New York Giants: Most Critical Matchups vs. Carolina Panthers

Pete Schauer@@Pete_SchauerCorrespondent ISeptember 20, 2012

New York Giants: Most Critical Matchups vs. Carolina Panthers

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    Thursday night's matchup between the New York Giants (1-1) and the Carolina Panthers (1-1) will feature two of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL.

    There's Eli Manning, a two-time Super Bowl MVP who makes his living in the pocket, and there's Cam Newton, 2011 Rookie of the Year, who kills opposing defenses with both his arm and his legs.

    NFL fans will see a handful of Pro Bowl-caliber players going at it for 60 minutes.

    So which matchups are the most intriguing?

    Let's find out:

Michael Boley vs. Cam Newton

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    Cam Newton is extremely dangerous when the pocket breaks down, and against a tough front four of the Giants defense, the odds are that's going to happen a lot on Thursday night.

    That's where Michael Boley needs to step in.

    If Newton dances around in the backfield and manages to escape the grasp of Pierre-Paul, Tuck and Umenyiora, Boley will need to be waiting so Newton can't scramble and rip off a huge gain on the ground, like he did against the Saints in Week 2 to the tune of 71 yards and a touchdown.

    New York had a lot of trouble in Week 1 tackling Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray behind the line of scrimmage, which led to big gains down the field.

    Boley has been exceptional covering the pass this season, collecting an interception in each of New York's first two games.

    If Boley can spotlight Newton on Thursday, it will certainly increase the Giants' chances of winning the game.

Corey Webster vs. Steve Smith

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    Steve Smith ranks No. 5 in the NFL in terms of receiving yards and will likely draw the coverage of Corey Webster on Thursday night.

    Webster is New York's top cover corner—especially with Terrell Thomas not on the field—but he'll have his hands full with Smith.

    Smith is Newton's go-to-guy, and despite not catching a touchdown pass yet this season, he serves as both a safety blanket and deep threat for Newton and the Panthers' passing game.

    Webster had a huge interception for the Giants in Week 2 against the Bucs and New York is counting on him yet again to contain Smith, who has been dominant this season.

    The five-time Pro Bowler Smith has 101 yards after the catch this season and also has four receptions of at least 30 yards.

    Make no mistake about it—this will be one of the premiere matchups of the night.

Victor Cruz vs. Chris Gamble & Josh Norman

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    With Hakeem Nicks slated to miss Thursday night's game (via ESPN), breakout wide receiver Victor Cruz is going to draw the most coverage from Panthers starting corners Chris Gamble and Josh Norman.

    Gamble and Norman will attempt to do what Tampa Bay corners couldn't last Sunday, when Cruz exploded for 11 catches, 179 yards and a touchdown, following the emotional loss of his grandmother (h/t ESPN).

    The combination of Gamble and Norman has yet to allow an opposing receiver 100 yards, but Cruz is a different type of receiver.

    He's a slot guy who can kill an opposing D on a quick slant or a deep fade, and Manning always knows where his guy is on the field.

    Without his counterpart though, it will be difficult for Cruz to find open space, given that Carolina will most likely assign double-teams to the speedy wideout.

    Whether the Giants put points on the board all depends on if Cruz can find separation from Gamble, Norman, and the rest of the Panthers' DBs.

Jason Pierre-Paul vs. Jordan Gross

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    Jason Pierre-Paul has easily been the best defender for the Giants, ranking second on the team with 12 tackles and one sack.

    Pierre-Paul was extremely effective against Tampa in Week 2, leading the team with eight tackles and recording his first sack of the season in a Giants win.

    The Bucs' offensive line had a tough time trying to fend off JPP and LT Jordan Gross and the rest of the Panthers' offensive line is going to face the same wrath.

    Gross hasn't allowed a sack to an opposing defensive end on the right side yet this season, but he hasn't faced anyone of Pierre-Paul's caliber.

    This is one of the most important matchups of the night, as Pierre-Paul has been one of the few Giants putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season.

    If JPP can get into the backfield and put some pressure on Newton, the Giants will have success in Carolina.

Martellus Bennett vs. Carolina Linebackers

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    Martellus Bennett becomes all the more important now that Hakeem Nicks isn't playing on Thursday night.

    Bennett has impressed during the first two games, scoring a touchdown in each game and accumulating 112 yards on nine receptions, which ranks third on the team.

    Panthers linebackers will likely be responsible for sticking Bennett, which has shown to be no easy task.

    Bennett's routes have been clean, and while he has dropped a couple of potential touchdown passes, he's still a threat every time he steps onto the field.

    Carolina had an issue covering Saints tight end Jimmy Graham in Week 2, as he hauled in seven receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown.

    Not only is this matchup important in the Giants' passing game, but in the run game as well, due to Bennett's excellent blocking skills in the ground game.

    Keep an eye on this one.


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