WEEK 7: Panthers, Giants meet in game between struggling teams

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Carolina Panthers and New York Giants will meet at MetLife Stadium on Sunday in a game between two struggling teams.

The Panthers got off to a 3-0 start but they have lost three straight after running back Christian McCaffrey was hurt. The Giants have struggled with injuries and poor play in losing five of six games. They are winless in three games at home.

New York probably will not have star running back Saquon Barkley, who injured an ankle in a loss to Dallas on Oct. 10. Former Jets quarterback Sam Darnold returns to the Meadowlands with the Panthers.


CAROLINA (3-3) at NY GIANTS (1-5)

Sunday, 1 p.m. EDT, Fox

OPENING LINE: Panthers by 3, according to FanDuel SportsBook.

AGAINST THE SPREAD: Panthers 3-3; Giants 2-4.

SERIES RECORD: Panthers lead 7-4.

LAST MEETING: Panthers beat Giants 33-31, Oct. 7, 2018 at Charlotte, North Carolina.

LAST WEEK: Panthers lost to Vikings 34-28; Giants lost to Rams 38-11 at home.

PANTHERS OFFENSE: OVERALL (18), RUSH (T17), PASS (15), SCORING (16).

PANTHERS DEFENSE: OVERALL (3), RUSH (15), PASS (2), SCORING (27).

GIANTS OFFENSE: OVERALL (16), RUSH (25), PASS (10), SCORING (27).

GIANTS DEFENSE: OVERALL (27), RUSH (29), PASS (22), SCORING (29).

TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Panthers minus-4; Giants minus-1.

PANTHERS PLAYER TO WATCH: RB Chuba Hubbard. The rookie from Oklahoma State is expected to have a major role on Sunday after coach Matt Rhule promised the Panthers were going to recommit to the running game. Hubbard has rushed for 219 yards on 52 carries and one touchdown in three starts in place of the injured Christian McCaffrey.

GIANTS PLAYER TO WATCH: WR Sterling Shepard. The veteran returned to the lineup after missing two games with a hamstring injury and had 10 catches for 76 yards. It was his best game total since he had 10 against New Orleans in 2018.

KEY MATCHUP: Panthers QB Sam Darnold vs. Giants secondary. Darnold has turned the ball over seven times in the last three games, six on interceptions. He faces a Giants defense that is allowed 264.2 yards passing per game. The big question could be if Carolina’s offensive line gives Darnold time. He has been sacked 12 times in the past three games.

KEY INJURIES: Panthers’ McCaffrey (hamstring) remains on injured reserve. There is a chance the Panthers could get LB Shaq Thompson back after missing the last two games with a foot injury. ... Giants LT Andrew Thomas (foot/ankle) went on injured reserve this week and will miss at least three games. Barkley (ankle) and WRs Kadarius Toney (ankle) and Kenny Golladay (knee) are iffy after being hurt in the last two weeks. LG Matt Skura (knee), WR Darius Slayton (hamstring), DT Danny Shelton (pectoral) also were hurt. Skura started last week and Slayton was close to returning.

SERIES NOTES: The Panthers have won four of the six road games against New York. The most impressive was a 23-0 victory in January 2006 in a wild-card playoff game. It marked the first time Tom Coughlin took the Giants to the playoffs. Carolina made it to the NFC title game, losing to Seattle. The Panthers’ last two wins over New York came on field goals by current Giants placekicker Graham Gano, including a career-long 63-yarder in the 33-31 result in 2018.

STATS AND STUFF: The Panthers are 0-2 against the NFC East with losses to the Eagles and Cowboys. ... The Panthers had eight drops in last week’s game, including three each by WRs D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson. ... Anderson has been targeted 40 times but only has 15 receptions for 190 yards and two touchdowns after signing a $37.5 million contract extension. ... The Carolina defense had 14 sacks in the first three games. It has had two in the past three. ... Carolina had the NFL’s No. 1 pass defense before allowing Vikings QB Kirk Cousins to throw for 373 yards and three TDs. The Panthers dropped to No. 2 this week. ... The Panthers have been outscored 48-14 in the third quarter. ... This will be the 17th game out of the last 23 McCaffrey will have missed because of injuries. ... New York is 0-3 at home. ... The offensive line, which did not allow a sack in the previous two games, gave up four against the Rams, including one that led to a fumble recovery deep in New York territory. ... QB Daniel Jones, who had one interception in the first five games, threw three against the Rams. ... DL Leonard Williams doubled his sack total with 1 1/2 last week. ... Second-year S Xavier McKinney had a career-best two interceptions last week. ...LB Tae Crowder is looking for his third straight game at home with 10-plus tackles. ... CB James Bradberry has defended at least one pass in each of the first six games. The only other cornerback to do that in 2021 is Trevon Diggs of Dallas.

