This game really could have gone either way, and a different bounce here or a stray breeze there might have flipped this outcome. But the Giants were able to hang on, make a couple more plays than the Panthers, and outlast them for the win.
This game wasn’t pretty. It was a tough, messy slog through four quarters as the two teams traded defensive body blows and offensive mistakes. And yet the Giants did enough to earn another close win over a tough opponent.
What can we take away from the Giants’ first 2-0 start since 2016?
First down: Slow start and a plodding offense
For the second time in two weeks, the Giants started the game at a snails’ pace on offense. The Giants had two golden opportunities to start the game, getting the ball on the Panthers’ 22- and 40-yard line off of a pair of fumbles. However, they couldn’t cash in on those opportunities and settled for field goals both times.
The Giants netted 60 total offensive yards on 26 offensive plays with zero net rushing yards in the first half. They went 1-for-7 on third down and averaged just 3.9 yards per pass attempt. The offense found a spark on their second drive of the third quarter, sprinting down the field a touchdown. However, the game returned to being a defensive showdown after through the remainder of the third quarter and into the fourth.
So far Daniel Jones has 364 yards passing on the season, is averaging 6.6 yards per attempt, 5.17 air yards per attempt. The offense was hard to watch with Saquon Barkley being held in check most of the game. The Giants are going to need to emphasize getting off to a faster start on offense, and figure out some way to get their passing game going.
At some point they’ll meet an offense that has its act together, and this team might not be able to keep up.
Second down: Oshane’s big day
If there was one real winner for the Giants today, it has to be fourth-year edge defender Oshane Ximines. The Giants needed somebody to step up and slow down the Panthers offense, and Ximines was the unlikely hero. He seemed to be everywhere on the Giants’ defense today and was a key cog in in just about every defensive play the Giants made.
Ximines is one of several Giants in the final year of his rookie deal, and he has gone from being expected to be a “former Giant” to the Giants’ third edge defender. He has earned a spot in this defensive rotation and is well on his way toward earning a contract extension after the season.
What happens with Ximines’ play time once Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari return from injury will be one of the under-the-radar stories to keep an eye on.
Third down: Injuries continue to pile up
Another game, another injury.
Starting defensive lineman Leonard Williams went down mid-way through the third quarter. It was an ugly play that saw Williams lose his feet and get his legs tangled with Panthers’ right tackle Taylor Moton. His knee was torqued as he was rolled up and had to be helped off the field, where he was immediately ruled out of the game.
The extend of the injury isn’t known, and Williams was wearing a knee brace after the game. We won’t have an update on the injury or a potential timetable for his recovery until after he undergoes tests on Monday. However, the potential loss of Williams would be a blow to a defense that has been navigating the injury bug for weeks now.
Fourth down: Wink Martindale stays aggressive
But while the Giants’ defense has taken body blows from non-stop injuries and were down four starters by the end of the game — Williams, Kayvon Thibodeaux, Azeez Ojulari, Aaron Robinson — defensive coordinator Wink Martindale didn’t tone things down any. The Giants might have been scraping the bottom of their depth chart, but he kept dialing up blitzes through the very end of the game.
Martindale told us in no uncertain terms from the very first preseason that blitzing and aggression would be the foundation of his defense, and he’s stayed true to that philosophy. While we don’t have the final numbers for just how often he sent pressure, I feel confident in saying it was a lot. The Giants continued to play a lot of aggressive coverages and scheme pressure from unexpected sources and angles.
It didn’t always work out — D.J. Moore’s touchdown came when he was matched up in man coverage on Cor’Dale Flott and discovered he could just run through the 175-pound rookie — but the Giants’ aggression has been a part of their winning formula. It’s allowed them to compensate, at least in part, for all of their injuries. Likewise, the Giants’ defensive aggression has allowed them to be in position to capitalize when the opposing offense makes a mistake.
It remains to be seen how that’ll hold up when the Giants play a good offense, but for now that aggressive defense is dragging a listless offense to wins.