Giants vs. Panthers: 5 plays that mattered as the Giants moved to 2-0

The New York Giants defeated the Carolina Panthers, 19-16, on Sunday in Brian Daboll’s inaugural home game at MetLife Stadium. It was a sloppy game, mostly devoid of efficient offense for both teams.

Carolina started their first two possessions with fumbles that placed the Giants in a prime position to capitalize. However, New York bogged down in the red zone and only scored six points off the turnovers.

Big Blue possessed the football 35:57 to Carolina’s 24:03; Carolina had 10 more total yards of offense than New York.

I do not include specific field goals in the five plays, but the importance of Graham Gano’s right foot and the muscles within his leg are not understated; Gano was 4 of 4 with 56, 51, 36, and 33-yard field goals.

The Giants’ offense struggled to move the football consistently, and the rushing lanes were hard to find. Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka tried to be creative, but it didn’t always work early in the game. However, creativity paid dividends as the game progressed.

Giants’ $72-million wide receiver Kenny Golladay played just two snaps, but it was nice to see a little more involvement for second-year wide receiver Kadarius Toney. Richie James was the leading receiver with 51 yards on five catches, but Sterling Shepard saw 10 targets, catching six for 34 yards.

Despite losing Leonard Williams in the second half, the Giants defense played phenomenally on third down. Carolina converted only two third-down attempts in the game:

The Giants’ defense didn’t play offensive powerhouses through the first two weeks, yet it personified grit. The Giants are without their two starting edge rushers in Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari, and they’re without situational pass rusher Elerson Smith. Starting cornerback, Aaron Robinson had an appendectomy at the beginning of the week, and Williams left the game early.

Despite the injuries and the sloppy offensive output, the Giants found a way to win the football game. This is a game the Giants would have lost in previous seasons, yet they found a way to win. Lousy football teams find ways to lose in a game like this one.

The Giants have deficiencies throughout their roster, and it’s safe to say New York isn’t favored to win the Super Bowl. Still, this team is competing, winning tight football games, and the energy at 1925 Giants Drive is much different than anything we’ve felt in recent memory.

The Daboll and Schoen era starts with a loud Mike Breen bang. There’s still a lot of work to accomplish, but this feels good. Here are the five important plays that led to the Giants’ second 2022 victory in as many games.

Play(s) 1: Short-yardage success

The Giants struggled offensively, but came through when it really mattered. On New York’s first scoring drive, Kafka dialed up a play action bootleg where Daniel Jones (8) outruns Brian Burns (53) after Saquon Barkley (26) does just enough to slow the talented pass rusher down. Jones does well to recognize the throws weren’t there and to rely on his athletic traits to keep the chains moving.

Kafka calls this creative third-and-1 rush by Gary Brightwell (23) that goes for 14 yards. The Giants are in 31 personnel (is it 1960?). New York motions Matt Breida (31) at the snap from the reduced stack off David Sills V (13). Breida’s motion draws attention, as does Barkley’s path on the fake pitch after the handoff. Watch Damien Wilson (57) – he’s completely frozen and has no clue as to the location of the Duke.

The Giants form two double teams on the third and one techniques up front. Brightwell hits the two-hole, and Mark Glowinski (64) climbs to eliminate the linebacker off the double team. The eye-candy by Kafka maximizes success. It’s more than a welcome sight for New York Giant fans.

Play(s) 2: Defensive third down stops

The Giants came up huge on a third-and-10, third-and-2, third-and-8, third-and-9, and the tremendous third-and-6 play below:

The Giants had success blitzing safety Xavier McKinney (29) off the edge all game. In this play, McKinney, safety Julian Love (20), and five other defenders align on the line of scrimmage. Darnay Holmes (30) is aligned to the field side right behind Oshane Jimines (53). At the snap, five Giants come, and Jihad Ward (55) and Ximines drop into coverage. McKinney’s presence forces Christian McCaffrey (22) to kick out in defense, leading to an eventual two vs. three in Carolina’s favor.

However, rookie left tackle Ikem Ekwonu has to respect the presence of Jimines; he respected a bit too long, and since Ward was aligned in the A-Gap, the left guard and center were unsure on who exactly was coming and who was dropping into coverage. Both the guard and center take Tony Jefferson (36) – yes, three safeties – and Ekwonu is slow to close the B-Gap as Love explodes through the hole to sack Baker Mayfield (6).

Create confusion, manipulate defenses, and keep the offensive line guessing – great job by Wink Martindale!

Play 3: Daniel Bellinger – 100 percent touchdown rate

The first career reception for tight end Daniel Bellinger (82) is the only touchdown scored by the Giants offense in this 19-16 win. It’s a second-and-10 play in the red zone with the Panthers leading, 13-6. New York aligns in 11 personnel pistol with both wide receivers reduced tight to the formation. Bellinger is initially aligned to the field; the play is designed to the boundary, so the Giants motion Richie James (80) across the formation. As James reaches Kenny Golladay (19), the ball is snapped, and the defense bites up on the play action.

James and Golladay clear out the defenders to the boundary, and Jones squares to Bellinger in the flat. The WILL linebacker is circled and in conflict; the linebacker decides to step to Jones, giving the quarterback the easy option to find Bellinger, who scores with a nice run after the catch.

The motion of James forces the safety to the boundary to take James on the wheel, removing another defender from that side of the field. Kafka designed a two vs. one with Jones and Bellinger against Frankie Luvou (49). A timely play call that was executed well by the offense.

Play(s) 4: Clutch third down offense

Jones found James on the eight-play, 65-yard touchdown drive in a crucial third-and-9 situation. Jones puts perfect touch on this pass as he layers it over a linebacker with three converging defenders coming at James. The receiver secures the football, and the sticks move. Five plays later, Bellinger scores a touchdown.

Jones does a great job keeping his eyes downfield while moving in the pocket to avoid a pass rusher; he sees Sills open and delivers a nice pass over the top of underneath coverage on third-and-10. This conversion helped set up Gano’s 51-yard field goal.

This wasn’t the first time Kafka relied on a play action rollout in a high leverage situation, nor was it the first time Jones capitalized. Jones comes up big on this third-and-6; he stumbles out of his rollout, recollects, sees there’s no angle as Henry Anderson (94) is in his face, and then he cuts back to the middle of the field, using his speed to pick up a game-sealing first down. Carolina plays this well, maybe too well; there are seven Carolina defenders on or outside the play-side hash. Jones does well to abandon the throw and improvise. Jones played far from a perfect game, but he came through on this clutch play.

Play(s) 5: Fumble(s)!

The Giants only managed to get six points out of these two fumbles. Big Blue is fortunate that their lack of offensive efficiency after devastating Carolina mistakes did not come to roost.

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