For the second week in a row, this was a game the Giants narrowly won and could have gone the other way had a few plays broken differently. But instead the ball bounced the Giants way (both figuratively and literally).
This is the first time the Giants have had a 2-0 record since 2016, and in many ways this team is starting to feel like that 2016 team. The defense is aggressive, defying expectations, and playing better than many believed they could. The offense, meanwhile, offers long-term concerns but is doing just enough to win in the moment.
Let’s take a look at the in-depth stats and snap counts to see what we can learn about the Giants in their second win.
Offensive inefficiency continues
The overarching story regarding the Giants is that they managed to out-last the Panthers and come away with a second narrow victory in two weeks. But despite the wins and the Giants’ first 2-0 start since 2016, we really need to talk about the Giants’ offense — their passing offense in particular.
This was a dismal day for offense in general, as neither the Panthers nor the Giants were able to do much of anything with the ball in their hands. We absolutely should give credit to both defenses for great games, however both offenses struggled with miscues and missed opportunities.
The Giants struggled to make headway in the air as well as on the ground, and their efficiency and success numbers reflect that.
The Giants’ offense was just kinda “present” this game and did just enough to hang around. That’s fine when the opposing offense is inefficient as well as sloppy (as the Panthers were), but it’s still something that needs to be addressed going forward.
Tough running for Saquon Barkley
Giants fans — and fantasy owners — were widely expecting Saquon Barkley to have another incandescent day on the ground against the Panthers. After all, Carolina gave up 217 total rushing yards to the Cleveland Browns just last week. But after racking up 164 rushing yards on 18 carries (9.1 per carry) in Week 1, Barkley had almost nowhere to run in Week 2.
The Panthers held Barkley in check, limiting him just 72 yards on 21 carries (3.4 per carry), with a long run of 16 yards. The Panthers have a much faster defense than do the Titans, and that definitely played a role. Carolina’s defenders were able to rally to the ball much more quickly than Tennessee’s and Barkley wasn’t able to break nearly as many tackles.
The other factor was the difference in how Carolina played the run. Where the Titans stacked the tackle box for just one of Barkley’s runs, he saw eight (or more) men in the box for 23.81 percent of his carries. Granted, that works out to five of 21 carries, but it shows a more concerted effort to stop the run game. It also suggests that Carolina was playing more defenders around the line of scrimmage on average, denying the Giants the chance to gain a numbers advantage in blockers.
That’s born out by the player tracking data from NFL Next Gen Stats.
Barkley was able to bull his way to a couple nice gains, but for the most part he was met with stiff resistance from across the Panthers’ defense. Even the runs that went for a short gain were frequently met in the backfield by defenders shooting gaps with teammates rallying behind them.
And finally, the Giants’ passing game just didn’t force the Panthers’ defense to spread out.
We have to talk about the passing game
If we were to just list the tracking data and advanced metrics from the Giants’ passing game on Sunday, it would read like they lost the game. And in many ways these games do feel like the narrow losses from early in the 2021 season, only instead of breaks going their opponents’ way, they went toward the Giants.
Daniel Jones’ completion percentage remains shiny at 70.9 percent on the season. And even though the 64.7 completion percentage he posted against the Panthers is more in line with his 63 percent career average, it isn’t bad. But while the raw outcome stats are nice, the passes he’s throwing just don’t have much value.
Jones threw 13 more passes (with five more completions) in Week 2 than in Week 1, yet he threw for 12 fewer yards. And while that might not sound like much, it’s not insignificant when the two passing totals are 188 yards and 176 yards (respectively).
The Giants’ passing game has taken the occasional shot down the field when the opportunity presents itself, but much of their passing is based on short, quick concepts. As a result of play design and Jones’ reads, his average completion went for just 4.8 yards in the air — 3.1 air yards per pass attempt.
While Jones went 4 of 8 on pass attempts beyond 10 yards, 16 of Jones’ 34 pass attempts went for five or fewer yards. For the second week in a row, his average pass was targeted 3.3 yards in front of the first-down marker.
Not only do those passes have little effect on the drive’s chances of being successful, but defenses are able to play downhill when when they don’t fear being attacked in the intermediate (let alone deep) areas of the field. That contributed to the Giants’ struggles on the ground, as well as their limited run-after-catch opportunities.
And despite Jones relying almost exclusively on short passes, he held the ball for a subjective eternity. Jones’ average time to throw was 3.18 seconds, which was the longest in the NFL (before Monday Night Football). And while Jones was sacked three more times (8 sacks so far on the season), and took hits throughout the afternoon, it’s difficult to blame the Giants’ pass protection — although the interior offensive line remains a concern.
Edge defender Brian Burns was the only Panthers’ defender to routinely get within league-average distance from Jones.
Burns had the fastest sack for the Panthers at 3.8 seconds, but that suggests that Jones holding the ball allowed for “effort” sacks by the Panthers.
Another big day for the defense
It was apparent watching the game that neither offense played well. And while they certainly did themselves few favors, we also need to recognize that both defenses played well.
The Giants went into the game down three starters (Kayvon Thibodeaux (knee), Azeez Ojulari (calf), and Aaron Robinson (appendicitis), and lost Leonard Williams half-way through the third quarter. But the players who were on the field deserve credit for rising to the occasion and playing well despite the losses.
Wink Martindale’s philosophy of tight man coverage was on full display against the Panthers’ receivers. Carolina’s receivers found little separation from the Giants’ DBs, and were frequently asked to make tough catches in traffic.
That tight coverage worked against the Giants on occasion (such as when D.J. Moore simply ran through Cor’Dale Flott on his way to a touchdown).
However, a combination of the Giants’ aggressive coverage and some bad drops by the Panthers’ receivers lead to a bad day for Baker Mayfield. In particular, second year receiver Shai Smith was targeted six times (tied for the team high), but had just one catch for 2 yards. He also had two bad drops and failed to locate a third pass in the air after getting behind the Giants’ defense.
That tight coverage also served to keep the ball in Baker Mayfield’s hands and allowed Martindale to scheme pressure.
One of those schemed pressures, Julian Love’s sack, was one of the biggest plays of the game. Love exploded through the line of scrimmage on an overload blitz, sacking Mayfield for a 9-yard loss on a third-and-6. Had the blitz been picked up at all, the Panthers might have been able to find their way into scoring position. Instead, that was the second-biggest play of the game for the Giants, adding 15 points to their winning percentage.
Overall, it’s a good thing that Martindale was able to scheme pressure, because the Giants’ natural pass rush didn’t apply much.
Part of that was due to the absence of Thibodeaux and Ojulari, as well as the loss of Williams. But the Giants also leaned into an unconventional personnel package on defense. They started the game with a defensive line consisting of Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence II, Nick Williams, and Jihad Ward, but played a dime (three safeties, three corners) defense behind them.
The Giants’ defense was clearly trying to balance power up front to check Christian McCaffrey with speed at the second and third levels to facilitate coverage and blitzing. They might not have cared to get pressure rushing four and instead focused on occupying blockers and create opportunities for blitzers to generate pressure.
Full snap counts