New York Giants 36 (2-1) – Carolina Panthers 7 (1-2)
By rnargi for BigBlueInteractive.com
Last week in my review I said and will quote here,
“There’s just something about this team that you can’t put a finger on. When is the last time the Giants dominated from start to finish?”
Well, so much for that! The New York Giants put an absolute old fashioned thumping on Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers last Thursday at Bank of America Stadium outside of Charlotte. The Giants dominated from the opening snap and never looked back, making for a very stress free Thursday night viewing experience for Big Blue fans everywhere.
Not many people gave New York much of a chance coming off an incredible comeback victory against Tampa Bay the Sunday before. Many pundits saw the short week, going on the road against a good Carolina team, with several key parts missing, dooming the Giants. Not so, as the 2009 draft class and others stepped up for injured starters and excelled beyond the wildest of expectations.
All three phases of the team clicked on Thursday as the Giants dominated on offense, defense and special teams. On offense, New York scored on eight of ten drives, punting only twice and not turning the ball over. On defense, the Giants forced Carolina to punt on their first three drives and recorded an interception in the first half. After the special teams recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff of the second half, the defense allowed the only sustained drive of the evening for Carolina (for a touchdown) before recording two more interceptions. Finally, the special teams recovered a muffed punt late in the fourth quarter to essentially end the game.
On the night, New York outgained Carolina by nearly 100 yards, ran 13 more offensive plays, had more than twice the rushing yards, and won the time of possession battle by more than 12 minutes. New York continued to struggle a bit in the green zone, converting six attempts into three touchdowns and three field goals. The Giants were a bit better in goal to go situations, where they scored touchdowns on two out of three situations.
With the Giants leading 20-0 at the half, and extending that to 23-0 after recovering a fumble on the second half kickoff, even the most ardent New York fan must have had that jittery feeling because of the missed opportunities in the green zone. Sure enough, Carolina drove 80 yards for their only score of the game but it took 13 plays and 6:24 off the clock. When the Giants put their fourth field goal on the board after the next drive, Fat Man and his crew were breathing easy in Charlotte!
Back to the 2009 draft class, which to this point had really only produced elite WR Hakeem Nicks, how about the performances by LT Will Beatty (2nd round, 60th overall), WR Ramses Barden (3rd round, 85th overall) and Andre Brown (4th round, 129th overall)? Granted Brown bounced around and had been cut a number of times by a number of teams before coming back to the Giants and making the squad out of preseason this year. All three were thrust into the starting lineup with the Giants chanting the mantra of “next man up.” Each contributed mightily to the win and raised eyebrows throughout Giants land as well as around the league. Beatty, after missing half the year last season with an eye injury and the first game this year due to back issues, is back starting at left tackle now that RT David Diehl is injured and Sean Locklear has switched to his more natural right tackle position. Brown was subbing for the injured Ahmad Bradshaw after a strong performance in relief last week against Tampa. Most impressive may have been WR Ramses Barden who was in for the hobbled Hakeem Nicks. Many people feel that this is the last chance for Barden with the Giants. New York has two of the best receivers in the game with Nicks and Victor Cruz, and highly touted rookie Rueben Randle is waiting in the wings. Barden was a beast on Thursday night, looking like Plaxico Burress against Green Bay CB Al Harris in the 2007 NFC Championship game.
It was a strong showing by the understudies, and bodes well for the future of the Giants this season as they get some of their people back.
After an amazing fourth quarter against the Buccaneers gave the Giants their first win just four days earlier, Eli Manning picked up right where he left off. Despite knowing that Carolina was going to try to take Victor Cruz away from him, Manning hit Cruz on the first play from scrimmage. The tone was set, as Manning threw to eight different receivers but put Carolina on notice that Cruz would be in the mix.
Manning was patient and deadly on Thursday night, completing 18 of 24 passes (75%) in the first half for 192 yards and a touchdown. In the second half, Manning completed 9 of 11 before yielding to David Carr following the Giants’ last touchdown with 9:40 left in the game.
