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Eye On: Scouting the Carolina Panthers

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The Giants host the Panthers on Sunday trying to break a two-game losing streak and get their first home win of the season.

When the Panthers have the ball…

1. Sam Darnold started the season hot, completing 68% of his passes for 888 yards with three touchdowns and only one interception. The tables have turned in his last three games, however, with him completing only 54% of his passes for 685 yards with four touchdowns and six interceptions. He has great arm talent, can run with the football but has not been able to put all those skills together on a consistent basis.

Darnold's problems with turnovers in New York and at USC have continued in Carolina. According to Pro Football Focus, his 11 turnover worthy plays are the third-most in the NFL and his seven interceptions are tied for fourth. Seven of those turnover worthy plays and four of those interceptions have come when Darnold is under pressure. He is most accurate when attacking the middle of the field.

Darnold does have big play potential. PFF has tracked him for 12 big time throws this year, which is the ninth-most in the league. In the game-tying drive in the fourth quarter against the Vikings last week, he completed a beautiful pass over the middle to Ian Thomas for 41 yards and a deep pass on the sideline to DJ Moore for 25 yards. Those big plays came after Panthers receivers dropped eight passes on the day.

The Panthers have 21 completions of 20 or more yards this year (tied for 12th-most) and Darnold has a 111.5 passer rating on passes that travel 20+ yards in the air, which is the fifth-highest in the NFL. The upside is real.

Darnold is a good athlete that can navigate the pocket to avoid the rush - he has five rushing touchdowns. If defenses are not balanced, the Panthers will call designed runs for him inside the ten to put the ball in the end zone. Carolina ranks 17th in red zone touchdown rate.

2. The Panthers are allowing pressure on 39.5% of Sam Darnold's dropbacks, which is the 8th-highest rate in the NFL. Starting right tackle Taylor Moton is the team's best offensive linemen and has not allowed a sack.

Without star running back Christian McCaffrey, who was placed on injured reserve before last week's game, the Panthers have turned to rookie running back Chuba Hubbard. He has 281 rushing yards, but is only averaging 3.9-yards per carry. The Panthers most frequent run concept is outside zone, which they use more than a third of the time. Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said recently that he wants his team to get back to running the ball 30-35 times a game.

DJ Moore is the Panthers top wide receiver with more catches and yards than the team's next three wide receivers combined. He has 40 catches (tied for fourth in the NFL) for 513 yards (seventh) and three touchdowns. He's dangerous with the ball in his hands, and has 213 yards after the catch (fifth among WRs). He primarily lines up outside but does have 45 snaps in the slot. Rookie wide receiver Terrace Marshall missed Wednesday's practice with a concussion he suffered in Week 6.

3. Despite struggling on third downs (35%, 26th in the NFL), the Panthers are second in the league in time of possession, holding the ball for more than 33 minutes a game. The Panthers have particularly struggled in 3rd-and-short scenarios, converting just 48% of their attempts of fewer than four yards, which ranks 29th.. On the other hand, they are eighth with a 26.1% conversion rate on attempts of 10+ yards.

Keys for the Giants defense…

1. Force the Panthers into obvious throwing situations, such as 3rd-and-long

2. Pressure Sam Darnold in those scenarios with blitzes and stunts

3. Confuse Darnold with disguised coverages to force turnovers

View rare photos of the history between the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers ahead of their Week 7 matchup.

When the Giants have the ball

4. The Panthers defense is FAST and it starts on the edge. On passing downs, they will line up Brian Burns and Haason Reddick on either end of the line of scrimmage and let them chase the quarterback. Reddick is undersized at 6'1 and 235, but he has 6.5 sacks, 9 quarterback hits and 17 total pressures. When he played with the Cardinals against the Giants last year, he had five sacks.

According to PFF, Burns has 20 total pressures including three sacks and five quarterback hits. At 6'5 and 250, he has long arms and the agility to get skinny and bend the edge.

Overall, the Panthers are tied for sixth in the NFL with 16 sacks, and they are fifth in sack rate. Their pressure rate is in the middle of the league (34%). The Panthers get their sacks by bringing extra rushers. They blitz just over 38% of the time, which is the second-highest rate in the NFL (behind Tampa Bay). They do not run a lot of stunts and twists.

Reddick and Burns get help from defensive linemen Morgan Fox (14 pressures), DaQuan Jones (10), and second-year pro Derrick Brown (10). Fellow second-year pro Yetur Gross-Matos is getting about 10 snaps per game as a rusher. Safety Jeremy Chinn and linebackers Shaq Thompson, Jermaine Carter, and Frankie Luvu have been effective blitzers.

The Panthers' speed extends to the linebacker position where Shaq Thompson (6'0, 230) and Jermaine Carter (6'0, 225) run sideline-to-sideline and attack the line of scrimmage. Thompson has missed the last two weeks with a foot injury. He missed practice on Wednesday.

5. The Panthers have one of the best defenses in the league because of their ability to stop the pass. They are among the most efficient three teams in pass yards allowed per game (196.8, second) and pass yards allowed per play (6.09, third). Their third-down defense is second (29.6% conversion rate) and they allow the third-fewest first downs per game in the league.

Fifth-round pick Keith Taylor (6'3, 195) has stepped in for Jaycee Horn (broken foot), across from Donte Jackson. Veteran AJ Bouye has spent a lot of time in the slot, and there's a chance recently acquired Stephon Gilmore could see his first action of the season at cornerback. Former first round pick CJ Henderson is recovering from a shoulder injury and could also see time outside.

Jeremy Chinn is the reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year and leads the team in tackles (30) to go along with two passes defended and two quarterback hits. He spends most of his time near the line of scrimmage while former Giants Sean Chandler plays deep safety.

If the Panthers' defense has a persistent issue it is against the run. They allow 115 rush yards per game (15th) and 4.68 yards per rush play (27th). Derrick Brown is their best interior defensive lineman. The seventh overall pick in the 2020 draft has 13 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, two quarterback hits and 10 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.

Keys for the Giants' offense:

1. Protect Daniel Jones from the Panthers' blitz and edge rushers, with help from backs and tight ends

2. Use play-action on early downs to make chunk plays against base defenses

3. Move the ball successfully on early downs to avoid 3rd-and-long scenarios

View photos of the Carolina Panthers likely starters ahead of the Week 7 matchup against the Giants at MetLife Stadium.

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