Television Note: This game will be televised locally in the New York/New Jersey area on WNBC at 8PM on Saturday. It will also be televised nationally on the NFL Channel at 8PM on Sunday. Because I will only be able to see the game on the latter channel, my game review will be a bit later than usual.
Approach to the Game – Carolina Panthers at New York Giants, August 20, 2005: This game will be a superb test for the Giants. Over the past two seasons, the Giants have been one of the NFL’s worst teams. The Panthers are likely to be a serious Super Bowl contender and are everything the Giants hope to be: well-coached, tough, physical, powerful ground game, sound passing game, a superb defense, and strong special teams. The Panthers play old style NFC football. With the starters for the Giants likely to play well into the second quarter, we will get a much better read on the Giants this week.
Giants on Offense: While much fan attention has been diverted to rising star HB Brandon Jacobs, the diehard fans still realize that QB Eli Manning is the key to the season. Other than his TD throw to WR Plaxico Burress and his bad decision and overthrow to TE Jeremy Shockey last week, all of Manning’s tosses were of the shorter variety. It would be nice to see him make a number of medium- to long-distance throws to his receivers. Amani Toomer did not have a catch last week and Manning did not connect with another receiver other than Burress. The Panthers front four is strong and they can often generate a pass rush without blitzing. But they will blitz too. We’ll get a far better read on how Manning deals with pressure in his face on Saturday night.
Toomer has had a strong camp and I personally would like to see that translate onto the football field. The real question is this – how good is Amani Toomer? Is he someone who still concerns opposing defenses or not? Can he make the big play down the field against quality corners? How comfortable is he at the flanker (or “Z” position)? Toomer will be matched up on Ken Lucas, a good corner. So will Plaxico as he faces RCB Chris Gamble.
The third position right now belongs to David Tyree, who did not make much of an impact last week. Personally, I’d love to see Tim Carter get more opportunities with the first team unit. Jamaar Taylor – also a favorite of mine – remains injury-prone and is unlikely to play on Saturday. Willie Ponder also remains in the mix and will be looking to redeem himself from a horrible outing last week. Michael Jennings and Ataveus Cash will get a chance to return punts against Carolina and could help their respective causes with a strong receiving game as well.
Up front, I can think of few better tests for the starting offensive line than the Carolina Panthers’ defense. RT Kareem McKenzie will really have his hands full with DE Julius Peppers as will LT Luke Petitgout against DE Mike Rucker. Inside, the Panthers are tough. The real big match-up there for the Giants will be LG David Diehl against DT Kris Jenkins. Diehl played just OK in pass protection last week. It will also be fun to watch TE Jeremy Shockey battle against our old friend SLB Brandon Short (Late Update: Brandon Short suffered a serious foot injury last week and will not play against the Giants).
I think it is pretty obvious to all of us that Tiki Barber will be the #1 back and Brandon Jacobs will soon be the #2 back. Who will the #3 back be? Ernie Accorsi talked up Derrick Ward before camp and said that some of the coaches felt they didn’t need to draft Jacobs because of Ward, but Ward has been limited due knee surgery rehab. He hasn’t had an opportunity to impress and time is running out. Meanwhile, Mike Cloud played well last week. I am not a big fan of Cloud’s because I don’t think he can get outside, but he was very tough running between the tackles against the Browns.
As for the backups, it sounds like Jesse Palmer’s days are numbered. Tim Hasselbeck will see the bulk of the remaining playing time. The team needs to see a good performance out of him or the coaches, front office, and fans may start to get really nervous about the backup QB situation. Jared Lorenzen will also likely see some snaps this week as Palmer may not.
Giants on Defense: Again, a great test up front for the Giants who will be facing one of the few true smash-mouth running games in the NFL. The Panthers love to grind the football at you and the Giants’ rush defense is a question mark. The Panthers will try to maul DE Michael Strahan, DT Kendrick Clancy, DT William Joseph, and DE Osi Umenyiora. If these four are not strong, physical, tough, and aggressive enough, we will know pretty quickly. I’d also like to see more of defensive tackles Kenderick Allen and Damane Duckett this week (the latter will be playing against his former team). At end, Justin Tuck will likely have a hard time as he was largely controlled last week on running plays by the Browns. The rest of the ends (other than Eric Moore, who will not play) look like camp fodder. The Giants should start playing some of their tackles at end in order to give them experience.
The big story on defense is the switch of Carlos Emmons to weakside linebacker and making Reggie Torbor the new starting strongside linebacker. Torbor will likely experience growing pains, especially in coverage. That’s why it is important to give him as many reps as possible. This game will be a good test for Antonio Pierce, an intense, cerebral middle linebacker, who is a bit on the light side. The strength of his game is not overpowering big backs in the hole so this will be an interesting match-up to watch.
As for the reserves, the pressure may be mounting on Kevin Lewis and Nick Greisen to perform. Both are veterans who can play all three linebacker spots, so there is a good chance they will be kept. But if one of the young linebackers flashes enough, a job could be at stake. A player to watch is Chase Blackburn, who played well last week. T.J. Hollowell and Jim Maxwell need to step it up soon.
The secondary will be tested by Jake Delhomme, particularly on play-action. Barring injury, we pretty much know who the corners are who will make the team (Will Allen, Will Peterson, Curtis Deloatch, Frank Walker, Corey Webster). At safety, Gibril Wilson is obviously also safe and the favorites to land spots are Brent Alexander, Shaun Williams, and James Butler. Curry Burns and Diamond Ferri need to impress now in order to make it.
Giants on Special Teams: The Giants really miss Mark Jones (foot) at punt returner. Willie Ponder muffed a punt last week and does not look real natural returning punts. It’s now Michael Jenning’s chance to impress this week. Ataveus Cash will likely get an opportunity against the Panthers too. If one of these guys can’t do it, the Giants need to get Jones back fast or bring someone else in.
Kickoff coverage was bit spotty last week.
We still have not seen Jay Feely attempt a field goal as a Giant.