EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- They are all long gone from that 2015 New York Giants offensive line room -- Weston Richburg, Justin Pugh, Marshall Newhouse, Geoff Schwartz and Will Beatty. Their coach at the time, Pat Flaherty, is on his second job since.
The only key piece from that unit that remains is Ereck Flowers. It’s an incredible feat of circumstance and unexplained resilience. Flowers is not only still with the team, he’s still starting, despite any sort of significant track record of success. To date, it’s one of the biggest upsets of the season.
If you watched the Giants' 20-15 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, it didn’t take long for Flowers’ presence to be recognized. For an offensive lineman, that’s never a good thing. He committed penalties on two of the first three plays and it didn’t get much better as the game progressed.
Flowers allowed a second-quarter sack and seven total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.
“Got to get better,” he said, while also noting he doesn’t listen to the ever-growing outside call for him to lose his starting job.
Flowers wasn’t the only Giants offensive lineman to struggle against a dominant Jaguars defensive front (right guard Patrick Omameh finished with the lowest PFF grade). But Flowers serves as the most noticeable and easiest target considering his history, which includes being an outcast in the offensive line room and getting into an altercation with Flaherty back when Tom Coughlin was still the coach.
The staggering part through it all is that Flowers has outlasted two previous regimes. While Flaherty was on the Jacksonville sideline, Coughlin in a suite as an executive, and Ben McAdoo and Jerry Reese unemployed, Flowers made it to the regular season this year despite general manager Dave Gettleman’s desire to clean out the locker room and fix the offensive line.
The Giants have shifted Flowers from left tackle to right and handed him the starting job from the day he decided to show up in the middle of their offseason workout program. It likely had to do with his guaranteed rookie contract, which expires after this season (the Giants didn’t pick up the fifth-year option), and his lack of trade value. They did look into moving him this offseason.
Gettleman didn’t sign a veteran insurance policy for Flowers, in part because they signed a starting left tackle and right guard. You can only do so much.
And now, Chad Wheeler is the Giants’ only other tackle on the roster aside from starting left tackle Nate Solder and Flowers. Wheeler was undrafted last year and was up and down working with the second-team offense this summer. Even his three snaps as a sixth offensive lineman in the season opener against the Jaguars didn’t go so smoothly.
So the Giants remain committed to Flowers. Coach Pat Shurmur said he didn’t contemplate removing Flowers at any point on Sunday. Wheeler wasn’t a serious option, even though they rotate him at both tackle positions during practices throughout the week.
But Shurmur did leave some wiggle room for change moving forward, beginning Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys and Pro Bowl edge rusher DeMarcus Lawrence. It would still be a surprise considering the Giants have stuck with Flowers this long.
“We’ll see,” Shurmur said. “Right now, what we’re doing is trying to get every player better. I’ll probably say it for the 10th time now, he had a lot of plays that were really good.”
There were also a few too many that weren’t. Flowers was beat inside by Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell on the opening play. He stuck out his left leg and was called for a trip. Flowers held Campbell on the one-yard line two plays later and was again beaten inside by Lerentee McCray for a sack in the third quarter.
It’s a problem that Flowers is so susceptible to inside moves. The fastest way to the quarterback is a straight line, rather than the outside route.
“He’s top heavy when he sets,” said Schwartz, the former Giants free-agent acquisition and a current NFL analyst. “He’s extremely off-balance.”
Flowers has long tried to cheat protecting the edge. He lined up several feet off the hip of guard Justin Pugh last year. He appears to be a bit closer to Omameh this season in a new offense under new line coach Hal Hunter.
It didn’t seem to help his balance. Instead, it had Flowers admittedly rushing to get outside, which allowed Campbell to get inside.
It has been four years now. Can it really get fixed? More likely the Giants just boxed themselves in the corner and will have to work around Flowers for one more year.