FANTASY TIP: Quarterbacks and receivers have eaten up the Giants and their No. 27 ranked defense all season. Surprise picks: In their return to MetLife, the former Jets step up, so use Darnold and Anderson.


Rhule and Judge have history as Panthers face Giants

The game between the Carolina Panthers and New York Giants on Sunday matches two struggling NFL teams. There’s so much more to the story, starting with the coaches.

Matt Rhule of the Panthers (3-3) and Joe Judge of the Giants (1-5) are going to be linked to the wild coaching searches that followed the 2019 season.

Rhule, a former Giants assistant who was coaching at Baylor, was considered the front-runner to replace Pat Shurmur with the Giants after a 4-12 season. He had an interview set with the team hierarchy in early January.

Panthers owner David Tepper went to Rhule’s home in Waco, Texas and beat the Giants to the punch. He offered Rhule seven-year, $9 million annually contract, and got an agreement.

Rhule allegedly offered the Giants a chance to match the deal. However, New York decided to hire Judge, the special teams coordinator for the Patriots.

“I had a chance to have a conversation with them,” Rhule said Thursday. “I was unbelievably flattered, but the truth is it never really got to that point. I got offered the job in Carolina and took it. It just seemed like the right thing for us at the time.”

The storylines extend beyond the coaches.

The game also was supposed to be a matchup of two of the NFL’s best running backs: Christian McCaffrey of the Panthers and Saquon Barkley of the Giants. McCaffrey is on injured reserve with a hamstring injury and Barkley has a badly sprained ankle.

The contest also marks the return of former Jets quarterback Sam Darnold and wideout Robby Anderson to MetLife Stadium. Anderson left New Jersey two years ago and Darnold was traded to Carolina in the offseason.

Carolina has lost three games in a row. The Giants are coming off their two worst losses of the season.

“I just want to win, baby,” Giants safety Jabrill Peppers said. “I want to make plays, go out there and win ballgames.”

RUN THE ROCK

Rhule said the Panthers will recommit to the running game this week. He thinks they have become too pass-heavy and he doesn’t believe that Darnold throwing the ball 40 times per game is the formula for success. He wants at least 30 rushing attempts as the team looks to “find an identity” without McCaffrey. The halfback has missed the last three games with a hamstring injury.

Rookie running back Chuba Hubbard is expected to carry the load.

“We have ran the ball well, but we have not been committed enough to running it — and that’s going to change, I can tell you right now,” Rhule said.

ROTATING O-LINE

Injuries have caused the Giants to change their line in some way every game this season. With LT Andrew Thomas going on injured reserve this week with foot and ankle injuries, the line will change again. Expect Nate Solder or Matt Peart to replace Thomas, with the other starting on the right side. Billy Price and Will Hernandez probably will start at center and right guard, respectively, for the sixth straight week. The left guard will either be Matt Skura for the fourth straight week or Wes Martin. Judge said Corey Cunningham will rotate at both tackles in the game.

NO PASS RUSH

The Panthers are eager to do anything to generate a pass rush. They had 14 sacks in the first three games, but only two in the last three outings.

Panthers defensive end Brian Burns said opposing teams have been keeping an extra player in to protect the quarterback in recent games. Teams also have used three-step dropbacks and quick releases to reduce the sacks.

“The (Vikings) put a tight end and a receiver on both sides usually when they were about to pass the ball,” Burns said. “They were really double-chipping frequently throughout the game. Just putting guys in our way just to mess with our eyes or whatever to slow us down.”

DOWN DEFENSE

Giants coordinator Pat Graham got on his defense before the Rams game and asked them to respond. While he said the group played hard, opponents have been shredding the unit.

Quarterbacks are hitting 74% of their passes and the Giants have given up 44 and 38 points the last two games. The offense has helped opponents with turnovers.

“Still stuff to clean up, whether it’s the run game, the pass game, all that stuff in all facets – coaching as well, in terms of on me,” Graham said. “I’m never complaining about the effort. I thought there were flashes. There were flashes and we’ve got to build on that for this week.”

WHERE’S ROBBY?

Anderson has been a major disappointment since signing a three-year, $37.5 million contract extension this summer. He has failed to develop a chemistry with Darnold, which is perplexing considering they played together for two seasons with the Jets.

A year ago quarterback Teddy Bridgewater targeted Anderson 51 times in the first six games and he caught 40 catches for 566 yards and one touchdown. Through six games this year Anderson has been targeted 40 times by Darnold and has 15 receptions for 190 yards and two touchdowns.