Sep 152010
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New York Giants 31 (1-0) – Carolina Panthers 18 (0-1)

by The Hack for

Game Summary: It wasn’t always pretty, and at times it was downright bad thumbs ugly, but the New York Giants persevered and with a very strong second half handily defeated the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.  The Opening Day win was important on two fronts.  First and foremost, the Giants were desperate to get out of the gate on a positive note in order to get some of the bad taste of a 3-8 slide that ended their 2009 season.   Secondly, New York did not want to open up their new state of the art stadium with a loss after closing out the old Giants Stadium with a horrible 41-9 drubbing to these same Carolina Panthers.  Mission accomplished.  After a first half that saw the Giants struggle on both sides of the ball yet manage to keep the game close, New York dominated on both sides of the ball in the second half and pulled away with authority.

Coming into the game, the Giants game plan was to keep the vaunted Panther running attack under wraps while establishing the run themselves.  While it took some time to do, the Giants accomplished both tasks in the long run.

Frankly, folks, early on this game looked a lot like a replay of the last three months of the 2009 season.  The Giants looked flat on offense, a little tense on defense, and completely lost on special teams.   The only true bright spots in the first half were the solid QB play from Eli Manning and several huge plays on defense to stop the Panthers from building an early lead.

Finally, it appeared that the Giants were going to take over the game as they scored their second touchdown with just under a minute left in the half.  Not to be, however, as the Giants special teams and defense combined to allow the Panthers to go scorch right down the field in just 42 seconds and snatch the lead back at the half.  Most of The Corner Forum was thinking the same thing:  “Here we go again!”

On Sunday, however, the Giants didn’t lose their confidence.  Instead, they came out of the locker room and absolutely crushed the Panthers the rest of the way.  If not for a couple of late turnovers by the Giants, it could have been a bigger differential.

Offense: As mentioned, the Giants had their full complement of starters available on offense to start the game.  Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks were the starting WRs, as expected Ahmad Bradshaw began the game at halfback, and Travis Beckum started opposite Kevin Boss as the Giants began the game in a two TE set with no FB in the backfield.

The offense didn’t show too many wrinkles on the day, as they were down to one active tight end following the fourth play of the game.  OT William Beatty lined up as the second tight end for much of the afternoon, and Beckum played a fairly solid game which could be best described as trial by fire as he was required to do all the things that Kevin Boss would normally do.  Head Coach Tom Coughlin admitted after the game that the Giants had to change their plans to match the personnel they had to put on to the field, but even with no true ‘blocking’ tight end in the game the running game turned it up a ton in the second half.

Early on, however, the Giants could not get the running game going.  After Eli Manning hit Kevin Boss for an 11 yard gain on the first offensive play of the season, the Giants’ first drive was disastrous as they failed to gain another yard, lost Boss for the game with a concussion and were victimized by a interception deflected off the hands of Nicks.  The second drive fared no better as the Giants lost yardage on a three and out.

Brandon Jacobs came in for the third drive and gave the Giants a little jump start with a 9 yard reception and then a 5 yard run.  After a loss of 1 on a Jacobs run and a 5 yard sack, Manning hit Mario Manningham for a key first down on a 3rd and 16 situation.  It was a tremendous job by Manningham to keep to find the void along the sideline in the zone.  Finally, after another 3 yard gain by Jacobs, Manning found Nicks for a touchdown in the corner of the endzone.

After two more drives went relatively nowhere and resulted in another interception off a tipped ball, Manning lead Giants 80 yards (actually 86 yards due to penalty) in under a minute for a go ahead score at the half.

In the second half, the Giants finally got their running game going and started taking large chunks of time off the clock (they controlled the clock for nearly 20 minutes in the second half).  The Giants scored on their first three drives of the half, then turned the ball over on an interception, relinquished a safety on a blocked punt, and then fumbled deep in Carolina territory while running out the clock.

