Sep 162022
 
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Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (September 11, 2022)

Saquon Barkley – © USA TODAY Sports

THE STORYLINE:
Last week, I finished my game preview by writing:

The Titans were the AFC’s #1 seed in 2021 and came close to making it to the AFC Championship Game. But I would not be shocked if the Giants keep this close or even pull off a big upset. They just have to do the obvious things: stop the run and don’t make killer mistakes on offense. Two or three big offensive plays could be all New York needs to make this interesting. On the flip side, it is not the end of the world if the Giants lose this game. This is one of Giants’ toughest opponents on their entire schedule. The pressure is on Titans and not the Giants in this one. I like those kind of games.

Despite the rough first half, the New York Giants’ defense did keep the team in the game before the break. And the offense got the two big plays it needed – the 68-yard run by Saquon Barkley and the 65-yard touchdown catch by Sterling Shepard. The Giants kept Derrick Henry mostly in check and shockingly out-rushed the Titans 238 to 93. The Giants did something they haven’t done in years: they were as physical or more physical than one of the NFL’s most physical teams. That’s how you win football games.

In some ways, this week’s match-up is going to be tougher for Brian Daboll and the Giants. The pressure is now on the Giants. They are at home against a team many expect them to beat. And one upset win doesn’t change the reality that this is still a rebuilding ball club whose quarterback, running back, and top wideouts may not even be on the team in a few months. The question mark at corner got worse in the short-term with Aaron Robinson having to undergo an appendectomy. There is also the always problematic psychological component that the team coming off a big, emotional win is ripe for a letdown the following week. This is especially true of teams with as many issues the Giants have.

Fans are already talking about going 3-1 or 4-0. Pray the players don’t have that same mindset right now. Every game is going to be a war and if the Giants are not mentally and physically prepared to play their best, they can just as easily find themselves being 1-1 en route to 1-3.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Wan’Dale Robinson (knee – out)
  • WR Kadarius Toney (hamstring – questionable)
  • OC Jon Feliciano (lower leg – probable)
  • OL Devery Hamilton (illness – probable)
  • OLB Kayvon Thibodeaux (knee – doubtful)
  • OLB Azeez Ojulari (calf – doubtful)
  • CB Aaron Robinson (appendicitis – out)
  • CB Nick McCloud (hamstring – out)
  • S Jason Pinnock (shoulder – out)
  • S Dane Belton (clavicle – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
One game does not make a trend so it’s unwise for me to jump to conclusions. However, it is extremely fascinating that Brian Daboll and Mike Kafka, two coaches coming from innovative, pass-happy offenses in Buffalo and Kansas City, chose a 32-to-26 run-to-pass ratio against the Titans, especially when you take into the account the Giants had to play from behind most of the game. Indeed, on the Giants’ game-winning drive, the Giants only threw the football three times in 12 plays (a 3-to-1 run-to-pass ratio).

What do we make of this? Lack of confidence in Daniel Jones and/or his receivers and/or his pass protection? After all, despite being 17-of-21, Jones threw a dumb interception in the red zone and fumbled the ball away. The diminutive Wan’Dale Robinson is already hurt. Kadarius Toney played seven snaps and wasn’t even used as a receiving target. Mr. $72 million Kenny Golladay had two catches for 22 yards and still doesn’t have a touchdown in a Giants’ uniform. And the revamped offensive line allowed five sacks in 26 drop backs (a sack every five passing plays). Or was it simply the coaches deciding to ride a hot hand in Saquon Barkley against a defense that was surprisingly easier to run against than expected? Much of this remains to be determined.

Nevertheless, right now, the strength of this offensive football team appears to be running the football. Having Evan Neal, Mark Glowinksi, Jon Feliciano, Joshua Ezeudu/Ben Bredeson, and Andrew Thomas run block more is probably better at this stage. While many media types and fans focused on Saquon Barkley’s speed last Sunday, it was his toughness that caught my eye. I’ve never seen Barkley run with such physicality, even during his stellar rookie season. Matt Breida was no slouch when coming into the game in relief either. Combine this with the fact that the Carolina Panthers allowed 217 rushing yards against the Cleveland Browns in Week 1.

Here is the dilemma. Carolina must come into this game defensively with one thing on their mind: stop Saquon Barkley. They are going to load up against the run. Do the Giants say screw it and play strength against strength? Or do they cross up the Panthers and come out throwing the football against a stacked front? Mike Kafka was asked this question. He responded, “I think you plan for it. I don’t know exactly what they are going to do. I think you plan for those things and you got to have answers within the scheme and within the game plan.”

I’d be tempted to cross them up, but I really do think the ground game is the strength of this team at the moment and I would see if the Panthers can handle the newly-discovered physicality of the Giants. Run the ball at them. Make them stop it. If they can, adjust and attack with the pass. But don’t concede anything. Nothing demoralizes a defense more than knowing the other team is going to run the ball, yet you still can’t stop it.

