By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Approach to the Game: The Giants never seem to make it look easy anymore. They did run over a bunch of teams in 2008 and did so a few times during the 5-0 start in the disastrous 2009 season. Hell, they even blew out some teams in 2010 (Houston, Seattle, Washington). But every victory seemed to be a touch-and-go battle in 2011 and so far 2012 has been the same.
The Giants came darn close to being 0-2 (and 0-2 at home) and in serious trouble. Ideally, they want to be playing their best ball in December and January and not in September, but they need to string some wins together in order for December to remain relevant. The good news is that Washington and Dallas lost, but the Eagles are 2-0 (albeit a lucky 2-0). The Giants are a better team than the Panthers and they need to demonstrate that on the final scoreboard.
I’m not sure what to make out of the Panthers just yet. They looked pretty bad against the Buccaneers in Week 1, but they impressively rebounded in Week 2 by defeating the New Orleans Saints.
The big worry of course is the short week, combined with the Giants’ injury situation, especially at cornerback and wide receiver. The win over the Buccaneers took a lot out of the Giants. Historically speaking, teams with tough, emotional wins don’t usually perform well the following week, and one would think this is even truer given the short turnaround. The Giants also came out of the game banged up and it is not known whether Hakeem Nicks (foot/ankle), Ahmad Bradshaw (neck), Prince Amukamara (ankle), and Michael Coe (hamstring) will be able to play. David Diehl (knee) and Domenik Hixon (concussion) are surely out.
Somehow, someway, the Giants just need to find a way to beat the Panthers on Thursday and then use the long break to get ready for a huge game against the Eagles. The Giants certainly don’t want to be 1-2 heading into that game.
Giants on Offense: Eli Manning’s pretty good, isn’t he? Even after a disastrous three-interception first half against the Buccaneers, Eli proved once again that as long as he is at quarterback, the Giants have a chance to win the game.
The interesting thing to watch heading into the Panthers game will be the offensive line. With Diehl out, Will Beatty will likely start at left tackle and Sean Locklear at right tackle. These two did pretty well against the Buccaneers. Locklear is not a physical run blocker, but he may be a much better pass protector than Diehl. Will the Giants be able to run the ball? Beatty and Locklear don’t have reputations for being physical run blockers. The Giants ran well out of the shotgun on Sunday, but what about more traditional sets? And depth is a concern. The Giants are now one injury away from James Brewer, Mitch Petrus, or Jim Cordle starting.
The other interesting development is that Andre Brown looked much more decisive running the football than Ahmad Bradshaw. A fluke, or does Brown have real talent? Coming off the bench, he didn’t have time to think about playing against Tampa Bay. He even admitted to be shocked by the media attention after the game. Now with spotlight on him, on national television no less, will he tense up? And where does David Wilson fit into this puzzle? Obviously, Wilson is still learning what it means to be a complete running back (audibles, blitz pick-ups, etc.). It’s a trust factor. His time will come, but the question is how soon? Depending on Bradshaw’s neck, they may need him big time this week.
Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks put on one of the all-time great performances for a receiving duo last week. Twenty-one receptions for 378 yards! Are you kidding me? And Nicks was playing hurt (foot) and got hurt worse (ankle) in the game. He’s a gamer. But will he be able to go this week and if so, will it be more like his performance against the Cowboys or against Tampa Bay? If he can’t go, who will pick up the slack? Domenik Hixon is likely out. Will it be Ramses Barden? Rueben Randle? Jerrel Jernigan?
Eli Manning threw the football 51 times against Tampa Bay. Forty-two of those passes (all but nine) were directed at Nicks, Cruz, and TE Martellus Bennett. These guys are the big three in the Giants passing game right now. Bennett is on the verge of a breakout year and if he can just clean up the little things and play with greater focus and intensity for a full 60 minutes. He’s a huge man who can stretch a defense vertically, but he’s leaving some plays on the field.
As for the Panthers, RDE Charles Johnson is the best pass rusher on a 4-3 defensive line that has problems getting after the quarterback. DT Dwan Edwards does have 2.5 sacks however. The strength of the defense is an instinctive, active linebacking corps with the likes of James Anderson, Jon Beason, rookie Luke Kuechly, and sub Thomas Davis. An average-at-best secondary is made more vulnerable by the pass rush issues. On paper, the Giants’ passing game should be able to do a lot of damage – however, much depends if and how well Nicks plays and the Will Beatty-Charles Johnson match-up.
Giants on Defense: With the status/effectiveness of Prince Amukamara (ankle) and Michael Coe (hamstring) unknown, the primary concern remains at cornerback. Justin Tryon has struggled and Corey Webster is not playing his best football. WR Steve Smith (21 yards per catch) of the Panthers can make you look bad – really bad. And he’s had some pressure taken off of him by the emergence of WR Brandon LaFell (averaging 17 yards per catch). TE Greg Olsen can also catch the football.
First and foremost, the Giants need to shut down the run. Tampa Bay did that (holding the Panthers to 10 yards rushing. But New Orleans did not (219 yards rushing). Talk about a discrepancy!!! QB Cam Newton was the leading rusher with 71 yards on 13 carries. He presents problems not only rushing the football when a pass play breaks down, but the Panthers call designed QB runs, including the option. Most NFL defenses don’t deal well with the option because they don’t see it. But it doesn’t end there…the Panthers have two very good running backs in DeAngelo Williams (69 yards against Saints) and Jonathan Stewart (51 yards).
The problem the Panthers had against Tampa Bay was that Tampa Bay dominated the line of scrimmage. There is no secret to great run defense. You need your defensive line to kick the ass of the offensive line. Jason-Pierre Paul and Linval Joseph are playing great football. They need more help from their teammates, particularly Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck. These two have been far too quiet. Some of that has been scheme (max protection, quick passes), but they need to make their presence felt.
Gap control will be huge. The defensive line and linebackers must play with great discipline, especially on option plays and misdirection. And when the Panthers do pass, the defenders must stay in their assigned pass rush lanes. Getting to the quarterback won’t be as important as keeping Newton in the pocket. The defensive line got greedy against the Cowboys and it hurt the Giants. Hopefully, they learned their lesson. The Giants may want to consider spying Newton with someone like Jacquian Williams or Keith Rivers.
Giants on Specials: Assuming Domenik Hixon can’t go, Rueben Randle needs to focus on securing the football. David Wilson could have an impact in this game on kickoff returns. The Giants still need to tighten up their own kickoff coverage a bit more. Last week, a big return led to points.