On the night, Manning completed 27 of 35 passes for 288 yards and 1 touchdown. His passer rating was 110.2 while his QBR stood at a scintillating 93.1 out of 100. Manning leads the league in yards with 1,011.
Manning spread the ball around well, throwing to his wide receivers 20 times (completing 16) and going to his backs and tight ends 15 times (completing 11). As noted, Manning hardly ever forces a pass any longer and has no problem going to the check down back or tight end when necessary.
The play of the night for Manning may have been his touchdown pass. On the play, the Giants were in a 3rd and 3 situation at the Carolina 14 yard line. The Giants showed a three wide receiver set. Two receivers were split to Eli’s right with a single receiver, tight end, and Andre Brown to Eli’s left. In the shotgun, Eli set the play, looked to his right and gave Cruz a hand signal, then took the snap. Carolina showed a single safety to the right of Eli and brought the MIKE linebacker on a blitz. Brown stoned the blitzer at the line of scrimmage while Eli held the outside linebacker on the weak side along with the safety long enough for Martellus Bennett to win his seam route against the down low safety. Manning’s pass was out of the reach of the closing free safety and the trailing safety that was supposed to cover Bennett couldn’t get back into the play. The ball was right on the numbers for Bennett, easy touchdown.
Manning was never under much pressure and was sacked just once. According to the broadcast, the Giants had run 90 plays between sacks. After the game, the set of NFL Network were making light of the fact that Manning had just one tiny grass stain on his entire uniform.
Andre Brown got his chance to be a starting running back in the NFL and played like he never wants to be known as anything but for the rest of his career. Brown keyed the entire night with his second carry. Brown took the handoff and broke an attempted tackle by LB Jon Beason and followed outstanding downfield blocking by WR Victor Cruz and TE Martellus Bennett for 31 yards. On the night, Brown gained 113 yards on 20 carries for a 5.7 ypc average. His 77 first quarter yards were the most gained by a Giant in the first quarter since Tike Barber many years ago. Brown ran very hard, finishing his runs falling forward and carrying players with him. More impressively than his determination when hitting opposing tacklers, Brown has good patience. He broke several runs after waiting for the hole to develop. Brown also got into the end zone twice on 1 yard runs, and I’d be shocked if he’s not the goal line back from here on out regardless of Bradshaw’s return. In one and a half games, Brown is ranked 18th in the NFL in rushing with 184 yards. That’s more than such standout running backs as Darren McFadden, Michael Turner and Stephen Jackson. Only five players in the league with more than 32 carries have a better yard per carry average than Brown, too.
Brown also caught three of five passes thrown his way for 17 yards. Brown was solid in pass protection, but did allow the one sack on Eli. There was discussion on the game thread over at The Corner Forum that seemed to blame that play on Sean Locklear, but it appeared the play was meant to be blocked just as it was, leaving Brown on Carolina DE Frank Alexander. The replay indicates that Brown was locked up one on one, but did not attack, letting Alexander gain a head of steam and power through him. It’s my opinion that the sack was on Brown.
RB Da’Rel Scott got the mop up duty in the fourth quarter, gaining just 9 yards on 6 carries. Rookie RB David Wilson only managed one carry in a game where many thought he’d get a decent amount of looks. Wilson caught one pass for three yards. As long as Bradshaw and Brown are healthy and running well, Wilson will be able to pay his dues and learn his craft from the sidelines and in practice. It’s apparent the Giants are unwilling to trust the rookie in pass protection at this point.
