-Daniel Jones: 8/9 – 69 yards / 1 TD / 0 INT / 135.6 6 RAT
The only incompletion came on a Darren Waller drop. Jones was near flawless. A slight misthrow to Parris Campbell near the end zone was the only real blemish within the one drive he spent on the field. If that was the main weak point to his performance, it is going to be a fun season. Jones executed his ball fakes and overall footwork at a high level. It translated to accurate ball placement and well-timed progressions. He was in complete sync with the scheme and play calls. This offense turned the corner from an efficiency standpoint in 2022. They avoided third down (a key metric to the best/winningest teams over multiple years) and the sixth-best rate last year, after finishing second worst in 2021. Of the ten plays on this opening drive, just once did third down come up.
-Both backup quarterbacks, Tyrod Taylor and Tommy DeVito, completed 9 passes for 90 and 88 yards respectively. Taylor, the unquestioned second stringer, also led the team with 21 yards rushing and threw a 33-yard touchdown. Taylor has been the same guy for years. He shows enough flashes to make you think he really can be a starting caliber quarterback. The consistency with his mechanics is not there, and it leads to erratic ball placement. DeVito looks like he is on a fast track to confidence in the pocket, but he still needs work on getting the ball out faster. He has a cannon.
-Saquon Barkley was in pads for warmups, but he did not play in the game.
-There seems to be an interesting competition between rookie Eric Gray and second-year veteran Jashaun Corbin. On paper, the fact this regime just spent a draft pick on Gray – along with Corbin being undrafted a year ago – and they keep trying to force him into the return role says Gray will be the guy. On film? Corbin is making it a discussion. He gained 22 yards on 3 catches and his 9-yard run displayed the hunger and urgency he moves with. He also had a 17-yard run that was negated by a penalty. Gray, while he had an impressive 9-yard run that resulted in a touchdown, is struggling to consistently get downhill quickly enough. The biggest issue right now, however, is often overlooked by fans but I can guarantee you the coaches are going to be all over him about it. If Gray does not improve his blocking, he will barely see the field on offense. He allowed two hurries and a QB hit. So far this preseason, Gray has been asked to pass block 8 times. He has allowed 6 pressures.
-From last week’s review: “Personally, I would like to see Hyatt more involved. They need to try and script a couple deep shots to him so they can see how he tracks the ball, fights for it, and plays the body position game in real live situations.”
-Hyatt went from just one target in the first game to five in this one. And Kafka/Daboll scripted a deep ball to him which resulted in a 33-yard touchdown. The fifth gear he has was on display. Carolina safety Eric Rowe had absolutely no shot at catching up once Hyatt had an inch of vertical space on him. You think he is moving at his top rate and then he hits the next level of fast forward. Fun play and a glimpse of what to expect from an offense that was starving for plays like this a year ago. Next up on the list, and this will be a big one, is getting more consistent at framing the football as a pass catcher on lateral routes. He had a drop on the play prior to the touchdown that stemmed from that particular ball skill.
-Parris Campbell caught all three targets for 23 yards and Isaiah Hodgins added 45 yards on two catches. Those two, along with Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard (1 rec / 6 yards), Jamison Crowder (2 rec / 18 yards), and Wan’Dale Robinson (PUP) make this receiver room arguably one of the top jumps in overall quality and depth at the position league-wide from 2022.
-Bryce Ford-Wheaton is the third/fourth stringer you can’t keep your eyes off of. He caught both of his targets for 24 yards. We know the size and speed are off the chart. We know his ball skills and route running need work. The power to his game is what stands out upon second look. Both as a gunner and off the line as a receiver. His rate of movement and sheer size add up to be very D.K. Metcalf-like. No, not even close to that level, but my point is how rare the combination is. The snaps he had as a gunner were very good. A team like this may have to find a spot for him as a special teamer because he won’t last long on the practice squad, as all 31 teams can snag him at any point.
