For Eagles and Giants fans, much of the focus this week has been on offensive-line play, and the mood hasn’t been what you would call laudatory.
Poor Pythagoras somehow took a spirited bashing from a New York radio host this week, despite having been dead nearly 2,600 years. If you didn’t see or hear that rant on social media, suffice it to say that ESPN Radio’s Don La Greca doesn’t believe A squared plus B squared equals a decent pocket for Eli Manning.
The NFC East rivals meet Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field having given up eight sacks apiece through two games, which puts them in a four-way tie with the Bengals and Colts for third-worst in the league. The Eagles seem to have replaced left guard Isaac Seumalo with more experienced Chance Warmack this week; the Giants are said to be sticking with their most beleaguered blocker, left tackle Ereck Flowers. Flowers was undressed on Monday Night Football by the Lions’ Ziggy Ansah.
“There’s frustration, I’m sure, from all of our fans and from everyone on the outside looking in and, guess what, our players are frustrated with themselves,” Giants offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan told New York reporters Thursday. “We’re frustrated in ourselves as coaches, and I think when that comes to the forefront, you can either complain about it and point fingers and look for the blame, or circle the wagons and say, ‘Listen, we just have to keep wheeling stones down the street, just keep grinding away, keep grinding away, keep trying to find a way to get better.’ ”
Even on teams that aren’t giving up four sacks a week, the quality of offensive-line play seems to be a topic of concern. The Giants were among 13 NFL teams scoring fewer than two touchdowns in their Week 2 outing. The Washington Post and Sports Illustrated have weighed in on the subject, as did New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick last week.
Most-discussed culprits include the changes in the collective bargaining agreement enacted in 2011, which limited padded work in the offseason, in training camp and during the season, along with so many college teams playing spread offenses, in which linemen often take two-point stances instead of sticking a hand in the ground in three-point, and then don’t have to hold their blocks as long.
Eagles tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai said the two-point to three-point transition was a tough one for him as a rookie last season from TCU.
“My body was trained to go out of two-point. All we did was pass the ball in college. Coming here and trying to pass block from a three-point was just awkward,” Vaitai said. “It all comes down to muscle memory; repetition is your best friend.”
Vaitai said being shown the proper technique wasn’t enough, he needed live work to get comfortable.
“It’s easy to look at it; it’s harder to do it,” he said.
Another possible reason: sometimes talent is clustered in one area or another. The 2017 draft class had the most poorly regarded o-line group in recent memory, with the first blocker being taken 20th overall (tackle Garett Bolles, by the Broncos). Recent drafts have featured more pass-rushing talent at the top than blocking talent.
Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson said he sees teams with at least a talented pass-rushing duo, instead of one star, as was the case years ago. Johnson noted that this week, the Giants will line up Jason Pierre-Paul on one side and Olivier Vernon on the other. Next week, when the Eagles visit the Chargers, they’ll see Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
Belichick faulted the lack of work in pads, more than lack of blocking talent.
“I mean, look, we’re all coaching under the same rules, but I think it’s harder, especially at that position, to improve when you really can’t practice your skill,” Belichick said. “It’s like, you go out to the driving range and hit drives and hit balls, but you can’t go on the putting green. And then, to think that your putting is going to be at the same level as your driving when you can’t really practice it, it’s not really realistic.”
Johnson said he could see Belichick’s point.
“Really, if you want to get a live look, it has to be in pads. You’re going full speed,” Johnson said.
Right guard Brandon Brooks wasn’t as sure.
“I hear what he’s saying, but for me, I don’t think putting the pads on a ton more would instantly make you a better offensive line,” Brooks said. “First [thing], getting players with an open mind, ready to learn, willing to take coaching. And two, having a good o-line coach … I think we’ve got a pretty damn good offensive-line coach here, probably the best one I’ve had; he’s made me a much better player, in the short time I’ve been with him.”
Why does Brooks, who joined the Eagles in 2016 as a free agent from Houston, have such high regard for offensive-line coach Jeff Stoutland?
“You gotta be a good teacher, man. Everybody learns differently. You can’t just go, ‘I’m going to teach it this way. Whoever gets it, gets it.’ I think with Stout, each individual player, he knows how they learn, how they learn best and tailor it to them,” Brooks said.
Of course, Stoutland’s teaching ability hasn’t gotten the Eagles’ o-line off to a smooth start this season. A few members of the line acknowledged that only playing 19 snaps together in the preseason – the first quarter of the Miami game – meant that they are still syncing up. Unlike the Giants, the Eagles were supposed to have one of the better o-lines in the league, and they still think they will.
“I would think, in general, offense is so much based on chemistry. Especially offensive-line play is based on all five guys working together,” center Jason Kelce said. “If you look at our film, you see a lot of plays where you see four, five, six guys doing a really good job, and it just takes one guy screwing up. It’s not always the same guy screwing up.
“What’s been the case usually is, as the season progresses, as you get time working with everybody, that synchronization tends to happen better.”
Eagles and Giants fans are more than ready for it to happen as early as this week.