Nick Gates is pissed off and says all the other Giants offensive linemen feel the same way.
The position coach, Marc Colombo, loves that they all are pissed off.
So, there is a consensus here that everyone involved in how the Giants block for the run and protect the pocket is feeling lousy about what has gone down the first three games of this season.
Aaron Donald must be salivating. You think Gates and the others charged with preventing the Rams’ game-wrecker from doing just that this Sunday are going to be able to brighten their collective mood after heading west and tangling with the roughest, toughest, meanest hombre out there?
There are matchups and confrontations inherent in every NFL game and this one is not for the faint of heart. Gates at center vs. Donald at defensive tackle shapes up less a battle and more a duel — where one combatant has a firearm and the other two arms, 10 fingers and virtually no chance. Donald annihilates everyone, even those with great pedigree, experience and skill. Gates does not have great pedigree, experience or skill. One day he might develop into an adequate or quality NFL center. That day is not here yet and for as much help as Colombo and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett can send his way, at some point Gates is going to have to stand his ground at SoFi Stadium and absorb the Donald barrage.
“We’re going to have a plan for him,’’ Colombo said. “Yeah, the center has to be a part of that plan. Obviously Aaron is going to line up as a three technique, he’s going to line up as a defensive end, he’s going to line up over the center, he’s going to line up all over the place, and that’s really their goal, to try to find a weakness.’’
If Donald seeks to locate a weakness in the Giants’ offensive line it will not be an exhaustive search. Lining him up directly over Gates will do just fine. Until Gates and the Giants prove they can prevent Donald from blowing up their running backs and practicing no social distancing whatsoever with Daniel Jones, it might be snap after snap, Donald and Gates, and good luck with that.
“I’m excited,’’ Gates said. “I like going up against good players, it makes you better. It teaches you what you need to work on and what you’re good at, things like that. I’m excited, I think we’re all excited.’’
There is no need to take cheap shots at Gates’ expense. He is an undrafted 24-year-old who played tackle at Nebraska and was thought to be a guard, and then perhaps a right tackle. The new coaching staff arrived and moved Gates to center – a spot he never spent any meaningful time working at before this. It has gone about as you would expect. With a grade of 49.7 by Pro Football Focus, Gates is ranked 31st in the league at his position.
Donald? His grade of 89.6 is No. 2 among interior defensive linemen but make no mistake, he is No. 1 in the hearts and minds and nightmares of everyone tasked with blocking him. The 29-year old dervish has 75 career sacks, 16 forced fumbles and is so relentless that any momentary hesitation from Gates can and will result in abject embarrassment.
“This guy will really ruin your birthday party in a hurry,’’ head coach Joe Judge said.
The Giants rolled the dice here, going with a novice at center rather than Spencer Pulley off their own roster, signing a veteran in free agency or adding someone in the draft (Wisconsin’s Tyler Biadasz was there for the taking in the fourth round; the Cowboys got him). They went all-in on Gates, for better or worse.
“It’s absolutely not an experiment,’’ Judge said. “He’s making improvements on a weekly basis and that’s all we can ask of Nick right now.’’
Donald more than ever is probing from left to right, lining up inside or outside, wherever he feels he gains the greatest advantage. This could work in the Giants’ favor. Donald might get flustered deciding where to attack first: Do I hit up Cam Fleming at right tackle, see what the kid Andrew Thomas has over on the left side, try to confuse Will Hernandez at left guard or just stay put and bulldoze Gates? It could make Donald dizzy.
“We have to make sure we know where 99 is on every snap,’’ Judge said.
He won’t be hard to find.
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