-The quality Daniel Jones performance left a nice taste in everyone’s mouth. Darren Waller, however, was my favorite ingredient to the entrée. He played 8 snaps. He was targeted 4 times, caught 3, and had one jarred loose by safety Vonn Bell. The goal of that initial first-string drive was to get him the ball early. He took a couple big hits too. They coaching staff was smart to get him out when they did. Mission accomplished and Waller has the look of a focal point to this passing game.
-Daniel Bellinger, one of the top rookie tight ends in football a year ago, caught a touchdown from a unique 12-personnel look. Even with all the depth at receiver, the options that Waller and Bellinger present when on the field together can make this passing game even more efficient. The touchdown was the highlight, but the blocking was on point. His impact on contact is sending a different jolt to the defender than I remember. That was a key component to the Eric Gray touchdown run. All the talk surrounding Waller is warranted. Don’t forget about Bellinger. He is going to make some key plays this season.
-There is some difference in opinion surrounding the third tight end. I lean toward Tommy Sweeney (who did not play). Lawrence Cager (1 rec / 4 yards) does bring more to the table as a receiver, but as mentioned above, the weapons are now deep. The presence in the trenches would be of more service to the offense. Cager continues to get tossed around in that department.
-The story of the night was Evan Neal. After missing the better part of two weeks with a concussion, he both started and tied for the second most snaps on offense. He really had just one blemish. He failed to recognize a twist upfront and the defensive tackle worked around his outside shoulder and recorded a sack. It was Neal’s fault, no question. But when it came to breaking down his physical performance, I was pleased. He looks lighter on his feet and simply cleaner. He is showing a better first three steps and we already knew how stout he is. It is all about position and balance for him. If both get check marks, he is tough to beat. Encouraging night from the guy who may be the most important variable to NYG wanting to throw downfield more often.
-The one player who saw more snaps was Matt Peart, who continues to prove he cannot handle pro edge defenders. He allowed 2 pressures and was flagged for 2 holding penalties. Korey Cunningham had a bounce back performance and recent signing Julién Davenport got his feet wet. None of the above proved to be a solution for the issue this team has at backup tackle. The classic tell from all three is the simple but difficult ability to stay square. Quality defenders can get them to fall from the waist on up, making secondary rush moves much more effective.
-Inside, we saw Ben Bredeson and Joshua Ezeudu rotate at left guard, the one spot that is up for grabs in the starting lineup. If the decision was based solely on this game alone, Bredeson is the winner. He played a clean game with a strong latch. Ezeudu’s footwork (or lack thereof) made it hard for him to mirror his man. When he gets a guy in a phone booth, his power is notable. But space is not his friend and right now he cannot be trusted in pass protection on an island.
-At center, John Michael Schmitz appears to have the stating center job locked up, as expected. This was a pass-heavy game while he was in there (29:5 actually) and he allowed one pressure. That play was a poor display of foot speed and recovery. The one concern I have with him is exactly that. But the run-game impact and mere fact he is a rookie with a high floor lessens the concern.
-Shane Lemieux, after a solid week one in Detroit, saw 18 snaps at center and struggled mightily. He clearly was not comfortable in that role. His hand techniques were all over the place and he never found his anchor. He allowed a TFL and was flagged for a hold, as was third stringer Jack Anderson.
-Wyatt Davis, after a horrific experiment at tackle last week, returned to guard for just 13 plays. His comfort and skill set are much better inside, but there is still a lot more to be desired from his sustainability and reaction speed.
-Kayvon Thibodeaux played the first two drives before spending the rest of the night on the sideline. We saw him win against Ikem Ekwonu on an impressive rush move where he played low, stifled with a violent punch, and ripped under the outside shoulder to hit Bryce Young as he was throwing the ball. He also beat the 2022 All-Rookie tackle for a sack on a play where some confusion up front gave the explosive Thibodeaux a clear path to Young. He looks faster and twitchier, a sign the confidence is growing. On the negative side, he lost the edge twice in the running game and on both occasions the lack of a true anchor was obvious. He needs to be more disciplined there, as his natural size below the waist is below average.
