The biggest question coming into the 2020 NFL season for the New York Giants was if this offensive line would improve from last season’s underwhelming performance.
After game one against one of the best defenses in the NFL, the answer is inconclusive.
The Giants offensive line featured three significant changes. Rookie first-round draft pick Andrew Thomas lined up at left tackle after veteran Nate Solder opted out of the season based on health concerns.
That thrust free-agent acquisition Cam Fleming into a starting position at right tackle after seeing time at left tackle in Dallas. Earlier in the week, head coach Joe Judge announced that Nick Gates would start at center after serving as a backup tackle and guard for the Giants last season.
A veteran offensive line might struggle against a Steelers front four that features Stephon Tuitt, Cameron Heyward, Bud Dupree, and All-Pro TJ Watt, so it would be an issue for a line with no continuity.
Although the official numbers say that the Giants offensive line only surrendered three sacks, there were many other times where quarterback Daniel Jones could not set his feet in the pocket because of the pressure from Pittsburgh.
The offensive line’s real failure came from the running game or the lack of a running game. The offense only mustered 29 rushing yards on 20 attempts. Running back Saquon Barkley was routinely met in the backfield by a Steelers defender.
That was an interesting development because run blocking was predicted to be a strength of the unit with Thomas and Gates inserted into the lineup. Despite that and the two stalwarts on the line Kevin Zeitler and Will Hernandez at the guards, the line looked disjointed, especially in the run game.
The offense was only able to produce two rushing first downs compared to sixteen passing. Those numbers pale compared to the Steelers, who rushed for 141 yards on 30 carries and picked up five rushing first downs. Despite that, Judge is bullish on his dedication to the run game.
“That’s obviously a very talented front we played tonight, but we are going to stay aggressive with the run game. Saquon’s a key part of our team; he’s going to be the difference in how successful this team is going to be,” Judge said when asked about his confidence in the running game. “We have confidence in him and a tremendous amount of confidence in our offensive line.”
The lack of preseason games hurt the offensive line’s ability to gel before the opening game of the season. Taking on a defensive front seven that was one of the best in football and mostly intact from last season is not how a team wants to ease into a new season.
Judge’s confidence will be put to the test again next week as they travel to Chicago to take on the Bears. Judge understands that they will need to show improvement next week against a defense that presents a different type of challenge because they are committed to getting the run game on track.
“It’s going to be a different opponent next week with a little bit of a different challenge,” Judge said. “It’s obviously something we have to improve on in the run game but it is not something we are going to shy away from.”