After a 3-0 start to the 2021 season, the visiting Carolina Panthers came to East Rutherford with their own injury woes. They, too, were missing the focal point of their offense from the backfield, Christian McCaffrey. They, too, were missing their left tackle in Cameron Erving. And they, too, were missing their star linebacker in Shaq Thompson. Head Coach Matt Rhule, who was nearly the Head Coach of the Giants before CAR swooped in with a long-term offer, had convinced many around the league that the franchise was on the upswing. However, three straight losses that included eight offensive turnovers brought them back down to .500 despite a defense that ranked top-10 in the league.
Sam Darnold, the #3 overall pick from the 2018 NFL Draft, one slot after Saquon Barkley, was back at MetLife Stadium in a different uniform after three nightmarish seasons with the Jets. His performances were worsening each week leading up to this Week 7 matchup. With a wide receiver corps that ranked 2nd in the league with the most drops and key injuries up front and in the backfield, this appeared to be a nice opportunity for NYG to right the ship defensively.
CAR’s opening drive netted 3 points via a 47-yard field goal. The CAR offense went run-heavy, converting a 4th-and-1 from their own 36-yard line. Chuba Hubbard and Royce Freeman combined for 33 of CAR’s 46 yards. These 3 points would be the final of the day for CAR. NYG made it to mid-field before punting it back to CAR. After forcing a 3-and-out on CAR, NYG had the ball back and began with the ball in CAR territory due to a poor punt.
It took just 2 plays to reach the red zone, and another 3 plays to get inside the CAR 5-yard line. The worst-ranked red zone offense in the league had a prime opportunity, 1st-and-goal from the 2-yard line, to start reversing their fortunes in this area. A touchdown was called back because tight end Kyle Rudolph stepped out of bounds a couple feet shy of the end zone. NYG then failed on three straight attempts to put points on the board, turning the ball over on downs. The team was showered with boos while both Jason Garrett and Joe Judge were left looking dumbfounded that 2 runs up the gut and a passing play where one, yes one, target was sent to run a route did not pan out.
Because of the poor field position and the NYG defense being able to get pressure on Darnold, who tends to “see ghosts” when dropping back, the first NYG points of the day came from a safety. Leonard Williams applied pressure and Darnold was flagged for intentional grounding on a throw from the end zone. NYG was getting the ball back, down 3-2.
After a 27-yard gain on a pass to Dante Pettis and a 9-yard run by Jones, the Giants were back in field goal position. Graham Gano gave NYG the lead with a 49-yard boot through the uprights. CAR and NYG traded scoreless possessions and the back half of the 2nd quarter, a time period where NYG has failed miserably every game this season, was upon them. CAR did drive down the field with 66 yards on 7 plays before NYG finally put their foot on the opposing offense’s breaks. A tackle for loss by Azeez Ojulari, an incomplete pass by Darnold, and then an interception by James Bradberry wiped away the possibility of CAR getting the lead back.
NYG breached midfield yet again, but an intentional grounding penalty on Jones pushed them back and they ended up punting. CAR remained overmatched when they had the ball, Darnold was limping around, and even though NYG’s lead was only 2 points, they clearly had an edge as halftime arrived and began the third quarter with the ball.
The score remained at 5-3 for nearly the entire 3rd quarter. Neither offense could find a flow, as there was just one combined first down gained by both teams over the first 4 possessions. The third time NYG had the ball, they used an 11-play drive to travel 75 yards right into the end zone. Jones hit Pettis on a 5-yard pass just a few snaps after Pettis completed a 16-yard pass to Jones on a trick play. NYG’s creativity paid off and it resulted in 7 points, making it a 12-3 lead.
CAR went 3-and-out yet again as the fourth quarter began, and that was the last time we saw Darnold under center. NYG added 3 more points via a 53-yard field goal by Gano as the former Panthers kicker remained as automatic as you will find in today’s NFL. Phillip Walker was the new quarterback for CAR. The former Temple signal caller who was recruited and coached by Rhule in college had his first completion nullified by a holding penalty. CAR ended up punting once again.
NYG put together an inch-by-inch dive, netting just 32 yards on 10 plays but it was enough for another Gano field goal attempt, this one from 44 yards. He nailed that one as well and NYG had an 18-3 lead. Walker and the Panthers went 4-and-out on the ensuing drive, giving NYG the ball back on the CAR 19-yard line. Devontae Booker needed just one carry to put the final 6 points on the board with a 19-yard touchdown run. NYG was up 25-3.
CAR did end up getting into NYG territory on the next drive as the secondary softened, allowing multiple short passes to be completed. That drive ended in another turnover on downs as the NYG pass rush, led by Ojulari, heated up at the right time. NYG gained a first down on their final drive, opening the window to bleed out the clock.
NYG wins 25-3.
-Daniel Jones: 23/33 – 203 yards / 1 TD / 0 INT / 95.9 RAT
Jones also added 28 yards on 8 carries and caught a pass for 16 yards. So, 247 total yards with a score. Jones responded very well coming off last week’s debacle against the Rams. This is now the 5th game out of 7 (including vs DAL where he only played a half) where Jones finished with a QB rating over 90. He protected the ball, went through his reads well, and made some tough plays with his legs. Jones was without 3 of his top 4 receivers, his top running back, and multiple starting offensive linemen. Only Dante Pettis was getting plus-separation all afternoon, yet he still completed nearly 70% of his passes. Really solid effort full of good decisions in a tough situation.
-Devontae Booker: 14 att – 51 yards – 1 TD / 2 rec – 15 yards
Booker showed a nice mix of innovation after the catch and in space with the ball. He won’t ever be mistaken for Barkley when it comes to tools and athletic ability, but he is a solid presence who makes very few mistakes. He did drop one pass and allowed 1 pressure, but he played well overall.
-Shout out to Elijhaa Penny. He carried the ball 9 times for 24 yards, getting the ball in numerous short-yardage situations. His success rate there is solid, and I still think he is the team’s best option near the goal line and when just a yard or two are needed.
-Darius Slayton returned from missing 3+ games with an injury. He led the team with 9 targets and 63 yards. He did a poor job of tracking a deep ball up the sideline but was missed for a sure-thing touchdown by Jones as a result of pressure in his face. Jones has a level of comfort throwing the ball to Slayton and they did connect 5 times, but none resulted in more than 16 yards. If they plan on making noise in KC next week, these two need to connect downfield.
-Dante Pettis caught all 5 targets, most of which were short passes, one of which was a touchdown. Pettis had a 27-yard gain after a quick slant that eventually led to 3 points for NYG. He is the one receiver outside of the injured three who moves exceptionally well both downfield AND in short areas. He doesn’t have the speed of John Ross, but he does get off the line faster and shows better burst out of his breaks. I think Jones is going to start looking his way more often if the trio of Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, and Kadarius Toney remain out.
-David Sills got his first regular season game-action and dropped his only target. I’ve been waiting to see him in this situation for a couple years now and that one fail, like a young running back fumbling, is such a killer.
-Evan Engram caught 6 passes for 44 yards. Five of them totaled 26 yards total. They aren’t giving him many downfield looks, just a bunch of dump offs and screen-type passes. That is the one area I thought Engram could make a difference in this league when he initially came out of Ole Miss. His athletic ability, which is still there, just doesn’t get used much in this kind of role. He also allowed a TFL in the running game.
-Kyle Rudolph seems to be finding a niche in the offense. While his best days are clearly behind him and there are movement issues that center around a loss of athleticism, he can be the dump-off target and extra blocker when needed. He caught 2 passes and was mere inches away from a touchdown. He allowed a pressure as a blocker as well, although he was left on an island against CAR star pass rusher Brian Burns.
-With Andrew Thomas out, Matt Peart got the start at left tackle. It was a smart move to put him there rather than Solder. Obviously, Peart is a step down from Thomas but the gap is much greater between Thomas and Solder. Remember, Peart did play some left tackle in college but he primarily resided on the right side. His experience level on the left is very small and with that in mind, I thought he played a solid game. He was better in pass protection than in the run game, where he allowed 2 TFL. Solder also allowed 2 TFL and 2 pressures. They were both flagged for illegally moving downfield on passing plays.