The Quarterback: Eli Manning played very well, and though his stat line could have been a lot better had he not had three passes tipped and go for interceptions.  On the day, Eli completed 67% of his passes going 20 for 30 for 267 yards, 3 TDs and 3 INTs.  Manning’s QBR was a pedestrian 87.9, but again, would have been much higher had his receivers not dropped five passes (three of which were tipped then intercepted).

Manning stepped up at critical times, especially in the first half when the Giants could not get the running game going.  On the first Giants touchdown drive, Manning completed a crucial 3rd and 16 to keep the drive alive.

With 1:41 left on the clock in the first half, the Giants immediately got themselves into a hole with a penalty on 1st down that left them in 1st and 16.  No matter to Eli, who calmly hit Steve Smith on a crossing patterns for 14 yards, and then when Hakeem Nicks allowed a fourth Manning pass to go off his hands, had Steve Smith alone down the left sideline and induced a pass interference penalty in and a first down.  Another spectacular pass and catch to Hakeem Nicks on the left sideline resulting in another first down and Manning now had the Giants at the Carolina 29 yard line and in position to score with still over a minute to play.  Following an incomplete pass, a 7 yard run by Bradshaw, and a final time out, Manning laid up a beautiful pass for the second touchdown to Nicks.  Vintage end of the half/game Eli Manning.

Despite his good day, however, Manning did show a little rust as he also allowed another delay of game penalty which put the Giants in a 3rd and 20 situation.  He also had two other passes that would should have been intercepted, but the Carolina defenders also had butter fingers on those two plays.  Manning also threw high and behind Kevin Boss on the play in which Boss was injured.

In the second half, Manning led the Giants on 3 straight scoring drives as the Giants finally got their running game going and allowed Manning to only have to throw the ball 12 times.  His most critical play may have been his fourth down an inches conversion in which he did not get very low and frankly didn’t seem to make.  At any rate, they gave him the spot and the Giants took the lead for good on a Tynes field goal later in the drive.

The Running Backs: This game was a tale of two halves as far as running backs go.  Ahmad Bradshaw had 9 carries for 6 yards (0.7 ypc) and Brandon Jacobs carried 4 times for 2 yards (0.5 ypc).  As bad as that is, the Giants were still able to move the ball due to the solid protection that both Jacobs and Bradshaw contributed to in their blitz pickups.  Both backs are very, very good at dissecting the blitz packages and neutralizing them.

The second half was a different story, beginning with the very first play from scrimmage.  The Giants set up in an offset I formation with a double tight end right and a wide out to Eli’s left.  Instead of running right behind Madison Hedgecock and Travis Beckum, Eli pitched left to Jacobs who easily beat the defensive end to the corner then rumbled for for 22 yards behind a nice block by Hakeem Nicks on the corner.  The rest was all Jacobs.  All in all, Bradshaw and Jacobs ran for 112 yards (Eli took two kneel downs for -2 late) in the second half.  Jacobs softened them up early then Bradshaw took over in the late third and then the fourth quarters.

Both backs factored in the passing game as well, catching 4 passes between them for 38 yards.

Though Bradshaw played well, particularly late, he was directly responsible for 2 of the 4 turnovers that the Giants committed.  The first, on a little check down pass from Manning, Bradshaw tipped the ball off his hands directly to the waiting linebacker.  In the fourth quarter, deep in Carolina territory, Bradshaw fumbled the ball away when the Giants were attempting to run out the clock.

The Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: The Giants receiving corps had a very solid game, as the Big Three of Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham combined for 13 receptions for 203 yards and 3 touchdowns.  Smith led the crew with 5 catches, Manningham led the way with 85 yards, and Nicks captured all 3 touchdown passes.  Nicks proved early that he’s a mismatch due to his size and great hands.  He came down with the second touchdown by posting up like a basketball player and just giving the DB no hope to disrupt the play.  Manningham made a couple beautiful catch and runs after running some pretty nice routes on the day.

Hakeem Nicks really did it all, as he became a force in the running game, too.  On the 22 yard run by Jacobs to open the second half, Nicks rode his CB down the field and out of bounds.  Not to be outdone, on the Ahmad Bradshaw touchdown run Mario Manningham ran a post right into the grill of the safety, leaving Bradshaw one on one with the corner who he easily beat.

Ramses Barden received a few snaps, but the only ball that came his way went off his hands for an interception

The Giants suffered a big loss when starting TE Kevin Boss went down with a concussion on the Giants 4th offensive play of the game.  It was apparent that the Giants were going to try to get the big tight end into the game early as Eli went to him twice on the first 4 plays of the drive.  Those plans dashed following the injury, the Giants nightmare of having just one active TE available came true.  OT William Beatty covered as the second tight end for the remainder of the game when required, as back up TE Travis Beckum became the de facto starter.  Beckum had an up and down day, making two catches (a third was called back by penalty), and he did make a couple of decent blocks during the game.  One in particular was on the touchdown run by Ahmad Bradshaw as he ran the DE to his right and out of the play to allow Bradshaw a crease.  Other than that, however, Beckum was a liability along the line and allowed several defenders to easily defeat him and drop the Giants back for a loss.  An example was the 8 yard loss by Bradshaw on the second drive for the Giants when Beckum was abused by the DE who collapsed the entire play.

The Offensive Line: The offensive line was together for the first time in game conditions this year, and they played the entire game.  C Shaun O’Hara played well in his return to the middle, and despite fact that they weren’t able to get the running game going at all in the first half, they stuck with it and began opening holes in the second half.  The line only surrendered one sack and 3 QB hits on the day.  That’s a very good job.

The Bradshaw 39 yard run was one of the most beautifully blocked plays of the day.  RT Kareem McKenzie easily neutralized the DE on his side, one on one, while RG Chris Snee fired out to nail the MIKE linebacker and drive him inside and out of the play.  Center Shaun O’Hara helped chip on the MIKE and LG Richie Seubert crashed inside on the DT, taking him out of the play.  TEs Beckum and Beatty were lined up on the left and took out the other DE and the OLB on that side.  The hole on the right side was open, and FB Madison Hedgecock got through it quickly and while his job was to take out the other OLB, he also took out the safety on that side of the field leaving Bradshaw nothing but green field in front of him.  The coolest thing about the play, is 39 yards downfield, the three players running with Bradshaw were David Diehl, Richie Seubert, and Kareem McKenzie.  For what it’s worth, that run was longer than any other run the Giants had last season.

The line may have had a tough first half, and they certainly had their work cut out for them when Boss went down, they came together and had a very, very solid second half.

Defense: The New York Giants had one mission on Sunday:  Stop.  The.  Run.  Period.  The Giants did a good job initially, allowing 83 (29 on one run) rushing yards in the first half.  DC Perry Fewell didn’t send the all the dogs early as he initially concentrated on making the Panthers put the ball in young QB Matt Moore’s hands.  The Giants only sent four men after Moore early.  The one thing that Fewell did do early was to cover the issues with the third corner back by going with three safeties on nickel packages.  Also, on Carolina’s second drive, we saw Chris Canty lined up at DE with Mathais Kiwanuka as an outside linebacker.  Carolina gashed this formation early with a DeAngelo Williams run on a draw for 29 yards.  On the play, the right tackle rode Canty out of the play while the TE walled off Kiwanuka.  Carolina’s fullback then completely negated MIKE linebacker Jonathan Goff leaving a gaping hole to run through.  Frankly, that was the only big rushing play of the game by Carolina, as the Giants tightened up and held the running game mostly in check for the rest of the day.  This alignment was used throughout the game.

