Sep 102010
 
 September 10, 2010  Posted by  Game Previews and Reviews

By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com

Approach to the Game – Carolina Panthers at New York Giants, September 12, 2010: Three years removed from the franchise’s seventh NFL title, and two years removed from being the #1 seed in the NFL playoffs, the Giants find themselves at a crossroads entering 2010.  The team’s four-year playoff run ended with a disappointing thud in 2009 when a 5-0 start was squandered by an ugly 3-8 regular-season finish.

Injuries hit the Giants hard in 2009, but that does not excuse the worst defensive performance in recent memory.  Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan was fired in the offseason, replaced by former Buffalo Bills’ defensive coordinator and interim head coach Perry Fewell.  Defense was also the focus of the Giants’ offseason personnel moves.  The big question for New York is will it be enough?

Offensively, if everyone is healthy, the Giants have enough talent to be very good.  Eli Manning is the quarterback that non-Giants fans (and some Giants fans) love to hate for some reason, but he’s one of the best in the game.  The Giants still have a solid one-two punch at running back with Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs.  Kevin Boss is a good tight end.  And the receiving corps may be the best in team history.  The potential trouble spots?  Like every other team in the NFC East, the offensive line.  The line appears more brittle than it has in recent years and the starting five rarely practiced or played together all preseason due to various injuries.  And there is no depth behind Boss at all.  If he goes down, the Giants may be in trouble.

Defensively, the Giants could hardly be worse than they were in 2009.  The good news for the G-Men is there is talent on this side of the ball.  Two high draft picks were added to the defensive line, and the line flashed some of its old glory in the preseason.  The secondary should be much, much better.  Kenny Phillips returns at safety and Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant were also added to the position.  Corey Webster and Terrell Thomas are a very good corner combination.  The issue is one of depth at corner.  Aaron Ross has a painful foot injury that will nag him all season.  And the Giants 4th and 5th corners were not impressive in the preseason.  At linebacker, can the trio of Michael Boley, Jonathan Goff, and Keith Bulluck get the job done against the run and in coverage?

The biggest problem the Giants may actually have in 2010 is special teams.  Losing punt and kickoff returner Domenik Hixon for the season was a huge blow.  The Giants traded for Darius Reynaud to help fill that hole.  Jeff Feagles has retired and an untested rookie, Matt Dodge, takes his place.  Kickoff and punt coverage was very shoddy in the preseason.

The opener is a big game.  The last thing the Giants want is to be 0-1 heading off to Indianapolis to face a Colts team that rarely loses early in the season.

Giants on Offense: For various reasons, the Giants were not as effective running the football in 2009 and they were in 2008.  The #1 question mark facing the Giants on offense is can this team get back to punishing opposing defenses running the football.  Ahmad Bradshaw looked very sharp in the preseason and is the new starting halfback.  He can create even when the blocking breaks down.  The big question with him – being a smaller back who has had some significant injury issues with his feet and ankles – is can he take the pounding?  Though not starting, Brandon Jacobs will undoubtedly get a lot of work, and in fact, may still end up with more touches.  Also, don’t be surprised to see D.J. Ware see some time in passing situations.

But for the backs to be truly effective, the offensive line, fullback, and tight end need to block better than they did in 2009.  The old gang on the offensive line is back, but they seem more brittle.  Can they stay healthy?  Will the time they missed playing together in the preseason hurt cohesion and effectiveness early this season?

To me, the #1 shock of the 53-man roster is the fact that the Giants only have ONE tight end on the roster.  (Travis Beckum is not a tight end, but an H-Back).  I have never heard of a non-“run-and-shoot” team carrying only one tight end.  If the Giants go to a 2- or 3-tight end (heavy) formation, obviously they will have to use offensive linemen as blockers.  Does this fact make the Giants more predictable and easier to defend?  What if Kevin Boss gets hurt?  Like the depth issue at safety last year, the depth at tight end makes me VERY nervous heading into 2010.

Finally, the Giants need Madison Hedgecock to play better at fullback than he did last year.  Granted, he was suffering from a serious shoulder injury, but with only one tight end on the roster, Hedgecock will be more important than ever.

Last season, passing against Carolina was a problem for many teams.  It is important to run the ball for New York, not just to maintain their balance and control the tempo of the game, but because match-up wise, it serves the Giants better. Coach Coughlin gave the following overview of Carolina’s defense:

“Same kind of defense (as last year), (but) a new structure. The front is playing the same. Their tackles are different, but they’re getting after it just exactly the same. (DT Ed) Johnson inside is a load. (DT Louis) Leonard is a load. (DE Tyler) Brayton’s playing well. (DE) Charles Johnson. They’ve got a young kid named (DE) Greg Hardy who has played very well in the preseason. Their linebackers are fast, aggressive, downhill players. (Dan) Connor in the middle has allowed them to put the real speed at both outside backer positions. Their two corners (Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall) are veteran players. They will take chances. They will take risks. They have a lot of faith in what’s going on up front. The safeties are very aggressive. (Charles) Godfrey’s down at the line of scrimmage. He’s a physical tackler. (Sherrod) Martin is a very fast kid playing in that secondary. They have a good team. Preseason, you saw it.”

