EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants defeated the Carolina Panthers using an unconventional defense that embodied two of Brian Daboll's coaching tenets: boldness and personnel flexibility.
Six cornerbacks and safeties each played more than 70% of the defensive snaps in the 19-16 victory. Cornerback Adoree' Jackson and safeties Xavier McKinney participated in all 58 plays. Darnay Holmes (49), Dane Belton (46 in his first NFL game) and Cor'Dale Flott (41 in his first action on defense) also played a significant majority of the game.
Conversely, inside linebacker Austin Calitro was on the field for only five snaps, or 39 fewer than he played in the season opener in Tennessee.
"We'll try to do what we think is best for our football team," Daboll said. "I think that's the most important. I think you just are open and honest with the players of what their role is, what they need to do to improve and let those guys go out there and compete each week. We're kind of at the introductory stages of our program and what we're trying to do, and I think competition is the best thing for everybody."
Daboll and his assistants have adhered to the same philosophy on offense. In Week 1, wide receiver Kadarius Toney, the Giants' 2021 first-round draft choice, played only seven snaps. That increased to 28 yesterday. But Kenny Golladay, the team's marquee free agent acquisition last year, was in for only two plays.
"All we try to do is the very best we can as a coaching staff," Daboll said. "We have high standards in terms of going out there, preparing well, practicing well. Each week is a different week. I know we talked about this yesterday. Receivers, Slay (wide receiver Darius Slayton), he was active but had a few (four) reps. Kenny didn't have a lot. And if you look at the defensive side, sometimes it's planned."
It was yesterday. Daboll and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale thought the six-defensive back alignment was the most effective personnel grouping to stifle Carolina's offense. McKinney shadowed star running back Christian McCaffrey when he ventured out of the backfield to become a receiver. Love moved up and became an inside linebacker. Jackson followed Robbie Anderson, the Panthers' top receiver, all over the field.
"Wink does a great job, along with the defensive staff, of figuring out what we need to do for that particular week," Daboll said. "For this week, it was good relative to how Carolina played the weapons that they had and the matchups we thought were in favor of us if we played it a certain way."
Anderson caught three passes for 32 yards. McCaffrey led the Panthers with four catches for a meager 26 yards. He did rush for 102 yards, but he got 49 of them on one carry. He averaged 3.8 yards on his other 14 attempts. Quarterback Baker Mayfield completed just 14 of 29 passes as Carolina finished with 129 net passing yards.
"I think Wink does a good job though of mixing up," Daboll said. "There's a variety of ways to play to pressure. You can bring only four guys and consider it a pressure and do different things on the back end in terms of your coverage systems. I think Wink does a good job of mixing that up, and Adoree's been a very dependable player for us."
Daboll wants his coaches to think outside the box, as he noted in his postgame news conference.
"Wink's not afraid of failure, and that's really what we want for the entire organization is to not be afraid of failure, not to be afraid of the consequence," Daboll said. "If you prepare the right way, you can live with the results. I'll say that over and over again. And there might be games where our asses get blown out. But I now the guys prepare the right way. I know the coaches prepare them the right way. I have confidence in the group that we have that we work with. It's never going to be perfect, but we have a bunch of tough guys – or tough-minded guys I'd say."
The players are supportive of the "be unafraid to fail" mantra.
"That's a good way to put it," Love said. "For a team you just want guys to send it. You want guys to play fast, play free, without worrying about being perfect. I think that's something that new guys might have fallen victim to in the recent years. So now from the top down, and its coaches too just being open and willing to send it and make mistakes because there's winning and there's learning. So, that's how we approach it."
Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka stayed true to their beliefs on a critical third down with the score tied 16-16 in the fourth quarter. The Giants were on their 44-yard line and needed a yard for a first down. Saquon Barkley was in the backfield, but Kafka gave the ball to Brightwell, who zipped through the middle for a 14-yard gain on his only carry of the afternoon. The critical first down helped set up Graham Gano's game-deciding 56-yard field goal.
"When that play was called, I was already focused on it because I had seen the down and distance," Brightwell said. "When it happened, I was ready. It was just a typical short yardage play that I knew I had to get that one yard and whatever comes after is extra."
The Giants needed to bleed the clock when they got the ball back with 2:05 remaining. Faced with another crucial situation – third-and-six at their own 40 – Kafka gave quarterback Daniel Jones a run/pass option. Jones ran for an 11-yard gain, all but clinching the outcome.
It was another example that the Giants went the extra yard yesterday with their game plan, player deployment and execution.
"I think for play callers you put together a plan you prepare during the week," Daboll said. "You explain it to the players, and then when you get into that situation, I've been there before, (you think), 'Oh boy, should I really call this?' I think Mike – I think that was a great example at the end of the game there with the pass play that Mike called and put it in DJ's hands. I think we really had good communication from Mike to the quarterback. Again, that was discussed probably a couple plays before. He knew the play he wanted to go to.
"And then two plays back-to-back where (safety) Tony Jefferson made the tackle on Christian McCaffery. That was a great play; one of the plays of the game that allowed us to get to third-down and get that (nine-yard) sack with Julian. Pretty aggressive play calls, I'd say both on Mike's end and on Wink's end.
"Again, I want them to be themselves, play fast, play free, move onto the next play. We all make mistakes. I'm probably the leader of that. Once you make them, move onto the next play. The next step is the most important."
The Giants' next game step will be Monday night at home against the Dallas Cowboys.
View the best photos of the Giants celebrating back-to-back wins to open the 2022 season.
*Daboll gave his customary guarded response when asked about a player's injury, but it came with a tinge of optimism. Defensive lineman and captain Leonard Williams left the game in the third quarter with a knee injury.
"It's his knee, but it's better than it could be," Daboll said. "So, he's day-to-day. He said he feels better than he did yesterday. He's walking around, so we'll just take it like we normally do with these things each day. So, hopefully he's a fast healer."
Williams is one of the Giants' most indispensable players. He has started 21 consecutive games, tying him with linebacker Tae Crowder for the team's longest active streak.