-Will Hernandez graded out as the worst of the bunch. For me, personally, the writing is on the wall, and it gets bolder each week. He is not the answer at guard. He was never even above average, but he appears to have gotten even worse. His lower half is a mess, he can’t recognize anything when it comes to stunts and twists, and his reaction times rival what I see in draft prospects who end up with late round grades. He allowed 2 sacks, 1 TFL, and 1 pressure. He was also flagged for a false start.
-Billy Price allowed 2 pressures and Matt Skura allowed one. They were both, surprisingly, excellent in the running game. Price especially got really solid movement off of the ball, but was beat on one of the goal line stands CAR had early in the game. Solid game for these two.
-As a group, this was the best we’ve seen the DL this season. The outside linebackers (next group) were a part of it, but I’ll also note that the linemen made things much easier for the linebackers. In this defense, that is their main role and, in this game, they did it well.
-Leonard Willams was the highlight of the group, finishing with 6 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 3 pressures. He turned it up a notch in the second half and fought through double teams exceptionally well. To beat the double team is one thing, but to beat the double team while the outside rusher is also able to beat a lone blocker is what makes a front very disruptive. Williams is second in the NFL in tackles by interior DL and 5th in the NFL among interior DL in QB hits.
-Austin Johnson deserves credit. This guy has been playing his butt off and seems to be producing more and more as the season progresses. He had 3 tackles, 3 pressures, and 1 TFL. He did a lot of damage in the first half.
-Dexter Lawrence also stepped it up notably in the second half. He had 3 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 pressures. His ability to push the pocket, shrinking the area in which a QB can step up into when there is pressure from the outside was a huge factor in both CAR quarterbacks struggle with their foot work.
-We also saw some action for David Moa (7 snaps) and Raymond Johnson III (11 snaps). Neither made a big impact but I liked how well they were using their hands. They had that young, aggressive twitch that altered blockers and their plans.
-Azeez Ojulari has made a habit out of making one play in a game and disappearing for the rest. Well, that is now a thing of the past. This was the best edge performance we have seen from this team in years. He finished with 2.5 sacks, 5 tackles, 1 TFL, and 4 pressures. He was up against CAR rookie left tackle Brady Christensen, making his second career start. He also saw some action against Taylor Moton, one of the best right tackles in the game. His movement was top notch both off of the snap and post-engagement. He was playing low, taking tight turns, and anticipated the action well.
-Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines both flashed, but it was Quincy Roche who raised some eyebrows. The rookie 6th-round pick who was cut by PIT had seen 16 total defensive snaps prior to this game but saw that increased to 23 total in this one. He had 3 tackles, 1 of which for a loss. Carter was on the field for 42% of the snaps, the lowest since his rookie season besides the game he was injured in last year at Dallas. Something to keep an eye on.
-Inside, Tae Crowder again led the team with 6 tackles and added a pressure. The spot next to him is interesting. Benardrick McKinney, who was signed last week, had 2 tackles and a TFL. He made a physical, explosive hit up the middle that got the fans on their feet. Reggie Ragland saw more snaps but finished with one tackle and continued to struggle with all lateral movement. Neither can factor much in coverage, but McKinney (a 2015 2nd-rounder and 2018 Pro Bowler) has more talent by a landslide. If he can learn the scheme, he could easily start seeing more snaps than Ragland.
-James Bradberry wasn’t tested much in this one and still came up with the top defensive play of the afternoon. His interception was a dagger in CAR’s growing momentum. He avoided a disaster by recovering his own fumble on the play.
-Adoree’ Jackson was excellent in coverage from the All-22 point of view. He also made a physical tackle on tight end Tommy Tremble. Darnay Holmes remains in the nickel role and finished with 2 tackles and did a nice job underneath with sticky coverage. Is his job in jeopardy with rookie Aaron Robinson on the brink of returning?