-Azeez Ojulari and Jihad Ward had quiet games. Ward had a QB hit and a hurry, playing an even split between outside and inside. That is where his true value is. Last year he played a 7:1 ratio outside to inside. I like his first step quickness against interior blockers as his movement issues show up in space.
-The backup edge defenders had a night. They were constantly putting pressure on the backup Carolina quarterbacks (albeit against a poor OL that was crushed last week as well). Tashawn Bower led the group with 3 pressures. Both Oshane Ximines and Tomon Fox recorded two themselves. Fox still seems to be the leader in the clubhouse, as he had 4 tackles and a half-sack. Habakkuk Baldonado added a QB hit and a tackle late in the game.
-Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams got the start and played 12 snaps a piece. Both are already in mid-season form. These two are the best players on this defense and the Carolina OL had no shot against them. They both did what they wanted and went where they wanted. The interior of the Carolina OL is a weakness, one of the most glaring ones in the league, but it was obvious Lawrence is simply on a different level. He did get flagged for offsides and a roughing the passer penalty (on a 3rd down stop) after an errant swipe for the pass, which also happened to be where Bryce Young’s head was. Man, he is small.
-The defensive game ball award goes to the draft pick I barely spent any time scouting last fall. Jordon Riley got an opportunity with A’Shawn Robinson, Rakeem Nunez-Roches, and D.J. Davidson sitting this one out. He had some snaps with the first-string defense and balled out. He had 3 tackles, 1 TFL, and a fourth-down run stop that was all him. He got movement off the ball, bench pressed the blocker off him, located the ball, and engulfed him at the point-of-attack. It was such a clean rep, and he went on to put a ton of quality tape together the rest of the night. He was abusing center Justin McCray, an eight-year veteran with starting experience.
-The back-end guys, Kobe Smith and Donovan Jeter, struggled in their second game of preseason. Neither held their gaps in the running game and neither pressured the quarterback on a combined 19 opportunities.
-What a refreshing sight to see Bobby Okereke on the field. I will touch on this more below, but the 2023 big ticket free agent addition played into the second quarter and led the team with 7 tackles. The power, instincts, and quick burst all showed up on multiple occasions. He will not turn around the run defense by himself, but it was easy to see how important he will be for the front seven. This is the classic NYG inside linebacker this defense has lacked for so long.
-Darrian Beavers was back on the field. His size and speed are similar to what they have in Okereke, but his reaction time and lack of precision with his footwork and overall techniques were the stark differences. He finished with 4 tackles and showed good range. His contact is what I call heavy. A classic thumper who will need to show some more progress with the ability to read and cover especially. I still think there is a good shot he starts by the end of the year over Micah McFadden, who finished with 1 tackle.
-Playing Adoree’ Jackson in the slot appears to be a real thing. Of his 21 snaps, he played inside on 16 of them. I feel confident with him anywhere on the field, but the one issue I can see with him at nickel is the lack of physical presence against more physical targets and the running game. He had a missed tackle on the night and has never been strong there.
-Rookies Deonte Banks and Tre Hawkins continue to start on the outside and the 6th rounder from Old Dominion continues to play like the better player. Even Joe Schoen sounds surprised by how well he is playing this early on. The speed he is playing with, the run-game assignments he is executing at a high level, and the easy vertical burst at his size are all major attributes for this scheme.
-Cor’Dale Flott is playing good football. While his route anticipation is a step behind, his coverage is constantly right there underneath. I initially believed it was a battle between him and Darnay Holmes for the nickel job. The development of the rookie guys outside, which can shift Jackson inside, will likely push Flott into the versatile number four job. He can play both, but his run defense is a liability. He also missed a tackle and lost the edge twice.
-Darren Evans allowed a touchdown after getting beat off the line and failing to locate the ball.
-Xavier McKinney had a disruptive couple of plays and looked fast in coverage. He is the top dog in a deep safety group, but I still think he needs to show a full season of good football before even considering a long-term contract. Remember, there is not as much cap room now with the recent big signings. At his best, McKinney is the best safety NYG has had in a long time and would round out such a strong middle of the defense if he sticks around. He just needs to stay on the field.