FB Henry Hynoski had another excellent day paving the way for Andre Brown, consistently opening holes at the second level. Hynoski also caught two passes for 15 yards.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends:
With the absence of WR Hakeem Nicks with a sore foot, WR Ramses Barden was pressed into duty as the number two wide receiver on Thursday night. As mentioned, this may be his last season to make it as a Giant and Thursday night was his chance to make a statement. Boy, what a statement he made! Barden got involved early and often, seeing the most throws from Eli Manning with 10, catching nine. Barden’s haul resulted in 138 yards with a long of 23. The slant and deep in was deadly as Manning and Barden seemed to hook up at will inside. Barden we excellent using his big frame to box out the cornerbacks and also was able to get off press coverage which has been the knock on him since he came into the league. Four of Barden’s receptions were for 20-23 yards.
WR Victor Cruz saw a lot of double coverage yet still managed to catch 6 of 8 passes for 42 yards. Cruz’s specialty is converting first downs and three of his catches on Thursday moved the chains.
Rookie WR Rueben Randle was the primary third receiver on Thursday, seeing the field on 27 offensive plays. Manning rarely looked his way, and Randle caught just one pass out of three thrown his way. Considering Manning’s success with his other receivers, tight ends and backs, there was no real need to go Randle’s way often.
TE Martellus Bennett had another solid game and set a Giants record when he scored a touchdown for the third straight game since starting with New York. Bennett was called for a holding penalty on a nice run by Brown but other than that looked solid in the running game. Bennett earned the wrath of Eli by not continuing a route in which Manning threw deep while Bennett stopped. In all, Bennett caught 6 of 7 balls for 73 yards and a touchdown.
I said it last week and I’ll say it again: I don’t think that the Giants should change up this offensive line when David Diehl comes back. In the entire game, only RT Sean Locklear gave up a significant pressure, and it appeared that it should have been a sack. On the play, Eli managed to get rid of the ball but Manning’s knee looked to have already hit the turf. I was surprised that Carolina didn’t challenge that play.
The entire line was solid in the running game, as holes that opened early and late were exploited by Brown. With the strong blocking coming from the TE position as well as from Hynoski, the Giants look like a well-balanced football team for the first time in ages. Corner Forum contributor Bobby Epps had an interesting observation in which he noted that it’s been a full year now that LG Kevin Boothe, C David Bass, and RG Chris Snee have been playing together. Bass was outstanding on Thursday, arguably playing his best game of his Giant career. Boothe has to be down around 40 pounds and he’s been very good at getting to the second level. There are no two ways about it, Snee has lost a step but he had a much better game Thursday as well.
The surprise is Sean Locklear. Eric from BBI pointed out that anytime you take a journeyman who had little playing time with the Washington Redskins it seems you’re asking for trouble. It’s clear that without him, however, the Giants would be in deep trouble. He’s been solid as Kareem McKenzie’s replacement.
Will Beatty was terrific and I can’t see any scenario other than injury that he’s not the starting left tackle for the Giants for many years to come.
Defensive Front 7:
Despite the injuries the Giants were looking to overcome on offense, my biggest worry going into the game on Thursday night was how the defensive line would hold up against the option running offense presented by Cam Newton. My worries were for naught, as Carolina ran for just 60 yards, with only 6 coming from Newton.
The key was the strong play of the defensive ends. Cam Newton is very good at the read and react option to the halfback in which he waits for the end to commit then decides whether to continue the hand off to the half back or pull it back and keep it. Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul consistently held contain and blew up those plays. It appeared they had made up their minds to force Newton to make the hand off instead of letting him get outside on the edge with the ball, letting the linebackers and safeties make the tackle on the running back.
We are extremely spoiled as fans to now have another elite defensive end to root for and count on as a New York Giant in Pierre-Paul. JPP had another monster game, registering two passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage, both of which he nearly intercepted. Although Tuck and Umenyiora didn’t register a lot of tackles, their play influenced what the Panthers could and couldn’t do on offense. Both were effective if not flashy. Umenyiora did get his first sack of the year.
I mentioned last week that it was worrisome that DTs Linval Joseph and Rocky Bernard were being asked to eat up a ton of minutes in the middle. Both still played a lot of minutes but were spelled a lot more this week by both Markus Kuhn and Marvin Austin. In his first game ever, Austin played 17 snaps but did not register on the stat sheet. I plan to key on him more in the next game.
