EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It wasn’t perfect for guard D.J. Fluker in his first start for the New York Giants. There were some plays he would like to have back, especially early against All-Pro defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. But there were also more good moments than bad in the Giants’ 25-23 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
Fluker helped an impotent Giants running game amass a season-high 91 rushing yards against the Bucs. It’s not merely a coincidence that in the second half, most of the success came on the right side. Fluker at right guard and Justin Pugh at right tackle were opening holes. It was a combination that was working.
After struggling to run the football in the first half (mostly to the left side), the Giants had six rushes for 34 yards to the right side in the second half. It was a rare ray of light to an otherwise discouraging running game. That’s 5.7 yards per carry for a team that averages 3.2 yards per rush this season. That’s 5.7 yards per carry for a team that averaged only 2.7 yards per rush in the first half, a number buoyed by quarterback Eli Manning’s 14-yard scramble for a touchdown.
The Giants had something working with Fluker and Pugh opening holes on the right side in the second half while left guard John Jerry pulled on the Giants’ preferred running play, the power run. The Giants ran it three times early in the second half for 24 yards. Fluker was a key contributor.
“I think Fluker did some good things in there,” coach Ben McAdoo said. “He’s a big man. He works at playing physical. He did some good things.”
As the Giants get set for this Sunday's matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers, their offensive line might change again. They’ve already started three combinations in four weeks.
This week, the Giants have right tackle Bobby Hart (ankle) and guard/center Brett Jones (hip) back healthy. Pugh can slide back inside if they want Hart back in the lineup. Jones can return to a guard spot as well, if he’s not needed at center.
Starting center Weston Richburg missed Wednesday’s practice after sustaining a concussion in Tampa.
So why change things now if you’re the Giants? They finally found some success running the football, which has been a problem now for several years. The Giants rank 31st in the NFL in rushing, averaging 59.3 yards per game.
With Jerry (better known as a pass blocker) at one guard spot, Fluker would seem an ideal complement as the road-grading guard. His ability to play with power is rare for this Giants offensive line. It adds a different dimension, one that could be missing.
It would make too much sense for the Giants to keep him in the lineup, especially Sunday against the Chargers, his former team.
“I can’t wait for the opportunity … if it’s granted,” Fluker said Tuesday.
The feedback he received after Sunday’s game was decent. Fluker noticed some positives and negatives. He admitted having a few rough snaps against McCoy, but thought he did well matched against the rest of the Bucs defensive linemen.
“Coach said I did OK,” he said. “I haven’t been out there very much. Most important, what he said is to keep working on footwork and work on staying square. I didn’t turn too often.”
Keeping his body square is something the Giants have been working on with Fluker, the Chargers’ 2013 first-round pick. It allows Fluker to play with all that power in his massive 345-pound frame.
That power was noticeable on Sunday. When Fluker got his hands on a Bucs defensive lineman or linebacker, they didn’t disengage. His physicality created some much-needed movement at the point of attack.
Enough to keep him in the lineup? It should be, but might not be.