-Dane Belton had 2 TFL, showing great instincts and downhill explosion. The winner of the night among the backups was rookie Gervarrius Owens, though. He also had 7 tackles and broke up a pass with picture-perfect technique and timing. He is such a natural on the back end, one who can wear every hat in the versatile safety scheme. He won’t be rushed into action, but it would be a crime to keep this kid off the field because of his draft status. This dude is a player who can defend the run and cover. His special teams impact will be strong as well. He had the most versatile alignment among all safeties in this game.
-P Jame Gillan: 3 punts / 43.0 avg – 36.3 net
-DT Jordon Riley, QB Daniel Jones, LB Bobby Okereke
-DT Kobe Smith, OT Matt Peart, OC Shane Lemieux
3 THOUGHTS ON CAR
1. The story surrounding this team is the #1 overall pick, quarterback Bryce Young. Not only because of where he was drafted, but what the front office had to do to get him. After failing to come up with the strong-enough trade offer for Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford, and Deshaun Watson…after failing to move up in the draft for the likes of Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa…after failing to select Justin Fields when he was available, David Tepper was stuck watching the likes of Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, P.J. Walker, Cam Newton (v2), and Teddy Bridgewater for the first few seasons of his ownership. After firing Matt Rhule, he put an end to that by sending the #9 overall, #61 overall, a 2024 1st, a 2025 2nd, and wide receiver D.J. Moore to Chicago so they could get whoever they wanted in the draft. They end up with a Seneca Wallace-body type but in an era where Young’s style of play fits the current style of NFL football the best. Throw in the intangibles, something very important to Head Coach Frank Reich, and Carolina thinks they have their guy.
2. I’m not sure if I live under a rock or if there really is a lack of chatter around Carolina’s new Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero. He is one of the best young defensive minds in the game. He came over from Denver and prior to that he was with the Rams where he won a Super Bowl. He specializes in pass defense and the team has one of the top young corners in Jaycee Horn. The rest of the personnel lacks depth but there are a few pieces that can make this defense as a whole very good in 2023.
3. Just how far can Carolina take this in 2023? Not far. It will be a tough year. I project New Orleans and Atlanta to finish 1-2. Considering the fact Reich has been all-time bad at winning games early in the year and they start off @ATL, vs NO, @SEA, vs MIN, @DET, @MIA with a rookie quarterback and shaky offensive line, I see them starting in a deep hole and unable to get out. This franchise should be looking at 2024.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
1. One could not ask for a much better drive out of the Daniel Jones-led offense. Would it have been nice to see a downfield pass? Sure. But when I watched the All-22, it was easy to see Carolina was protecting the back end with a shell. The best offenses simply take advantage of what is provided by the defensive personnel and alignment. Efficient offenses avoid third down. They kill you with a thousand paper cuts. And they protect the ball. NYG struggled to score points early in games and I like how hot they started in this one.
2. I’ve been banging the table for a linebacker for far too long. While some teams league-wide view it as a position to piece together cheaply (with success), I’ve always thought it was the missing piece (or a missing piece) to a defense that has been a roller coaster for two decades. They have not been top-16 in points allowed two straight seasons since 2002. Let that sit for a little. I always roll my eyes when media-types talk about Giants being an old school defensive-biased franchise. In all honestly, they haven’t been consistent on that side of the ball since Parcells/Belichick in the late 80’s. Almost 40 years! But before I go down that rabbit hole even deeper, my point remains this team has lacked the identity in the middle. Antonio Pierce gave them a glimpse. Okereke is the best they’ve had there since then and I’m all about it. The force he moves with, the diagnostic nature about his game, and the every-down ability will make a huge difference for this team.
3. Once game left. What to expect? There are several spots on this roster up for grabs. The backup receivers and running backs are interesting. Who gets the final OL/DL spots are interesting. The abundance of talent they have at safety is interesting. I do not want to see the key guys out there for more than 2-3 drives. I want to see the roster-competition spots filling most of the snaps because there are some very tough decisions to be made. I hope to have a projected 53-man roster out the morning after the final preseason game.