of Pro Football Focus’ final offensive line rankings of 2019. Yet, the Giants believed that the additions of No. 4 overall pick Andrew Thomas and free-agent Cam Fleming, along with a position switch for Nick Gates, would shore up the unit moving forward, instead, they’ve just gotten worse.
Here’s what PFF had to say about the Giants unit, who ranks as the analytics site’s second-to-worst offensive line group in football through the first three weeks of this season:
It’s fair to point out that the Giants have faced some tough competition, but it doesn’t excuse their overall level of play through three weeks. Starting center Nick Gates had literally never played a snap of center before in his career, and he currently has a 49.7 overall PFF grade.
Andrew Thomas is the one first-round rookie tackle who has struggled right out of the gate, though he had back-to-back games against elite competition. Even Kevin Zeitler, typically one of the best pass-blocking guards in the game, has struggled this season, allowing eight total pressures through three games.
We cannot undersell the positives that come with Daniel Jones’ ability to move the chains with his legs. Rams head coach Sean McVay heaped praise on the second-year pro for just this reason earlier this week, likening him to star dual-threat QBs such as Dak Prescott and Josh Allen. With that said, if the Giants have any hope of becoming contenders he can’t continue to be their biggest threat in the ground game.
The trio of Wayne Gallman, Dion Lewis and Devonta Freeman must be able to muster up more than just 17 combined rushing yards, as they did a week ago. However, with an all-world talent such as Saquon Barkley on the mend, the Giants run game will likely only improve as their offensive line does.
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