Due to a sputtering offense and horrid special teams play, the defense was called on to keep the Giants in the game early as Carolina began 5 of their 7 first half drives at their own 45 or better (one started from the Giants 29).  Carolina penetrated the Giants 25 yard line or better 4 times in the half, but managed only 3 field goals and a very late touchdown.  That was the key stat of the game.  Had Carolina managed to put a couple of those into the endzone, Carolina could have built a big lead and take the Giants out of their game.

An area of concern with the Giants has been allowing 3rd down conversions, especially at long distances.  On Sunday, Carolina only converted 4 of 9 in the first half and 8 of 17 overall.

As good as the defense was in the first half, specifically with forcing Carolina to settle for field goals, the defense was a monster in the second half.  Of Carolina’s 6 second half drives, 4 ended in turnovers and the other two ended in punts.  Once the Giants built a lead early in the second half, Carolina had no choice but to try to throw the ball to get back into the game.  At that point, Fewell released the hounds and the Giants surrendered just 82 total yards in the entire half, and 20 of those were from accepted penalties.  The Panthers ran the ball just 5 times for 6 yards in the second half.   To go with the 4 turnovers, the Giants added 4 sacks of Moore in the second half as well.

Front 7: During preseason, we were told we’d seen about 10% of what we could expect to see in the regular season.  Well, right off the bat, we saw one major change as DE Mathias Kiwanuka started the game at OLB.  On the first play from scrimmage, Kiwanuka shifted to a two point stance on the left side of the line, dropped into coverage and passed off the TE before covering the fullback who bled into the flat.  That was unexpected, for sure!

The defensive line was a force from the very beginning.  Two players that saw time at unexpected positions, Kiwanuka at linebacker and Chris Canty at DE, were both all over the field making plays.  Canty was in on 5 tackles, half a sack, and had one QB hit.  Kiwanuka had 4 tackles, 2 sacks, another tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a QB hit.  Osi Umenyiora also had a very good game, registering 5 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble.   Justin Tuck and Barry Cofield also had 2 QB hits as the Giants had 10 overall.  As a unit, the front 7 had the majority of the tackles in the game despite the fact that Carolina essentially ditched the run for the entire second half.

The other linebackers, Michael Boley, Jonathan Goff and Keith Bulluck, also played well but were in pass coverage for most of the second half, resulting in few tackles.  One thing that we’d heard this preseason was that play of the defensive line and defensive backs would cover for any weakness that the linebackers might show.  Fewell said in the offseason that the linebackers would be asked to play closer to the line to take away running gaps and true to his word, many times one linebacker or another was lined up on or near the line of scrimmage.  On the last running play that Carolina attempted, Mathias Kiwanuka  shot in from the OLB position, moving towards the line of scrimmage pre-snap, and easily beat the pulling guard and fullback to the point of attack by going through the right guard, coming off him, and dropping HB Jonathan Stewart for no gain.  Boley was also lined up along the line several times.

Defensive Backs: Another area of concern going into the season was the 3rd corner back position.  No one after the first three, Corey Webster, Terrell Thomas and Aaron Ross, has stepped up and shown they can be the go to guy if need be.  As such, Fewell had 3 safeties on the field in a good portion of nickel situations.  Terrell Thomas had a great day in coverage, as he had 4 passes defensed and an interception.  The knock on Thomas was that he had several opportunities to make tackles that would have stopped drives but was unable to do so.  This was evident on his blitz packages as well, as it seems that Thomas would rather not initiate contact.  Also, on the touchdown to Carolina WR Steve Smith before the half, Thomas was beaten, but not badly, down the seam from the slot and appeared to have an opportunity to knock the ball away but didn’t.  It could be he thought S Kenny Phillips had an opportunity for an interception and let it go by.

