GIANTS // PANTHERS OVERVIEW
The 2-1 Panthers come off an early bye to play a home game against the reeling 1-3 Giants, for what looks like a lopsided matchup in spite of the talent the Giants boast on offense. This should be a slowed-down game, with Carolina ranking 25th in pace of play to begin the year and the Giants ranking 31st. Only six teams have allowed fewer opponent plays per game than the Panthers, and only eight teams have allowed fewer opponent plays per game than the Giants.
Only two teams have run the ball more frequently than the Panthers, and only five teams have thrown the ball more frequently than the Giants. Teams have been taking a page out of the Cowboys’ playbook and playing plenty of soft zone against the Giants to prevent Odell Beckham from having the huge yardage impact he is used to having. Pat Shurmur said this week that Saquon Barkley should have received more carries this last week against that look — and Saquon talked about how he and the Giants’ offensive linemen need to see those soft zones as a sign of disrespect. Expect a greater emphasis on the run this week…though with Saquon seeing rushing numbers so far of 18, 11, 17, and 10 (compared to 37 or more pass attempts for Eli Manning in three of four games), “more volume” doesn’t necessarily mean “elite volume.” The Giants will obviously have a tougher time sticking to this plan if the Panthers jump out to an early lead.
GIANTS PASS OFFENSE
In spite of all the pass attempts, the Giants rank 19th in passing yards per game, as they rank only 22nd in yards per pass attempt. Eli Manning has thrown only one interception on the season, but he has taken 15 sacks and tossed only four touchdowns, with the Giants ranking 21st in red zone touchdown rate. The Giants rank 22nd in drive success rate — which measures the number of individual series that result in a first down or a touchdown (essentially, the number of successful “sets of downs”).
The strength of this Carolina pass defense is their ability to tackle well after the catch, as the Jaguars are the only team in football that has allowed a lower YAC per reception. On the one hand, this creates a poor matchup for a receiver in Odell Beckham who lives on YAC — but Beckham is still Beckham, as evidenced by the 11-111-0 line he posted on the Jaguars in Week 1. Beckham has at least nine targets in every game this year, and his usage is even more locked-in than normal with Evan Engram out. Only Julio Jones and Corey Davis have a larger share of their team’s air yards than Beckham, and he is one game shy of tying his career-long touchdown drought — which means we should expect things to swing back in his favor soon. The Panthers play exactly the type of zone defense that can give Beckham problems after the catch, but he still carries week-winning tourney upside.
This hollowed out passing attack jumps straight from Beckham to Sterling Shepard, who saw 10 targets last week — only one shy of Beckham. Realistically, with Manning throwing 41 times, we would have expected even more looks than that for each of these guys, but this being the Giants: Wayne Gallman, Russell Shepard, Rhett Ellison, and Scott Simonson combined for 12 targets — robbing looks from three elite players in Beckham, Shepard, and Barkley. Eli will likely end up in the 35 attempt range in this spot, and another 10 or 11 looks for Beckham and eight or nine looks for Shepard is the likeliest scenario. Beckham saw only one target last week more than 15 yards downfield, and only four targets more than five yards downfield, with his other seven looks coming within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Shepard saw two targets more than 15 yards downfield, one additional target more than five yards downfield, and everything else close to the line of scrimmage. Obviously, either of these guys will need a touchdown or a revamped offense in order to really pay off against a unit that tackles as well as the Panthers.
GIANTS RUN OFFENSE
Barkley can say all he wants that he and his offensive linemen should take it as a challenge when defenses play back to stop the pass, but he is still left dealing with an offensive line that ranks 31st in adjusted line yards. Barkley became only the fifth back in NFL history to record at least 100 yards from scrimmage in four straight games to start a career, which speaks to his on-his-own talent; but for now, he will have to continue doing things on his own, as his line is giving him no help.
The Panthers have faced Ezekiel Elliott, Tevin Coleman, and Giovani Bernard to open the season, and they enter this week ranked 28th in yards allowed per carry. If they play back against the pass (which they are likely to do), and if Saquon gets the touches he should be getting (20+ per game), there is a chance he breaks out for his first monster game of the season — with his offensive line as his greatest obstacle. Obviously, Saquon has shown his high floor to begin the year, with at least five targets in every game, at least 100 total yards in every game, and three total touchdowns.
