EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- There was a very familiar feel to watching the New York Giants' offensive line on Monday night: Here we go again ...
Quarterback Daniel Jones was running for his life in a Week 3 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys. His offensive line couldn’t protect him, to the point that Jones was pressured more than any quarterback this season (24 times on 49 dropbacks) and more than any Giants quarterback since ESPN starting tracking pressures in 2009.
There it was again, that leaky Giants offensive line -- an extension of the past decade. And there it was again, edge rusher DeMarcus Lawrence standing over a Giants quarterback after a sack -- an extension of the past eight years. Just like he did consistently with Eli Manning, Lawrence acquainted himself with Jones.
Lawrence had three sacks in Monday night’s 23-16 victory over the Giants. All three came against rookie right tackle Evan Neal. In all, Jones was sacked five times and forced to escape the pocket seemingly every time he went back to pass. The quarterback rushed nine times for 79 yards.
"There’s growing pains," coach Brian Daboll said. "I would say it’s not just [Neal], which he got beat a couple times on the edge by a pretty good player. There was a lot of things we could have done better."
Daboll mentioned the offensive line wasn't solely responsible for the constant pressure Jones saw on national television. The tight ends, running backs and wide receivers could have done a better job helping and chipping on the edges. Tight end Daniel Bellinger barely touched Lawrence while trying to chip on his third and final sack. Daboll also thought the Giants’ running backs could have done a better job in their 1-on-1 matchups with blitzers. And yes, the Cowboys, led by pass-rushers Micah Parsons and Lawrence, also deserve some credit. It’s not an accident they had such a productive game. Their defensive front is legitimately good. Dallas leads the league with 13 sacks.
But the Giants' offensive line knows it needs to improve, and in a lot of ways.
"Everything," center Jon Feliciano said after the loss. "Too many hits. Run game was there a little bit. We can be better there as well. Just having [Jones’] back."
The Giants (2-1) are a better run-blocking team than pass-blocking team this season. It was always expected given the personnel, which includes four newcomers. They are fourth in the NFL in rushing, averaging 169.3 yards per contest on the ground.
Their pass-blocking hasn’t been on the same level. New York has the 30th-ranked passing attack. It has allowed the third-most sacks (13) this season. Left tackle Andrew Thomas said that passing off twists and stunts is the offensive line's biggest problem so far.
Neal, the seventh-overall pick in this year’s draft, has a pass block win rate (PBWR) of 84.8%. That ranks him 50th of the 66 qualifying tackles. Right guard Mark Glowinski has a PBWR of 85.1%, which puts him 60th out of 67 guards. The line as a whole is 23rd in the NFL at 54.0%.
The only lineman who should have earned Jones’ trust so far is Thomas. His 91.2% PBWR has him ranked 18th out of 66 tackles.
Neal blamed his struggles Monday night on his set angles. Former Giants lineman and current NFL analyst Geoff Schwartz also suggested that Neal was being too aggressive with his punches against Lawrence’s cross-chop, leaving him compromised and off-balance.
"I just got to play better. There’s no other way to call it. I can get technical with you guys all day long. But I just gotta play better," Neal said. "There’s no other way to slice it or sugarcoat it. I gotta play a better brand of football."
The entire offensive line does. Monday night had to be hard to watch for anyone concerned about Jones’ safety, especially since he has missed at least one game in each of his first three seasons because of injury. The hope is that time will cure some of the offensive line’s woes. If there is one position group that can benefit from continuity, it’s that unit. And this group hasn’t spent a lot of time together.
Neal is still getting accustomed to the NFL game and should get better as the season improves. He can simply look at Thomas on the other side as affirmation it can happen. Thomas, who was 56th out of 62 tackles as a rookie with an 81.0% PBWR, has already spoken to Neal this week. He says Neal has the "right mindset" and is ready to leave it in the past.
Glowinski was the Giants’ marquee free-agent signing this offseason from the Colts, but his PBWR is almost six points below his career average. Feliciano came over on a one-year deal from the Bills for the opportunity to be a full-time starter at center for the first time in his career, and left guard Ben Bredeson came to the Giants at the start of last season before struggling through most of 2021 with injuries.
None are considered especially strong pass-protectors, aside from Thomas. It will create quite the dilemma when playing teams with multiple high-end pass-rushers like the Cowboys. You can help only one spot on the offensive line, and the Giants were doing their best to support the rookie Neal on Monday. It puts significant pressure on the rest of the line, particularly the questionable interior.
"They just didn’t play well," Schwartz said on The Breaking Big Blue podcast. "They are players that are not high draft picks for the most part. ... They’re just OK, and they got exposed.
"Again, the Cowboys did a good job of putting them in tough spots having to block Lawrence and Parsons. And Jones is kind of taking a beating because of all this."
Jones has been pressured 40.8% of the time this season, second most in the NFL behind only his Week 4 counterpart, the Bears' Justin Fields (53.8%). This is the group that first-year general manager Joe Schoen has slapped together for this season to try to protect Jones. It’s certainly not perfect, but they believe it can and will get better.
"As an offensive line, you definitely want camaraderie. But we don't really have time for that," says Thomas. "The season is already here. Can't really make excuses about not playing together. We just have to do whatever we can to get better as fast as we can."