Giants’ Patrick Graham on Sam Darnold prep: ‘Forget what happened with the Jets’

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Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold looks to pass in the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium in 2021
Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold looks to pass in the fourth quarter at Bank of America Stadium in 2021

The Giants will look to get back into the win column this Sunday when they take on the Carolina Panthers at MetLife Stadium, but they won’t just be taking on one of the best defenses in the NFL but also a former New York quarterback who has turned his fortunes around.

Sam Darnold’s time with the Jets was not what the 24-year-old or the organization could have envisioned when he was drafted third overall in the 2017 draft. After three seasons, the Jets decided to reboot their quarterback situation, drafting Zach Wilson with the second overall pick, and trading Darnold to the Panthers. And now Darnold returns to New Jersey seemingly a new man and Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham is aware of the transformation.

“Sam [Darnold] is playing pretty good in terms of the first six weeks in terms of what they’ve done,” Graham told the media after practice on Thursday. “Forget what happened with the Jets.”

Darnold has led the Panthers to a 3-3 start while completing 61 percent of his passes and has thrown for seven touchdowns -- he threw nine touchdowns in 12 games with the Jets last season.

A big part of Darnold’s resurgence has been his ability to make plays with his legs. Darnold is tied for second in the NFL in rushing touchdowns (5), and as many teams saw in the Panthers’ 34-28 overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 6, Darnold used his legs to extend plays and lead a game-tying drive in the final minutes.

“I haven’t coached in college in a long time, and I know there’s other quarterbacks in the league we’ve had to deal with over the years, but we rely heavily on our coaches who have dealt with this for a lot of their career,” Graham said when asked about how he plans to deal with Darnold’s ability to run.

“What you’ve got to do is schematically you’ve just gotta make sure it’s assignment football... you’ve got to make sure someone’s accountable for the quarterback every time, especially down there in the red area where it seems to come up, whether it’s quarterback draws, zone read or him just making a play in the scrambles.”

As Graham points out, whether it’s Tom Brady or Darnold, quarterbacks are more likely to run when they are in the red zone, and being disciplined is key. Getting consistent pressure on the quarterback could also help, something the Giants have had trouble with so far this season.

Lack of a Pass Rush

The Giants have just 10 sacks going into Week 7, tied for 27th in the league. Opposing quarterbacks are also completing 74 percent of their passes against the defense, both of which have led to many of the team’s woes this season. Graham contributes that to a lack of a pass rush and puts the onus on him to fix it.

“I think you’ve got to do a better job of me personally just mixing it up 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.... 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.”

When pressed about the seemingly over reliance of pressure from the edge and interior linemen, Graham said that it comes down to matchups.

“We’re going to try to generate the pass rush on the edge and stuff and work those guys. They’re working diligently on it, but again, whether it’s me figuring out where to put them in the right spot to work those edge guys, it always comes down to the matchups for the pass rush. That starts with me putting them in the right spot. I think as we move forward, we’re working on it. We’re working on improving. I think we’ve got guys in those spots that can help us with it.”

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