As if facing off against Tampa Bay wasn’t a big enough challenge, the New York Giants will travel into week 8 without starting left guard Will Hernandez. The third-year pro tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday evening, confirming that he will miss the Monday night contest against the Buccaneers.
The Giants, who are vast underdogs, have several ways they can supplement the absence of Hernandez, who has been problematic at LG this season through seven weeks. In pass protection, he’s struggling immensely, despite having moderate success in the category in 2019.
Hernandez currently has a 51.7 overall pass-blocking grade, but his run blocking has been a bit better in Jason Garrett’s newly installed scheme. He has always been known as a mauler in the trenches, dominating in the run game, but that simply hasn’t been the case this season, as he’s experienced a decrease in efficiency the past three seasons.
On Wednesday, offensive line coach Marc Colombo suggested that Shane LeMieux will begin seeing reps at guard, which most thought was a correlation to a potential Kevin Zeitler trade at the November 3 deadline.
The New York Giants have to re-think their strategy:
With Hernandez hitting the COVID-19 list, the Giants might not have a choice but to retain Zeitler and shift LeMieux into a starting role at LG for the time being. Of course, Hernandez well fill the voided spot once he tests negative for the virus, but this is a fantastic opportunity for the Oregon product to showcase his abilities.
Shane is best known for his gritty attitude and desire for aggression in the trenches. Colombo stated that his footwork simply wasn’t ready for a starting level job in the NFL, as his over-aggression caused imbalances and allowed defenders to exploit weaknesses. Being more patient in his pass blocking sets is essential, but he should be a force in the run game, which hasn’t been a significant factor in the Giants’ scheme the past few weeks.
Ultimately, the Giants need more support in pass blocking, as their tackles currently rank at the bottom of the NFL in pass block win-rate. Dave Gettleman’s unit currently allows the highest team pressure rate at 43.4%, which is 8% more than any team. With 2.5 years to solve this problem and inject fresh talent, it seems as if the line has taken steps back. It is almost unfathomable to believe that a line that consisted of Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart actually graded similar to the unit we have now with Andrew Thomas and Cam Fleming starting at both tackle positions.
Aside from the obvious deficiencies with the offensive line, the Giants could elect to move Fleming inside to the guard position and start Matt Peart at right tackle. This would allow them to ease LeMieux into his role, giving him gradual reps instead of injecting him into a starting role right off the bat.
That might be a more strategical and safe move than simply replacing him with Hernandez straight up for week eight against a dominant Tampa defense.