PANTHERS PASS OFFENSE
Because the Panthers slow down the pace and lean on the run, they rank in the middle of the pack in total plays per game — which especially eats into volume for this passing attack, as Cam Newton has pass attempt numbers of 26, 45, and 24. The two games sandwiching that spiked week were by design, in wins against the Cowboys and Bengals. The 45-pass game came in a shootout against the Falcons, and 15 of those targets were directed toward Christian McCaffrey. With the Giants likely to get in their own way on offense throughout this game, it is likely that Cam remains below 30 pass attempts once again. With a good six to eight of these looks likely ticketed for McCaffrey, this leaves very little in the way of additional volume for the other pieces of this passing attack.
The matchup is tough on the outside for Devin Funchess, who will likely be trailed by Janoris Jenkins. Jenkins has had a rough season — giving up 19 catches for 268 yards and a touchdown already (on only 25 targets) — though those numbers are somewhat inflated by the big pass play that Tavon Austin burned him on in Week 2, and by matchups with DeAndre Hopkins and Michael Thomas. Jenkins held both Hopkins and Thomas to below-average marks, and Funchess is not nearly the route-runner that those two guys are.
After Week 2, Ron Rivera said that rookie receiver D.J. Moore needed to start seeing more time on the field — and he followed up this statement by giving him 33 of a possible 67 snaps. What Rivera failed to realize was that Moore needed to actually be running pass routes in order to make an impact, as he somehow ran only seven routes, while run blocking 25 times. Torrey Smith (23 routes) and Jarius Wright (17 routes) continued to play invisibly in front of him. Moore was the first wide receiver taken in the draft this year (ahead of Calvin Ridley), and he has some Steve Smith to his game — with some beat writers this summer expecting him to make a big impact this season. If you want to take a low-floor flier on a potential upside play, it would make sense for the Panthers to have used the bye to work Moore into the rotation more fully; and it would make sense for him to see five or six targets if that’s the case, with Funchess blanketed by Jenkins.
PANTHERS RUN OFFENSE
Ian Thomas has not been reliable in the pass game so far (no games over 20 yards), Wright and Smith are back-end options, and Funchess will have a tough time getting open this week. This should lead to this game turning into the Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey ground show as a result — with each guy likely to remain in his typical range of usage, in spite of the slowed-down nature of both teams. Cam has averaged 9.7 carries per game, with two carries inside the five — essentially giving him the usage of someone like Alfred Morris, even before any passes he throws (good for anywhere from four to 10 points of bankable floor).
McCaffrey, meanwhile, has ascending touch counts of 16, 22, and 30, and is clearly the only running back who matters on this offense. In his lower-carry games, CMC saw target counts of nine and 15; and in his lower-target game, he saw 28 carries. C.J. Anderson has proven to be no threat in the red zone (six carries inside the 10 for CMC; one for Anderson), and the Giants are a non-threatening matchup both on the ground (26th in yards allowed per carry) and through the air (5.75 receptions allowed per game to running backs — with only five of those coming from Kamara last week). This is a funnel spot for CMC usage, with the Panthers’ offense low on options behind him.
All three of Saquon, OBJ, and Shepard stand out to me in tourneys this week — though because each guy will effectively need “volume” (or a broken play) in order to post a big game in this offense, I’ll try to stay away in cash games and “main roster” stuff against a Carolina team that is built around limiting opponent plays. The clearest case in cash games can be made for Shepard, of course, as he is still underpriced for his role across all three sites. Value is thin enough this week that I could see him making the cut for me as a seven to nine target guy.
The Panthers are the Cam and CMC show on offense, and those are the guys I’ll be primarily interested in. I have a fairly strict “no Cam in cash” rule, as he tends to bomb without warning in the best possible spots; but he does stand out as one of the preferred plays on the week, as he should see a bigger role on the ground, and he should be part of at least a couple touchdowns. CMC stands out as a top three back this week, alongside Gurley and Gordon. The Panthers should lean on him heavily once again.