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Giants 21, Panthers 19: 5 things we learned

What can we take away from the second preseason game?

NFL: Preseason-Carolina Panthers at New York Giants John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants pulled to .500 in the preseason with a 21-19 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Friday night at MetLife Stadium.

It looked as though the Giants would follow the Jets and run roughshod over the rebuilding Panthers in this game. And for a while, they did. The Giants starters looked as though they were having a tune-up game against backups in the first quarter.

And while the Panthers have some players on their squad, they are still clearly finding their way. The Giants, on the other hand, were efficient on offense and physical on defense. This might also be the only chance we’ll have to see players like Daniel Jones, Darren Waller, and Dexter Lawrence on the field in the preseason.

So what can we take away from the Giants’ second preseason game?

Familiar offense from the starters

If we were expecting to see a different brand of offense with the additions of Darren Waller, Parris Campbell, and Jalin Hyatt, we’re probably going to have to wait until the regular season (if at all).

The Giants opened with a remarkably familiar offensive drive full of play-action rollouts, levels concepts, and quick passes to the underneath area of the field. The Giants didn’t have a called run at all on their first drive, and their only run was a Daniel Jones scramble when pressure leaked through the offensive line.

For the second week in a row, there were circumstances where I was expecting shots down the field, only for them to not materialize. In particular, the Giants had a first down on the Panthers’ 44-yard line, which seemed like prime territory for a deep shot. Instead, the Giants tried a jet sweep to Hyatt that lost yardage.

I can’t say that I’m terribly surprised by the type of offense we saw from the starters. They don’t want to show any more of their offensive scheme than necessary, and the Giants aren’t going to entirely move away from the style of offense that worked for them a year ago. They got their veterans’ feet wet and built confidence in advance of Week 1.

I would have liked to have seen them try out some of their vertical offense with the starters in a live game situation before Week 1, but the quick game is still going to be their bread and butter on offense, so it makes sense to practice that the most.

It was nice to see Hyatt get the ball down the field on a deep pass from Tyrod Taylor. Hyatt ran a nice route and his speed meant that once safety Eric Rowe stopped his feet and glanced in the backfield to see if Taylor had been sacked, he didn’t have any hope of catching the rookie receiver.

The starting defense was stout

Similar to the Giants’ offense, the starting defense looked about how we expected to start the game. They were aggressive and largely stout up front, and Wink Martindale was characteristically unafraid to blitz.

The Giants’ defensive front frankly bullied the Panthers’ offensive line. They collapsed the right side of Carolina’s line on multiple occasions, got several hits on Bryce Young, and the coverage was generally tight. The Panthers’ receivers had little room to work and the only separation they got early on was when a blitz was picked up. There were a couple instances where receivers got behind the defensive backs as the game wore on, but that was rare early on.

There were a few things that Wink Martindale needs to tighten up over the next couple weeks. The first was penalties — more on that in a bit — and the second is tackling consistency. The Panthers’ starters found very little running room up the middle, which was a welcome change from a year ago. But they were still a bit inconsistent in getting Chuba Hubbard on the ground. He was able pick up yards after contact, and that kind of leaky defense can sneak up on a team that should win the game.

Again, this is preseason. This is the time to make mistakes and find the areas that need work before the the regular season starts. It isn’t exactly an area of concern (yet), but something for the coaches to drill down on and make sure it isn’t a concern when the games count.

Rookies climbing the depth chart

Hawkins and Banks

We’ll start out with the cornerbacks, since they’re one of the most interesting stories to come out of camp and the secondary is key to Wink Martindale’s defensive schemes.

Deonte Banks has been expected to start since he was drafted in the first round, but Tre Hawkins has been one of the stars of the summer. It made waves when he got a couple reps with the starters as an outside corner and Adoree’ Jackson moving into the slot. We saw Hawkins and Banks start last week. That package has steadily grown over the last couple weeks, and tonight Banks and Hawkins started on the perimeter while Jackson was the starting slot corner.

Jordon Riley

Up on the defensive front, meanwhile, big Jordon Riley continues his ascent. He started the first preseason game with the 2’s and stood out. Friday he built on that first game and was playing next to Dexter Lawrence and the rest of the Giants’ starters.

Riley stayed on the field through the first half and continued to be impressive at the nose tackle position. He seldom gives much ground and appears much quicker than he did on his college tape. It’s safe to say that Riley is well off the roster bubble.

It remains to be seen where he lands on the depth chart with Rakeem Nunez-Roches and A’Shawn Robinson, but we’ll see plenty of Riley in the regular season.

Eric Gray

Saquon Barkley didn’t play this game, and Matt Brieda was the starter. So technically Eric Gray is RB3, but he also seems to have locked down the Giants’ punt and kickoff returner jobs. Gray was the only running back to carry the ball when starters were on the field in the first half, though Jashaun Corbin did catch a pass. The question might be whether the Giants carry four running backs, or four tight ends, and Gray could be playing well enough to make a roster spot for a fourth tight end.

Too many penalties by the starting defense

There are few things more annoying than penalties in the preseason. Not only because you never want to see sloppy play from a team, but also because they slow down games that don’t need to take any longer than they already do. This game was rife with them on both sides, with 18 total penalties (10 from the Giants, eight from Carolina).

The Giants have a lot to feel good about after this game, but sthe tarting defense was too sloppy against a patently inferior Panthers’ offense. The Giants had four penalties on the Panthers’ first two drives, two of which came from Dexter Lawrence. Lawrence lined up off-sides on the first play of the game and had a personal foul (roughing the passer). Adoree’ Jackson also had a neutral zone infraction.

I fully expect this coaching point during the week, and wouldn’t be surprised if there was a bit of chewing out from the coaches during the post-game film review. But this is still pre-season and we shouldn’t over-react. But it’s something the Giants’ coaches should address, particularly considering how the the Giants won their games last year. The Giants’ recipe for success last year was to play clean football, let their opponents make the mistakes, and take advantage of opportunities.

Offensive line watch

Offensive line play is just plain triggering for Giants’ fans. The good news is that the Giants’ starting line played well for the most part. Andrew Thomas played only one series. Ben Bredeson started at left guard, then played two series at right guard in the first half.

There were a couple hiccups from the starting offensive line. The pocket was constricted on the first play, the forced scramble that was the starters’ only running play, and Thomas blocking Jeremy Chinn into Jalin Hyatt behind the line of scrimmage. Yes, I’m nitpicking, but the Giants open their season playing against some excellent defensive fronts. As with the leaks on defense, these are things of which we should be aware and the coaches should be emphasizing in practice.

Evan Neal played fairly well considering how little practice time he’s had this summer. In particular, Eric Gray’s touchdown run to the right showed off his strength. Unfortunately, he ended the first half on a sour note. The Panthers ran a TEX (Tackle/End Exchange) stunt and Neal was a bit too slow passing off the crashing end to pick up the looping tackle, who sacked Tyrod Taylor.

(Perhaps ironically, that mirrored Kayvon Thibodeaux’s drive-killing sack from the Panthers’ second possession when Ickey Ekwonu passed him off to a tight end that wasn’t there and Thibodeaux had a clear run to the quarterback.)

That might have been a sack even if Neal played the stunt perfectly, as Matt Peart wound up on the ground in the backfield. Peart largely played well-enough at left tackle prior to that play, but that one in particular was an ugly rep all-around.

John Michael Schmitz looked solid once again. He was a rock in the middle of the offensive line and didn’t look out of place among the starters, which is all you can really ask. I would want to get a look at the All-22 before passing judgement on the rookie center, but I didn’t notice anything glaring from the TV angle.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about Josh Ezeudu. The second-year guard had a couple ugly plays where he was stood up at the point of attack, pushed into the backfield, or was too-easily shed to give up pressure. Iit looks like he’s the third guard behind Bredeson and Glowinski.

Extra point - Tyrod Taylor is still T-Mobile

If there’s one thing that really stood out to me, it was how well Tyrod Taylor continues to move. He was forced to scramble a few times and did a good job of buying time and forcing the defense to hesitate. Taylor also had several nice runs, including a 16-yard scramble to convert a third-and-9 just before Jalin Hyatt’s 33-yard touchdown.