Speaking of Kenny Phillips, what a day he had!  Phillips had 4 tackles, and none were more important than a touchdown saving shoe-string tackle at the goal line in which he started out lined up wide on the tight end.  When the TE went in motion towards the line, Phillips shadowed him all the way inside and on the snap checked up on him in the middle of the pile.  When Williams bounced the play outside where it was wide open, Phillips peeled off the TE and used his speed to get back to Williams and take him down by the shoes.  If Carolina scored a touchdown there, the whole game could have come crashing down on the Giants.  Later in the second half, Phillips had a key interception in the endzone, thwarting an attempted comeback by Carolina.

Staying on the safeties, wow what a difference a year makes!  Deon Grant made the first huge impact play of the day in which several were made when he saved almost sure points with an incredible over the top interception on Carolina’s drive after Manning’s first interception.  Again, it’s not hard to imagine how quickly this game could have gotten out of hand early for the Giants.

Not to be outdone, S Antrel Rolle also had a solid game, especially in run support and on safety blitzes.  Rolle led the Giants with 8 tackles and also had a QB hit.

CB Corey Webster had an outstanding day, but because he was so effective his number wasn’t called that often.  Webster was in on 5 tackles and had 2 passes defensed.

Backup CB Bruce Johnson didn’t have a horrible day, yet stood out like a sore thumb on a 25 yard pass interference penalty in the fourth quarter that got Carolina to the doorstep of the endzone where they could have made the game close again.

Fewell said that the Giants had ball hawks in the secondary, and you can’t argue with the results so far.  As a team, the Giants had 9 passes defensed and 3 interceptions.  I cannot recall the last time the Giants had 9 passes defensed.

Special Teams: P Matt Dodge was horrible.  There’s no way to sugar coat it.  If not for the defense, his first punt could have resulted in a disaster.  A line drive that hardly got 20 yards in the air was returned 28 yards after it had absolutely no hang time.  Dodge looked visibly shaken on the sidelines following the play.  Fortunately, Dodge only had to punt three times as the Giants usually scored or turned the ball over on their drives.   The punt block was not Dodge’s fault, as Bryan Kehl lost his man and gave him a free release for the block.  It’s impossible to assess the punt coverage team because they never had a chance in this one.

As for the punt return team, Darius Reynaud returned 4 for 27 yards, but the Panthers did a good job of directional kicking so it’s still to be seen what he can do.  He certainly was better than Sinorice Moss and he keeps Manningham out of the mix, which is good.

I’d sure like to know what happened to Lawrence Tynes’ kickoff game during the week.  After consistently kicking the ball deep and even into the endzone, every single one of Tyne’s kicks this week were short.  Coverage again was lacking.  The average starting position after kickoffs for Carolina was their 30, for the Giants it was their 27.  The Giants averaged 13.4 yards per return while Carolina averaged 24.6.

Coaching: Head Coach Tom Coughlin made one glaring error in challenging the spot on Bradshaw’s 29 yard run, believing it was a touchdown.  That was not a smart call.  Good job by OC Kevin Gilbride to make the necessary calls and personnel adjustments when tight end Kevin Boss went down early.  While one game does not a sample size make, what Perry Fewell dialed up was absolutely what Giants fans everywhere wanted to see.  Aggressive, smart, mostly mistake free football on the defensive side of the ball.  Nice!

Offensive Player of the Game: While several players could get the nod here, I have to go with Hakeem Nicks and his three touchdowns.  Honorable mention to Eli Manning, William Beatty for coming in and doing the yeomen’s work at TE, and Mario Manningham for a few nice receptions.

Defensive Player of the Game: Again, there are several players I could go with here. How about Deon Grant for the spectacular, tone setting interception early?  What about Kenny Phillips for his interception in the endzone and touchdown saving tackle?  Maybe Terrell Thomas for his 4 passes defensed and his own endzone interception?  All worthy candidates but today I’m going with Mathias Kiwanuka for his solid play at two positions.  Kiwi had 2 sacks, 4 tackles, and a forced fumble and was a force out there.

(Box Score – Carolina Panthers at New York Giants, September 12, 2010)
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