As for the Panthers’ defense, the team had issues defending the edges against the run. The interior defensive line is a little more stout with former 2020 #1 pick Derrick Brown and ex-49er Matt Ioannidis. Their headline pass rusher is Brian Burns, who will play both edge spots, and he could be a problem for Evan Neal. The Panthers lack the complementary second edge rusher however. Still, the Panthers have noticed the Giants pass protection issues at left guard, especially with Ezeudu, and Brown is coming off a game where he got good interior pass pressure. The Carolina linebackers are not very good and could be exposed both against the run and in coverage. When the Giants do pass the ball, I would expect Barkley and Breida to get touches as receivers.

The strength of the Panthers’ defense is probably their secondary. Donte Jackson, Jaycee Horn, and C.J. Henderson are a solid cornerback trio, although Horn is coming off a shaky performance. Jeremy Chinn is a tackling machine at safety. The Panthers use him in a variety of ways, including as a blitzer. I would not be shocked if Carolina has Chinn shadow Barkley for much of the game.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
I told you guys, Wink Martindale knows how to defend the run and while not perfect, the defense largely kept Derrick Henry in check in Week 1. With the Titans lacking a quality quarterback and talent at wide receiver, the New York secondary didn’t have many issues until late in the game against Tennessee either when slot corner Darnay Holmes had a mini-meltdown. The primary issue up until that point was linebacker coverage against running back Dontrell Hilliard. With Giants’ pass rush sitting injured on the sidelines, it ended up being a good match-up for New York.

This week is different. Baker Mayfield is more unpredictable. He can look terrible or he can look great (see his horrible first half against the Browns compared to his very good second half). The Panthers have serious downfield receiving threats in D.J. Moore and Robbie Anderson. Moore is the more consistently productive target (perennial 1,000-yard receiver), but Anderson can blow the top off a defense. The issue here for New York is Aaron Robinson, who would have faced his first real test after a rough preseason, isn’t even available for this game. The Giants will probably want Adoree’ Jackson to cover Moore, but who covers the deep threat Anderson? Wink may be forced to rely on journeyman – and current Practice Squader – Fabian Moreau.

Making matters worse is the presence of Christian McCaffrey. He’s Carolina’s version of Saquon. He is a major receiving threat and has to be licking his chops after seeing what Dontrell Hilliard did last Sunday. I would expect Wink to try to match up a third safety on McCaffrey as much as possible. Indeed, for much of the game, the Giants may only be employing one middle linebacker with Tony Jefferson and/or Dane Belton receiving more snaps.

If that weren’t enough problems, this is a game where the lack of pass rush could really show up. Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari are expected to miss their second game. Those two are the team’s best edge rushers and they will be missed.

So in a nutshell, defensively, this game scares me a lot more than last week’s game even though the Titans were clearly the better team. The match-ups don’t work in the Giants’ favor this week. If I’m Wink, I play extra defensive backs and put the onus on my defensive front to take care of the run (Carolina only ran the ball 19 times for 54 yards against the Browns). I’m not sure where the pass rush will come from unless Leonard Williams has a monster game. The Giants desperately need a relatively healthy Thibodeaux and Ojulari back on the field. Taking chances with a lot of blitzes might not be wise with the WR versus CB match-up issues, not to mention McCaffrey. Nevertheless, if Wink plays extra defensive backs, look for CB/S blitzes. (Interesting side note: Ben McAdoo is the Carolina offensive coordinator so you know he will bring a little extra juice to this one).

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Giants’ special teams remain a bit of an adventure. There was botched snap from the usually always reliable Casey Kreiter and a 46-yard punt return by the Titans. However, while not perfect, Jamie Gillan looked like he belonged; Nick McCloud really flashed as a gunner (he’s out this weekend however); and Richie James averaged over 12 yards per punt return. The Giants also recovered a muffed punt.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Offensive Coordinator Mike Kafka on why the Giants use so much motion:I think any time you can distort the box whether it’s creating a numbers count… getting guys in different spots, influencing second-level and third-level defenders – that helps whether it’s pass or run, it can help whatever the scheme you want to run. I think it helps also with the o-line getting certain angles on blocks. I think it can help in the pass game where you are creating certain types of leverages. There’s definitely a lot of benefits to it.

THE FINAL WORD:
I stand by what I said last week. They goal of this season is to evaluate the team and look like a better team in December than you do in September. What happens in between will likely be a roller coaster ride. There will be painful losses and hopefully exhilarating wins. But don’t lose sight of reality. The Giants are a rebuilding club with weaknesses. This is a week where the weaknesses at cornerback and injury issues at linebacker (Thibodeaux, Ojulari, Darrian Beavers) would really become more pronounced. The Giants also need Golladay and Toney to earn their paychecks.

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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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