The Giants linebackers were led by Michael Boley, who registered his third interception on the young season. Boley was in on 6 tackles and combined with JPP for a sack. Boley also knocked down another Newton pass. The Giants rotated all of their linebackers on Thursday night, as Spencer Paysinger, Mark Herzlich, Chase Blackburn, Mathais Kiwanuka and Jaquain Williams all saw playing time. Combined, they registered 6 tackles. On the night, the Giants hit QB Cam Newton just three times (in the pocket) with the two sacks.
New York played solidly in the secondary, yielding 19 completions on 33 passing plays. Newton completed just 16 of 30 passes. Most importantly, the Giants defensed seven passes, five by the back 7, including the three interceptions. Again the Giants were banged up when CB Corey Webster broke his hand and S Antrel Rolle left with a lacerated knee. Webster again had his ups and downs as he was called for a pass interference penalty which in my opinion was more a factor of where the ball was thrown than anything truly illegal that Webster did. Webster was engaged with the receiver at the top of the route, and the ball happened to be outside of the players and both were caught flat footed, making it appear that Webster was interfering. I thought it would have been a good non call. Later, Webster was also called for holding downfield. One play that needs to be noted was the tackle that Webster made on RB DeAngelo Williams on the first Carolina possession.
On a first and 10 play from the Panther 49 yard line, Carolina was going no huddle with two receivers split wide and one TE. Newton was in shotgun with William 3 yards behind him and Mike Tolbert just to Newton’s left. On the snap, Newton pulled the ball back from Tolbert who was destroyed by JPP and rolled left. CB Jayron Hosley took Newton head on at the 50 and dropped him, but just as he was hit Newton pitched to Williams further left and outside. WR Steve Smith tried to block Webster, who got off just in time to get an arm between Williams’ legs and trip him up for just a seven yard gain. That play very well may have gone for a touchdown had Webster not been able to trip him up. If the Panthers had scored there, it could have been a completely different game.
Hosley and CB Prince Amukamara both played a lot of minutes and played well. When Antrel Rolle went out with his knee injury, former Colt and now reserve safety Stevie Brown came in and instantly picked off Cam Newton in the end zone and returned it out to the 43 yard line. S Will Hill also had a pass defensed at the goal line just before the Brown interception.
Before going out, Rolle led the Giants in tackles with seven solo.
It’s safe to say after several years of up and down play by the Giants special teams, they have become a solid unit. New York recovered a muffed punt and a fumble on a kickoff return, leading to two of Lawrence Tynes’ five field goals. Tynes continues to be perfect on the season.
P Steve Weatherford only punted twice on the night, with no yardage returned. The kickoff coverage teams again did well, giving up a long of 28 on nine kickoffs with three touchbacks. The return teams never really got a shot at anything as the only returns on the night were 19 yards on a kickoff return by David Wilson and one punt return for 6 yards by Rueben Randle.
After the game, many of the Giants gave all the credit for being ready for the unpredictable Carolina offense to HC Tom Coughlin and DC Perry Fewell. The Giants played with great discipline on defense and with deadly precision and toughness on offense. OC Kevin Gilbride called a masterful game, and after hanging with the running game despite the loss of Bradshaw last week it was good to see he stayed with the program this week and trusted Brown with the ball.
The Giants played a nearly perfect game on Thursday night, dominating in all three phases and turning a potent Carolina offense into mush. The fact that they were so dominant on offense with four key members missing was a little surprising, but maybe it shouldn’t have been. The talent of Brown and Barden had always been evident if not on display. To see it on display was a beautiful thing to watch.
The Giants still have injury issues to deal with and will need their full complement, particularly on defense, when they go up against the Philadelphia Eagles this weekend. Though I despise Thursday night games and the short week it brings, to have 11 days between this and the next game can only do the Giants good.