In the most complimentary way possible, the Giants offensive line was mediocre to start the season.
The performance didn’t meet a high internal standard but certainly exceeded external doomsday forecasts.
So that’s the foundation off which to build as the Giants shift from passing a difficult test posed by the Broncos to an LSAT-equivalent exam posed Thursday by Washington’s formidable defensive line. Long-limbed, quick-feet ends Chase Young and Montez Sweat plus tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne are all former first-round draft picks.
“Those edge players are second to none,” coach Joe Judge said. “The interior tackles can all make plays.”
Just like last season, the Giants rotated seven offensive linemen, with Ben Bredeson replacing Shane Lemieux at left guard and Matt Peart replacing Nate Solder at right tackle. The different combinations could multiply because center Billy Price is ready to contribute after a late-preseason trade and Nick Gates has five-position versatility. Lemieux (knee injury) was not spotted at Tuesday’s walk-through.
“They go against a very tough defensive front every day in practice — ours,” Judge said. “They’ve seen a lot of the things talent-wise, speed-wise, power-wise and schematically they’re going to see from different opponents. I wasn’t surprised. I expected them to play well.”
One of the best things to come out of the loss was left tackle Andrew Thomas quieting the fears that followed him after an underwhelming rookie season was compounded by a poor preseason game. Thomas had a team-high grade on true pass-block sets in Week 1, and Daniel Jones had a clean pocket on 74.4 percent of his dropbacks — the second-highest mark of his career — according to Pro Football Focus.
“I saw improvement last week, but unfortunately for them, they [face] the best defensive line in the NFL,” said NFL Network analyst Joe Thomas, a future Hall of Fame offensive tackle. “They better have a good game plan with a healthy dose of Saquon Barkley because that offensive line just really isn’t ready to sit back and throw the ball down the field, which happens to be what Daniel Jones does well.”
The Giants averaged only 3 yards on 20 carries, taking some of the luster off of Barkley’s much-anticipated return. The Giants had the eighth-highest pass-blocking grade and the 14th-highest run-blocking grade in Week 1, per PFF.
“We’ve got to run the ball better, which is the main point,” Gates said. “You’re not going to win too many games if you can’t pound the rock. I felt pass protection was a lot better than it was this time last year, and we’ve got to keep excelling on that moving forward.”
Playing in his first game in more than 600 days, Solder allowed three pressures, including a sack to Von Miller that went viral.
“It’s one of those goofy things,” Solder said. “Von is a tremendous pass rusher, but sometimes you just hurt yourself with your bad footwork, with the placement of your weight on your outside foot rather than on the inside. My hands were late all night.”
Quick fixes are in order. The Giants passed on Sweat to draft defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence in 2019, and a late-season Giants win over Washington in 2019 decided the future rivalry homes for Young and Andrew Thomas with the No. 2 and No. 4 picks, respectively, in 2020.
“To be that big, that fast, that strong, that powerful and that athletic … just a rare combination,” Judge said of Young. “Nobody miss-evaluated this guy. I’ll say it right now: Maybe he didn’t go high enough.”
Young is the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, but Sweat and Allen had Washington’s only two sacks in a Week 1 loss to the Chargers.
“If you try to fall asleep on someone because you think they didn’t do what you thought they’re going to do in the first game,” Judge said, “I promise you we’re going to see the best Chase and Sweat have to offer. That’s not going to be a surprise to us.”
The biggest key for the Giants is to play with a lead to neutralize the pass rush. And to continue blocking out the noise.
“The way the Giants can be successful is to be honest about who they are,” Joe Thomas said. “They can’t hold up throwing the ball 40 times against Washington’s front four.”