Oct 052018
 
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Pat Shurmur and Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (September 30, 2018)

Pat Shurmur and Saquon Barkley – © USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: New York Giants at Carolina Panthers, October 7, 2018

THE STORYLINE:
The New York Giants season is not over, but it is on the brink.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Sterling Shepard (back – probable)
  • WR Cody Latimer (knee – probable)
  • TE Evan Engram (knee – out)
  • NT Damon Harrison (knee – probable)
  • LB Olivier Vernon (ankle – out)
  • LB Connor Barwin (knee – probable)
  • CB Eli Apple (groin – probable)
  • CB Antonio Hamilton (groin – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
These game previews have become tiresomely repetitive because the same exact issues continue to exist. In the simplest terms, the Giants don’t score enough points. Forget what has become an almost comical 30-point taboo for the NYG offense. In three of the team’s first four games, the Giants haven’t reached the 20-point threshold. I can talk about offensive strategy, match-ups with the other team, defense, special teams, etc. until I am blue in the face, but a team that can’t even score 20 points on a consistent basis is going to lose. And lose a lot.

Many people are going to take this as an Eli Manning bashing preview. It’s not meant to be. But we have to openly assess how other teams view him. After last Sunday’s game, a Saints’ defensive back said, “I feel like the guys up front put a scare in the quarterback, rushing him the way they rushed. I know there were some shots there downfield, but he didn’t take them.”

Many Giants’ fans see the same thing; others do not. Giants’ games now have not become about the W-L record (because they keep losing), but a weekly referendum on Eli. “See! Eli still has it if you give him time!” “See! Eli had time and he still missed the open receivers deep!” It’s become a tiresome, but predictable, weekly debate because so much of the success or failure of a team’s offense relies on the play of the quarterback.

From my QB preview in June: “Yet, in an era where teams are moving more and more to athletic quarterbacks, Eli remains a bit of an old-school dinosaur whose lack of mobility clearly impacts the overall offense. Manning must compensate with better toughness, pocket awareness, decision-making under duress, and accuracy. Can he shake off the gun-shyness and inaccuracy that plagued him in 2017? Can he get his mojo back?”

As much as it pains me to say it, when I watch Eli now, I still see a gun-shy quarterback who has lost his mojo. And I’ve seen enough football over the years to know that once a quarterback becomes gun-shy, it’s over. The accumulation of years of poor pass protection now causes Eli to feel phantom pressure and make business decisions.

But what about the game against the Texans?! That’s the frustrating part. Statistically, that was one of Eli’s best games in his career. He was almost perfect. But teams don’t want quarterbacks who play well in one-out-of-four games. The “yeah but” excuses are wearing thin. Officially, Eli is now a quarterback who has won 112 regular season games and lost 106 in his 15-year career. It’s quite possible, by season’s end, he will be a career losing quarterback.

We’re one quarter through the 2018 regular season. Eli has 12 games left. If he can’t get his mojo back in those 12 games, it’s time to move on.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Giants’ defense isn’t losing games. But it’s not winning them either. The Giants are a respectable 11th in team defense. But the Giants have five sacks on the season. That ties them with the Raiders for dead last in the NFL. The Giants have also only picked off two passes and recovered one fumble. So while the defense is keeping New York in games, it hasn’t been able to provide the short field for a struggling offense.

The Giants now face yet another quarterback who can hurt you with his feet. Cam Newton is a strange bird. At times, he looks like an MVP candidate and at others the kind of guy who holds a team back. But he absolutely can take over a game with either his feet or his arm. Newton is unique in that he is bigger than most of the guys trying to tackle him. And Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner, who replaced Mike Shula, has Newton throwing the ball as well as he has in his career, completing 67 percent of his passes. Oddly, his leading receiver is a running back, Christian McCaffrey with 22 receptions. Wide receiver Devin Funchess is second with 14 catches. No other Panther has more than 10 catches through four games and Carolina is only 25th in passing offense in the NFL.

But the Panthers are #1 in the League in running the football. The Giants have now faced a series of teams who are near the top of the NFL in rushing. While the Giants have done a fairly decent job against those teams’ running backs, it has been their quarterbacks running the football who have hurt them. The focal point of the New York defense must be on two players: McCaffrey (who is averaging almost six yards per carry) and Newton (136 yards rushing and 3 rushing TDs). The The Panthers will use misdirection to the back and then let Newton carry the ball. The Giants must be ready for it. This is why getting Eli Apple back will be important. He’s a bigger, more physical corner than B.W. Webb and Donte Deayon on the perimeter of the defense. Indeed, when the Giants go to the nickel, I would be more apt to play safety Michael Thomas. Safety Landon Collins will also be on the spot as he has been prone to bite on misdirection.

“This offense, they create a lot of run-pass conflict, use the quarterback a ton in the run game, he is a heck of a load to bring down whether it’s quarterback design runs, whether it’s option plays, or whether it’s just him underneath center handing the ball off to a really explosive running back,” said Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher on Thursday.

McCaffrey is a similar player to Alvin Kamara, who just ran for three touchdowns against the Giants. “I see an explosive guy who’s not afraid,” said Bettcher. “He’s shifty, he can do all those things in space, but he’s not afraid to put his foot down, lower his pads, and he’s going to try and run someone over… (In the passing game) the same kind of things that we had to deal with last week with the back we played against, a guy that, they’ll split out empty, they’ll motion him, they’ll use him as a slot receiver and bring another back to put in the backfield.”

Newton, McCaffrey… those are the two main cogs. That doesn’t mean Newton won’t take his shots down the field, but the key defensively is to keep these two from killing the Giants with their feet. If the defense really wants to take charge of the game, get some turnovers. Teams that win the turnover battle usually win the game.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
One of the key plays in last week’s game was the fake punt the Saints ran. The Giants had started the game on fire and that play took some of the wind out of their sails. Plays like that often get lost in the box score, but it is evidence how the Giants’ special teams unit still doesn’t do enough to win football games. And the return game still remains anemic, and worse, a bit nerve-wracking as the returners still have issues securing the football or making the right decisions.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Pat Shurmur on the Giants throwing the ball down the field: “That’s a false narrative that we weren’t trying to throw the ball down the field (last weekend). That’s a false narrative, and if for some reason, they legislate against it, we have to check the ball down, keep the chains moving. And as I acknowledged, maybe it’s better to just run the ball a little bit more. I think it’s important to throw the ball down the field, and we try to and we do it more than that narrative suggests.”

THE FINAL WORD:
This Carolina team is beatable. But the Panthers are also tough to beat at home having won seven in a row at their stadium, going back to last season. The Giants just FEEL broken right now. And I’m not sure there is a short-term way out of this mess. I would keep giving the ball to Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham. Those are your two difference makers.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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