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Giants-Panthers: 5 plays that caught our attention

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

The New York Giants defeated the Carolina Panthers 21-19 Friday in a game where the Giants starters impressed. All of the Giants played other than running back Saquon Barkley, and Daniel Jones led an impressive 10-play, 75-yard opening drive where the newly-paid quarterback was decisive with the football.

There are plenty of positive takeaways from the game. The first team offense and defense were effective, almost all of the drafted rookies had impacts, and the explosive nature of this team seemed much more advanced than last season.

Darren Waller was a focal point on the first drive of the game, and utilizing Jones’ athletic ability was still at the forefront of Mike Kafka’s play calling. The Giants pass protection was better than it was Week 1 against the Detroit Lions, even though there were some plays that starters would like to have back (Evan Neal’s twist pickup and Eric Gray’s blitz pickup).

Still, all in all, Neal didn’t look bad in his first action. He was frequently in position to execute his block and looked more comfortable than he did last season. John Michael Schmitz continued his upward trajectory; other than one pressure, he was feisty, framed his blocks well, and played smart.

The young offensive line is coming along for coach Bobby Johnson, and this allows him to be creative with his approach to blocking certain fronts - something that we saw down the stretch of last season and on the Gray touchdown run. Here’s the five plays, or sequences of plays, that were most noteworthy:

Play 1: 10-play, 75-yard opening drive

Daniel Jones’ first action of the season was an impressive 10-play, 75-yard drive that was concluded by this Daniel Bellinger touchdown above. Picking up where they left off last year, the Giants used Jones’ mobility with several play action roll outs; one of which resulted in a six yard scramble.

Jones targeted new tight end Darren Waller four times, and Jones’ shiny new weapon caught three of them for 30 yards. But it was DBellinger who received the Jones’ touchdown pass. A 12-personnel boundary rollout with Waller motioning to a condensed stack behind Y-tight end, Daniel Bellinger. Waller drew attention and created a pick and Daniel Jones did an excellent job squaring his shoulders out of the play fake before finding the second year tight end for a score.

Jones and the Giants’ offense looked smooth, dialed in, and matriculated the football down the field with ease. There was only one third down on the drive - a third-and-7 - that was converted on a 12-yard pass to Waller. An encouraging start for the first-team offense, sans Barkley.

Play 2: Jalin Hyatt!

Rookie wide receiver Jalin Hyatt translated his hot start to camp to points against an opponent. Directly after dropping a deep horizontal cross outside the numbers, Hyatt responded with this deep touchdown, using a beautiful sell inside to influence the safety toward the middle of the field.

The Panthers were caught in a tough spot. The Giants ran a switch release with Parris Campbell (0) and Isaiah Hodgins (18); both routes were shallow and low, allowing an isolated Hyatt to manipulate the safety. Good scheming by the Giants and a great route by Hyatt for an easy touchdown.

Play 3: Eric Gray with the muscle

After an uninspiring first preseason game, Gray, a rookie fifth-round pick, Eric Gray responded with a hard-nosed touchdown run, somewhat reminiscent of physical Giants greats like Brandon Jacobs and Rodney Hampton.

The Giants use a WHAM block against the 2i-shade Taylor Stallworth (78). Bellinger (82) whamed Stallworth and both JSchmitz (61) and Neal (73) received free releases up to the second level, as Mark Glowinski (64) kicked out to handle the end-man-on-the-line-of-scrimmage.

Offensive line coach Bobby Johnson employed plenty of TRAP and WHAM blocks last year, which allows offensive linemen to quickly climb to the second level. This gave Gray a better chance of success, and he took it with power. Gray isn’t touched until he’s five yards down field; this type of rushing flexibility keeps offensive attacks fresh. Gray churned his legs through contact, reached for the pylon, and scored the touchdown for Big Blue.

Play 4: Kayvon Thibodeaux beats Ickey Ekwonu

To be fair, this was a mental mistake by Ekwonu who failed to realize his guard was unoccupied. Bobby Okereke (58) blitzed and both the guard and Ekwonu went to handle the blitz. Once Ekwonu realized his mistake, he was way too late for Thibodeaux’s quick jump, which led to the sack off an initial five-man pressure look that turned into four after Chuba Hubbard (30) released into a route. It’s Cover-1 with a rat in the hole on the second-and-9.

Play 5: Jordon Riley doing big man stuff

Jordon Riley is No. 95

Giants general manager Joe Schoen made a concerted effort to upgrade the interior defensive line behind star players Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams. The Giants signed veterans Rakeem Nunez-Roches and A’Shawn Robinson in free agency to form one of the more dominate interior defensive lines in the league.

Beyond the two veteran Super Bowl champions, the Giants drafted a seventh-round rookie named Jordon Riley who played in four different programs in college (UNC, Garden City Community College, Nebraska, and Oregon). Riley has done nothing but impress and improve under the leadership and tutelage of defensive line coach Andre Patterson.

Both Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence played against the Panthers; once they were pulled off the field, Jordon Riley was there to receive first quarter snaps. The defensive line room is deep, but many would be very surprised if Riley didn’t make the team, which wasn’t a position I held until about a week ago.