Here are five storylines to follow as the 1-3 New York Giants prepare for their Week 5 road game against the 2-1 Carolina Panthers:
1. No offense, but ... The Giants rank 29th in the NFL in scoring with an average of 18.3 points per game. Things looked to be on the right track after their Week 3 victory in Houston and again last week against New Orleans when they scored an opening-drive touchdown for the second consecutive game. However, it did not last. Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has not scored a touchdown in four games, one away from tying his longest drought of five games from the 2015 season finale through Week 4 the next year. This week, they match up with a top-10 scoring defense.
“It’s not all about just throwing it deep every play; that’s not the answer to our solution,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “I know that’s what everybody wants to do. It’s an easy thing to say, ‘Yeah, we’ll throw it deep and all of our problems will be fixed.’ It’s still about finding completions and when you do throw it down the field, completing it.”
On why the short stuff has not broken with Beckham like in the past, Manning said the key is “just hitting guys in stride, hit guys on the move. When they’re running slants and running in breaking routes and running deep over routes and those types of things, if you can get to those throws and hit guys on the move, they can turn those throws into big plays.”
2. Keep pounding (Saquon). “Keep pounding” is the Panthers’ rallying cry, which will be featured prominently this Sunday at Bank of America Stadium. The Giants might just steal the slogan and apply it to rookie running back Saquon Barkley. The second overall draft pick is coming off a season-low 16 touches, including a season-low 10 carries. That didn’t stop him from becoming the fifth player in NFL history to record 100 scrimmage yards in each of his first four career games, but Shurmur acknowledged that Barkley should have touched the ball more, particularly on the ground. That might be the best way to combat the soft zones teams play against the Giants to keep Beckham and company in check.
“That’s something where I step in, where the offensive line steps in, and that’s something that we’ve got to take personal,” Barkley said. “When we see a team playing cover two and playing soft zone, that has to be disrespectful to us and that’s something we are really aware of and we hope to solve that problem really soon.”
3. Reinforcements on the way? After slipping to 1-3 on the season, the Giants might be picking up a few bodies in Week 5. Outside linebacker Olivier Vernon has yet to play this season due to an ankle injury, while cornerback Eli Apple missed his second consecutive game last week after suffering a groin injury in Dallas. They were both limited in practice to start the week. Additionally, defensive end Josh Mauro, who was suspended for the first four games for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances, returned to practice this week. The Giants have a week-long roster exemption for Mauro, meaning they need to activate him to the 53-man roster by 4 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 8. During that exemption, Mauro, who played in defensive coordinator James Bettcher’s scheme in Arizona, will not count toward the roster limit, but he can participate in football activities, including meetings and practices.
4. Cam is fresh. The Giants have seen their share of mobile quarterbacks already this season, and this week they face the only active player to lead an NFL franchise in both career touchdown passes and rushing touchdowns. That man, of course, is the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Cam Newton. And he is fresh. The Panthers, who beat the Cowboys and Bengals with a loss to the Falcons in between, went on an early bye in Week 4. New offensive coordinator Norv Turner used the break to work out the kinks and will likely get back wide receiver Curtis Samuel, who after rehabbing an ankle injury this offseason has not played this year because of a health scare. He will complement second-year running back Christian McCaffrey, who has 102 catches in 19 career games.
“There’s a lot of misdirection,” Giants safety Landon Collins said. “You have to use your eyes and play sound defense. You got to run around and play hard defense.’
5. Giants South. From their front offices to coaches to players, the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers have connections at all levels. On the Giants’ side, that list includes general manager Dave Gettleman (with the Panthers from 2013-16), director of player personnel Mark Koncz (1994- 2016), offensive coordinator Mike Shula (2011-16), special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey (2016-17), wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert (2010), and equipment manager Jackie Miles, who held the same position with the Panthers since the team’s inception in 1994 through the 2017. On the Panthers’ side, special teams coordinator Chase Blackburn played eight seasons as a linebacker and special teams ace for the Giants (2005-12) and won two Super Bowls. Shurmur also worked with Panthers coach Ron Rivera in Philadelphia, and Turner and his son, quarterbacks coach Scott Turner, in Minnesota.
“Every time I’ve ever been in this scenario where we really know this team or really know that team, you overthink it and I think it’s important that we don’t do that,” Shurmur said. “I worked with Ron Rivera in Philly way back when, know him very well, I worked with Norv (Turner), I worked with Scott (Turner), and obviously the guys from Carolina that are here. There’s some generality, some things you think about and try to apply, but what’s really important is watch the tape, prepare for the team that we’re playing based on what we see.”
Meanwhile, Gettleman is scheduled to make the trip after not traveling with the team due to his treatments for lymphoma since the spring.
“I really appreciated working with Dave,” Rivera said. “I like who he is as a person and as a scout. He really understands and knows players, he came in with the philosophy of we were going to bring in big guys up front because they allow you to compete, and it worked for us, it worked very well for us. We’re still seeing the aftereffects of the players he brought in. It was a very positive situation, I really enjoyed working with him. He’s a northeast guy and you can feel it when dealing with him. The one thing with Dave, Dave was always upfront, a straight shooter, very honest – brutally honest, almost to a fault – but he was a lot of fun to be around.”
View the starters for Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers