The New York Giants (1-5) and Carolina Panthers (3-3) enter Sunday's matchup looking to get their respective seasons back on track. After their big road win in New Orleans, the Giants allowed 82 points in back-to-back losses to the Cowboys and Rams. The Panthers, meanwhile, hope to break a three-game skid after a 3-0 start.
"Obviously, this is a good team, they've got a lot of talent on their team, but they play really as a cohesive unit on all three sides of the ball," coach Joe Judge said. "[Panthers head coach] Matt [Rhule] does a good job organizing all three sides in terms of the theme of how they want to play."
Here are three keys to victory for the Giants:
Stop Matt Rhule's pledge to run the ball
Rhule started his second year as head coach with three consecutive wins, but his Panthers have lost three in a row to drop to .500. Although their defense ranks third in yards and sixth in scoring, the offense stands at 18th and 16th, respectively, in those categories. These issues can happen when you lose a dual-threat running back such as Christian McCaffrey to injury, but Rhule pledged to do better on the ground.
"That's going to change, I can tell you right now," Rhule said, according to Panthers.com. "You'll see a vastly different look from us moving forward. We're not going to line up and drop back and throw it 40 times a game and think that's going to win the game for us. It hasn't. So there's no McCaffrey, Chuba [Hubbard is] showing us he can run the ball at a high level when given enough opportunities.
"So we're going to redefine who we are. We're going to run the football, and we're going to protect our quarterback, and we're not going to turn the ball over anymore. And that's the only way that we're going to win."
Rhule thinks the ground attack is the key to help quarterback Sam Darnold, the former Jet who will make his 20th career MetLife Stadium start on Sunday. Darnold had a passer rating above 95.0 in each of his first three games as a Panther, but it has declined to 85.5, 44.5, and most recently 55.6 over his past three outings. He has thrown six interceptions during the losing streak after having only one in the first three games. It should be noted that Darnold is tied for second in the NFL with five rushing touchdowns.
"Sam's not playing well enough; let's start there," Rhule said. "Which means that [quarterbacks coach] Sean [Ryan] and [offensive coordinator] Joe [Brady] and me aren't coaching good enough. We're 3-3, all right. There's a lot of teams 3-3, and I think it's starkly clear in front of us what the issues are.
"We turned the ball over twice in our three wins. We turned the ball over eight times in our three losses. Now when I say Sam's not playing well what does that mean? It means the offensive line's not getting it done for him, the running backs aren't getting it done for him; everyone on offense, every receiver, every back, every o-lineman, every tight end, their job is to help our quarterback play well. And we are not getting that done."
The Giants, who rank 29th in rushing defense, heard the pledge. Assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Patrick Graham was asked if he thought it was a misdirection.
"Hell no, it's not misdirection," Graham said. "A head coach does that, he's letting you know. He's letting everybody in that building know, giddy up, let's go, we're running the ball. I can't blame him. … He's letting everybody know – I'm so bad with sayings – everybody is on notice that we've got to run the ball. I take him for his word. Again, I don't know the man personally, but I've heard about him and how people talk about him. I take him for his word. They're going to come in here with the intent to run the football. He put the challenge down for those guys and I'm sure it was a motivating thing for his team. I mean, I like for a head coach to say something like that. That was pretty good. He's like, 'hey, we're going to run the ball.' It kind of displays the toughness that you can see from their team. I think the running backs run hard. I think the wide receivers, they run hard after catch, they block. He's trying to instill a toughness into the team, so he's letting everybody know what we need to do, and I respect him for that."
Win the turnover battle.
Like Darnold, Giants quarterback Daniel Jones' success is tied to turnovers. Jones shored up that part of his game until last week, when he threw three interceptions and fumbled twice (lost one). Overall, the Giants are middle of the pack in turnover differential at minus-1. It might be an area the Giants can gain an edge against the Panthers, who are 28th at minus-4.
Affect the QB
Opposing quarterbacks have completed a league-high 73.9 percent of their passes against the Giants while posting an average passer rating of 109.4 (fifth-highest). So, what needs to change?
"I think you've got to do a better job of me personally just mixing up probably a little bit, whether it's the disguise part of it and just mixing in the different types of coverages and change it up a little bit on them right there," Graham said. "Again, I think a combination of that will help with the pass rush, too. As we go into this week with Sam, Sam's playing pretty good in terms of like for the first six weeks in terms of what they've done. Forget what happened with the Jets, but just with this new offense. We've got to find ways to just affect the quarterback more effectively and it's a combination of the rush. It's a combination of the coverage. It's a combination of a variety and mixing it up on them. But that's the plan to do it and then we've got to win our individual battles, whether it's the rush or the coverage. We've got to try to execute from there."