My offensive keys?  Same as they will be all year… run the football, keep mistakes to a minimum and don’t turn the ball over, finish drives in the red zone by getting touchdowns.

Giants on Defense: This is the side of the ball where I have no clue as to what to expect.  In the preseason, many of the same problems that plagued the Giants last year were still apparent.

Coach Fewell says not to worry.  “You probably saw 10 percent, maybe 20 percent in the preseason, maybe, if that,” said Fewell. “How confident am I that our guys will have our package down? I’m very confident… I have a plan of attack that I want to try and dictate what (the Panthers) will see. So I’m not going to be defensive. I’m going to be offensive, and I’m going to try and dictate what they will see.”

Sorry Perry, but until I see otherwise on the playing field, I worry a number of things:

  • Since the Giants did not practice 80-90 percent of their defense in the preseason games, how do we know they will be sharp, or effective at what he wants to run?
  • How good will the Giants run defense be with Michael Boley now on the strongside and Jonathan Goff at middle linebacker?  Will Osi Umenyiora improve his play against the run?
  • When the Giants get teams into 3rd-and-long, can the defense finish the deal and force a punt?  Too many times in the preseason the first-team defense gave up first-down completions on 3rd-and-long.
  • Can anyone on this team cover a tight end?
  • For a team that has not been good at creating turnovers, especially interceptions, in recent years, Fewell intends to mix up his coverages more, playing a bit off more, so the back seven can read the quarterback and come up with more interceptions.  Will this work and lead to more turnovers, or simply make it easier for opposing quarterbacks to find openings down the field?

What should we expect on Sunday?  If you recall, reports out of camp said the Giants were using heavy defensive line formations that even had tackles like Canty playing defensive end at times.  There were even 5-DL sets.  And in pass rush situations, Fewell seemed to use the old four-aces packages with four DE’s on the field at the same time.

What is clear first and foremost is the Giants need to limit the damage of Carolina’s two-headed monster rushing attack.  Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams both rushed for over 1,000 yards last season.  Both are very dangerous.  Stewart is more the pounder and Williams the guy who makes people miss.  They wear down opposing defenses.  You can’t completely stop them, but you have to limit them as much as possible.  The #1 defensive key for the Giants in this game is stopping the run.

Now that said, Carolina Head Coach John Fox knows the Giants know this.  He also knows that the Giants’ linebackers have had issues in coverage.  Even though the Panthers don’t tend to use their tight ends as much as some other teams in the passing game, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Panthers throw early to the tight end or running backs.  Wouldn’t you?  Until the Giants demonstrate they can cover a tight end, teams will hurt them.

The other area where the Giants need to be careful is the draw play on 3rd-and-long.  The Panthers will run the football even in situations where it seems to be an obvious passing down.  And this has hurt the aggressive pass rushers of the Giants before as they shoot up the field after the quarterback, leaving huge gaps for the running back.

Against the pass, other than the tight ends and backs, the Giants obviously need to worry about Steve Smith.  And if Aaron Ross (foot) doesn’t play, will the Panthers be able to exploit the Giants’ nickel package with either Bruce Johnson or Deon Grant in the game?  Don’t underestimate quarterback Matt Moore.  He was 4-1 as a starter last season and torched the Giants repeatedly in the final game at Giants Stadium.  How do you make any opposing quarterback ineffective?  Hit him.  Sack him.  The Giants have to get to Moore.

Giants on Special Teams: Punter Matt Dodge improved during the preseason, but this is for real and he’s likely to be nervous as hell.  He was terrible in his first preseason game.  Will the same nervousness cause a repeat performance in the home opener?  If I’m the Panthers, I rush him like hell, try to rattle him, and maybe get a block.

Kickoff and punt return coverage was dreadful for the Giants in the preseason.  Losing the field position battle to a run-oriented team like the Panthers will not help matters.

It looks like Darius Reynaud will return punts, but we don’t know yet if he will return kickoffs or if someone like D.J. Ware will do so.

Prediction: The Panthers always play well against the Giants and usually beat them.  Even in 2008, the Giants had to come from way behind to pull out the victory.  Carolina may or may not be very good in 2010, but this team has New York’s number.

I am also very concerned about one word: resiliency.  In 2007, the Giants were the most resilient team in the NFL.  In 2009, they were the least resilient team.  Bad things happen in EVERY football game.  You have to be mentally tough enough to overcome it or you will get beat.  If the defense gives up an easy score, or the offense turns the football over, or the special teams gives up a big play, will the team overcome adversity?  Or will it fold like a house of cards?  Until the Giants prove to me that they are a resilient team again, I will be cautious jumping on the bandwagon.  Don’t forget how bad the collapse was at the end of 2009.  The Giants played two of the worst games I’ve ever seen and seemed to quit on their coach.  Does Coach Coughlin still have this team’s ear?

Panthers 27 – Giants 13.

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Eric Kennedy

Founder and owner of BigBlueInteractive.com, which is now entering its 20th season.

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