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Giants vs. Panthers, Week 7 storylines: It’s a tangled web we weave

New York, Carolina share a great deal of common ground in terms of how the teams got where they are

Philadelphia Eagles v Carolina Panthers
Matt Rhule
Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

The 1-5 New York Giants host the 3-3 Carolina Panthers on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. The Giants are coming off back-to-back ugly losses by a combined 51 points. The Panthers have lost three straight games. Here are five storylines for this Week 7 contest.

Will anybody care?

The Giants are 0-3 at home. They are a miserable 9-26 at MetLife Stadium since 2017. Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams, the stadium was probably half full to begin with. John Mara was smart enough not to show his face on the field during the halftime ceremony honoring the 2011 Super Bowl champions. Fans started booing in the second quarter. Most of them were on their way home by the time the fourth quarter started.

BBV’s Emily Iannaconi was in those stands last Sunday, as she is every time the Giants play at home. On the ‘Valentine’s Views’ podcast this week, Emily told a great story about how she looked around and saw disinterested Giants fans sleeping in their seats as the game played out.

I wonder how Leonard Williams will feel if there are more empty seats than full ones on Sunday against the Panthers. It is easier to take a nap at home on your couch.

Protecting Daniel

Throughout the first five games, the injury-ravaged and constantly-shuffled Giants’ offensive line managed somehow to do a good enough job. That wasn’t the case in Week 6 against the Rams.

Quarterback Daniel Jones was under siege from the game’s first snap when multiple breakdowns led to the first of two sack/fumbles. Jones was sacked four times and pressured 16 times in 56 dropbacks, and the Giants were 24th in the league in pass-blocking efficiency, per Pro Football Focus. The Giants had given up only four sacks all season before Sunday and were an acceptable 17th in pass-blocking efficiency.

The biggest difference? Andrew Thomas, the team’s best offensive lineman, played 29 snaps on one good leg. Then he hurt the other one and left the game. Now he is on IR. That leaves Nate Solder, Matt Peart, and Korey Cunningham manning the tackle positions. None has been consistently reliable.

Peart struggled vs. the Rams a week after playing well against Dallas. The silver lining of Thomas’s injury is that the Giants will be forced to play Peart, the 2020 third-round pick, full time. Peart is wildly inconsistent. Over a season-and-a-half, he has had some terrific games and some terrible ones. The only way to find out if he can work through that inconsistency and become part of the offensive line going forward is for him to play.

At guard, Wes Martin (0.0 pass-blocking grade) and Matt Skura (19.5) both struggled. Perhaps Ben Bredeson, who has missed three games with a hand injury, will be healthy enough to play. Maybe that will help.

The pressure rate allowed, roughly one every 3.5 snaps, was the same vs. the Rams as it was throughout the first five weeks. The difference was the breakdowns happened so quickly Jones often never had a chance. Somehow, the Giants have to fix that.

Missing star runners

Both teams rely heavily on star running backs who were top 10 draft picks by Dave Gettleman. Saquon Barkley No. 2 overall with the Giants in 2018. Christian McCaffrey No. 8 overall by the Panthers in 2017, before Gettleman was fired as GM. Neither will play Sunday. Barkley will miss a second straight game with an ankle injury. McCaffrey is on IR with a hamstring injury.

Both players are turning into cautionary tales about the wisdom of selecting running backs in Round 1, especially at the top of Round 1. Barkley, as we know, is now missing games for a third straight season with yet another leg injury.

McCaffrey was an All-Pro in 2019 when he led the league in touches (403), yards from scrimmage (2,392), and touchdowns (19). The Panthers committed a four-year, $64 million contract to him after that. He has played in six of a possible 22 games since then.

After what happened with Odell Beckham Jr., ownership desperately wants Barkley to be a long-term Giant. McCaffrey is turning into a great example of the risks of a big second contract for a running back, one of the more replaceable positions in the NFL.

Hello, Matt!

It was well-documented that Matt Rhule was considered the leading candidate for the Giants’ head-coaching job after Pat Shurmur was fired. Rhule had shown the ability to rebuild down-and-out programs at Temple and Baylor. He is a New York City native. He is a former Giants assistant coach. It looked like the perfect storm, and Rhule looked like the perfect choice to try and restore some Giants pride.

Then, Panthers owner David Tepper swooped in and planted an astonishing seven-year, $60 million contract in front of Rhule before he could get to New Jersey to visit with the Giants. Mara and Steve Tisch had no appetite for matching or exceeding that contract offer, Rhule became Carolina head coach, and the Giants moved on to Joe Judge.

Rhule’s Panthers went 5-11 last season. They are 3-3 this year, but riding a three-game losing streak entering Sunday’s game. Would Rhule have been a better choice for the Giants’ job than Judge? I think that is an impossible question to answer.

It is simply going to be interesting to Rhule and Judge on opposing sidelines Sunday.

Howdy, Sam!

Watching Sam Darnold play, especially at MetLife Stadium, is always going to be interesting. The Giants did not draft him in 2018 when many, including myself, thought that was what they would and should do. The New York Jets did.

The Giants took Barkley. A year later, they drafted Daniel Jones as the heir to Eli Manning. Both have had their moments, but neither has yet established himself as a true top-flight NFL quarterback. I still believe Jones has the opportunity to do that. After three miserable seasons with the Jets, Darnold is now in Carolina. He doesn’t look any different than the up-and-down guy who was in New York.

A little bit like Rhule and Judge, it will just be interesting to see Darnold and Jones on the same field.