-Logan Ryan had 4 tackles and 2 PDs, but also missed 3 tackles, one of which on 3rd down. Ryan is a staple here and won’t be part of the problem if the defense goes backwards again. That said, he leads the team in missed tackles and needs to be better there. It is a potential killer, especially from that position.
-Jabrill Peppers, a sore spot on this defense for a couple years now had a very active game on defense. He had 5 tackles and a sack on a play where he is one of just a few players in this league who could have finished it the way he did. Keep this guy in the box, keep him rushing the passer, or keep him on the sideline. He can be an asset in a limited role, but he cannot cover.
-Xavier McKinney had 5 tackles and a PD. We wanted to see him take a step up this season so that spot could be considered filled for the next couple of years. His best football has been on display over the past few weeks.
-K Graham Gano: 3/3 (Made 49, 53, 44). He now has 10 field goals of 50+ yards since joining NYG.
-P Riley Dixon: 5 punts / 45.8 avg / 39.0 avg
-OLB Azeez Ojulari, DT Leonard Williams, WR Dante Pettis
-OG Will Hernandez, OT Nate Solder, S Logan Ryan
3 THOUGHTS ON CAR
(1) Back in 2018, almost everyone had Darnold as the top quarterback in the class. I never saw it. No, I’m not patting myself on the back at all (I had Josh Rosen as QB1). I go back and examine my hits and misses every offseason to try and figure out where I went wrong and what I can do to improve my own scouting. Darnold turned the ball over a lot in college. His footwork was horrific. And he made his receivers work too hard on routine passes. A lot of these traits show up in the NFL when college quarterbacks enter the league and that is exactly what happened here. Highlight reel throws are cool, but they don’t determine the quality of a QB. Play to play, he was really off at USC, but the occasional big game and cool-looking throws elevated his status way too much.
(2) Can CAR graduate from the middle tier this season? I don’t think so. Easy for me to say after 4 straight losses, right? Plain and simple, the offense won’t score enough points with their OL + QB combination. I questioned CAR at the time of the draft when they passed on both Justin Fields and Mac Jones for a cornerback. The year prior, they spent every one of their picks on the defensive side. This team is heading toward the difficult spot of being good enough to win 7-8 games but too good to pick high enough in the draft for a top-notch prospect. While you can find QBs later than the top 5 obviously, it was an issue that could have been solved a few months ago.
(3) There was one free agent I wanted NYG to pursue hard this past offseason. It was Haason Reddick. He is a hard-to-find BUCK linebacker, one who can rightfully pass as an inside (off-ball) threat as well as a credible edge defender. CAR got him for just one year and it was hard to see that while NYG gave CB Adoree’ Jackson a much bigger deal. Reddick has 6.5 sacks and 9 QB hits in a year after his set career high marks across the board.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
(1) If NYG wants to make a statement, if they want to play a game that will change the outlook of this team both inside and outside their walls, it is here. Monday night in Kansas City against a struggling Chiefs team that just can’t seem to get their defense on track. A win here can make many, if not all, forget about the bad losses they have already suffered. They need to be ready for this one as if it were a playoff game. They have nothing to lose and that is often a dangerous team to be matched up against.
(2) See what kind of difference a solid defensive front makes? Pressure up the middle from Austin Johnson, Dexter Lawrence, and Leonard Williams with Azeez Ojulari creating havoc from the outside turns the opposing quarterback into a shell of himself. We saw it with a mediocre quarterback, and we have seen it with Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. The focus in this front office needs to start with adding more and more pass rushers to their front. No more misses, no more “waiting until the middle rounds,” no more fear in spending in free agency. Get this front back to where it was a decade ago.
(3) NYG has used 6 different starting offensive line combinations over 7 games. The injuries are the main culprit here, but it goes to show just how vital depth along the trenches can be. When looking to improve this team moving forward, it needs to start right here. Solder and Hernandez need to be out, that is the first step. Now you are looking for at least 1 new starter (assuming Peart gets a shot in 2022) and the Lemieux – Gates duo returns 100% from their injuries. That is a lot of turnover needed along the line. The attention needs to be put here more than most are thinking because you must plan on at least 1 injury, but probably 2. Every year a lack of depth along the line ruins good teams.