The New York Giants' offensive line is a season-undermining disaster.
Two games into the 2017 campaign, the Giants are in the NFC East basement at 0-2 after losing 24-10 to the Lions on Monday night. Yes, they played the defending NFC East champs without Odell Beckham Jr. in Week 1. Yes, Beckham was on a pitch count (more on that later) and Janoris Jenkins didn't play at all in Week 2. Yes, the Giants still have one of the NFL's best defenses.
But right now, it doesn't really look like any of that matters. The offensive line is doing its best to torpedo any hopes the Giants have this year. Weston Richburg is a very good center and Justin Pugh is a reliable guard, but the rest of the line just completely blows up any offensive plan the Giants might have.
Ereck Flowers simply cannot play left tackle in the NFL. The Giants knew this when they drafted him to be a long-term right tackle, but they have stubbornly kept him on the left side after being forced to flip him there ahead of his rookie season when former starter Will Beatty tore his pectoral. Flowers was miserable as a rookie in 2015, worse in 2016, and atrocious against the Lions on Monday night.
Bobby Hart, the starting right tackle who likely could not even hold down the swing tackle position on any of the other three NFC East teams, exited two plays into this game and his replacement, Brett Jones, was destroyed in the running game all night. Guard John Jerry was dominated inside for the second consecutive week as well.
By the end of the night, the Giants had given up five sacks. It was only the ninth time in Eli Manning's career that he's been sacked five times or more, and the man was starting in his 201st consecutive game. Manning was sacked three times and constantly under pressure and running for his life against the solidly below-average Cowboys defensive line last week, but he barely even had time to run for his life against a Detroit defensive line that was even worse than Dallas' last year.
The Giants were also dominated up front in the running game. The trio of Paul Perkins, Shane Vereen, and Orleans Darkwa carried the ball 14 times for 46 yards, a sorry average of 3.3 a pop. And this was on the heels of a season-opener where Perkins and Darkwa combined to gain just 30 yards on 10 carries.
It's hard to see how this gets better for New York anytime soon. With one of the best defensive lines in football (the Eagles) visiting MetLife Stadium next week, and with the Giants playing the Buccaneers, Chargers, Broncos, Seahawks, and Rams after that, it actually looks like it could get a whole lot worse before it gets better. And the Giants already in an 0-2 hole, so they really can't afford it to get any worse.
Here are a few more things to know from New York's loss at home to Detroit.
Lions defenders deliver stellar performance
When an offensive line gets as thoroughly dominated as the Giants' line did, you know some defenders on the other team had themselves some monster evenings. One of those monster evenings came from Ezekiel Ansah, whose agent better be making as many tapes of this game film as possible. Ansah made Ereck Flowers look like he didn't belong on the field, toying with Flowers on his way to three sacks and repeatedly beating him in the run game as well.
Rookie linebacker Jarrad Davis was having a wonderful game (six tackles, one for loss, a sack, and another hit on Manning) before he was blocked in the back by Odell Beckham in the fourth quarter and had to enter the concussion protocol after running his head into the ball-carrier. Davis is the first rookie to start at middle linebacker for the Lions since Chris Spielman in 1988, and he looks like a real player. The Lions surely have to hope he comes out of the protocol quickly.
Detroit's secondary allowed Eli Manning to complete 22 of 32 passes, but Darius Slay, Quandre Diggs, and Miles Killebrew all had excellent games. Diggs made a great play on fourth down midway through the fourth to force a turnover on downs, while Slay made back-to-back awesome plays on throws down the right sideline, breaking up passes to Brandon Marshall and Evan Engram at the last second.
And then you totally redeemed yourself
The Giants' one touchdown of the game came on a gorgeous play to first-round tight end Evan Engram. He lined up like an H-back in the backfield, barreled straight up the middle as if he was going to be a lead blocker, and then just kept right on running up the seam, where Manning found him for a score.
It was very pretty.
It was also a dreadful read by Lions linebacker Tahir Whitehead, who simply has to know that Engram is not going to be the lead blocker on a running play. Every single scouting report about Engram says that he can't block, but Whitehead froze in his tracks reacting to Engram coming through the hole, and was victimized because of it.
Later in the quarter, though, Whitehead got some redemption. A play after Matthew Stafford was strip-sacked by Jason Pierre-Paul, Whitehead managed to snag a tipped pass for an interception of Manning.
The ensuing drive ended with an Eric Ebron touchdown, and that turned out to be all the cushion the Lions needed.
Game management includes Kershaw shoutout
Matthew Stafford was not counted on to do a whole heck of a lot in this one, but what he was asked to do, he did well. Stafford completed 15 of 21 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns and escaped from pressure several times. Additionally, as Jon Gruden said late in ESPN's broadcast, he checked out of at least five plays after spotting a safety blitz coming off the edge, audibling to a run to the opposite side of the field.
On one of those plays, he even used childhood friend Clayton Kershaw as an audible.
That's pretty cool.
Beckham back, sort of
Odell Beckham came back to the field for the Giants, resuming his role of catching slants from Eli Manning.
But Odell was clearly on a pitch count throughout the evening (he was on the field for 34 of the Giants' 55 offensive snaps), and he did not necessarily look like his usual game-breaking self. He finished with four catches for 36 yards on five targets, but did not have a very big impact on the game.
Apple is the weakest link
The Giants have one of the best defensive lines in football. Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon are one of the top pass-rushing duos in the league, made all the better by the fact that both of them play the run extremely well. Damon Harrison is the best run defender in the league. Dalvin Tomlinson looks like a player as well.
They Giants also have one of the best secondaries in football. Janoris Jenkins has justified every dollar of his contract and is a pure, shutdown corner. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie can work inside and out and has long been one of the most productive players at his position. Landon Collins is a superstar.
The problem for the Giants is that they have a weak link: third corner Eli Apple. With Jenkins sitting out Monday night with hand and ankle injuries, Apple got exposed for the second consecutive week. He was victimized early by Marvin Jones on a deep ball early.
That play highlighted what has been a known Apple weakness since before the draft.
Through two games, quarterbacks are now 12 of 16 for 143 yards and two touchdowns throwing at Apple this season, per Pro Football Focus; and that's after completing 38 of 62 for 515 yards and three scores (97.2 passer rating) when throwing at Apple last season. There's still time to turn it around, but Apple is not off to a good start in his NFL career.
The Giants, who are by themselves in the NFC East basement, will seek to avoid falling to 0-3 when they visit division rival Philadelphia at 1 p.m. ET. Also at 1 p.m. ET, the Lions will play host to the 2-0 defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons, who are fresh off a decisive Sunday night victory against the Green Bay Packers.