Panthers vs. Giants: 5 Keys to the Game for New York

Kevin BoilardCorrespondent ISeptember 19, 2012

Panthers vs. Giants: 5 Keys to the Game for New York

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    The Giants narrowly avoided a 0-2 start last Sunday when they took down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in comeback fashion. After earning their first win of the season, the Giants now turn their attention to another NFC South foe, the Carolina Panthers.

    New York’s Week 3 trip to Charlotte, NC, will be a tough one. The Panthers are a much better team than their 6-10 record last season would indicate, and they’ll surely be aiming to knock off the defending Super Bowl champions in their Thursday Night Football match up on NFL Network.

    It’s difficult to know what to expect when dealing with a 1-1 team like the Panthers. Carolina dropped its first game of the season to the Bucs, 16-10, but followed that up with an impressive, 35-27 victory over the Saints the following week. It’s uncertain as to which Panthers team will show up in Week 3 against the Giants.

    However, if the Giants want to secure their second win of the season, they will have to control a few aspects of the game, no matter what. This article will highlight the five keys to the game for the New York Giants.

Contain Cam Newton

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    When facing the Carolina Panthers, the game plan needs to start with finding a way to keep their franchise quarterback, Cam Newton, in check.

    Newton had a record-setting rookie season last year, as he threw for over 4,000 yards and 21 touchdowns, and ran for over 700 yards and 14 touchdowns. The popularity of the multi-threat quarterback is picking up steam, and Newton is one of the players leading the charge. 

    Newton’s 6’5”, 245-pound frame combined with his superhuman speed and strength easily makes him the most dangerous player on the field. Giants’ defensive coordinator Perry Fewell will have his hands full as he attempts to devise a scheme that can contain Newton.

    New York’s defensive ends have had difficulty getting to the quarterback so far this season, but they’ll need to have a big game against the Panthers. If the unit can turn it on in Week 3, they may be able to pressure Newton into making some poor decisions with the ball.

    At the very least, the New York defensive ends must be able to keep outside contain.  They will need to turn the play back into the middle of the field  when Newton start to scramble. If they allow Newton to escape the pocket, it will turn into a one-on-one matchup between him and middle linebacker Chase Blackburn—a matchup that heavily favors the Carolina quarterback.

Make Steve Smith a Non-Factor

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    Newton’s favorite target is 12-year veteran wide receiver Steve Smith. The two have established an explosive connection that resulted in seven touchdown passes a season ago.

    One way to limit Newton’s production will be to take away his biggest weapon. If the Giants are able to effectively take Smith out of the game, the Panthers will be left with much less offensive firepower.

    However, that is much easier said than done, especially given how poorly New York’s secondary has been playing lately. In Week 1, Dallas wide receivers Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and Kevin Ogletree had their way with the Giants’ shaky secondary. 

    Things didn’t get much better in Week 2, as Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman was able to connect on multiple big plays to receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.

    While Michael Coe and Justin Tryon have been less-than-impressive while playing in place of the injured Prince Amukamara; veteran cornerback Corey Webster has also displayed uncharacteristically poor performances. Webster has shown the ability to shutdown top receivers in the past, but we haven’t seen it lately. He’ll need to prove himself against Smith on Thursday.

    According to the Giants’ injury report, Amukamara is listed as probable. If he is able to go, he should take some of the pressure off of Webster, as strong safety Kenny Phillips will be able to patrol the deep middle of the field more freely.

Explore the Second and Third Wide Receiver Options

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    The Giants were already expecting to be a man short at wide receiver given the concussion that Domenik Hixon sustained against the Bucs. However, now that Hakeem Nicks has also been declared out for the game, New York is suddenly very thin at wide receiver.

    With Nicks out, the pressure on Victor Cruz will be tremendous. He will probably be relied on heavily by Eli Manning, but expect the Panthers to double-team him as much as possible. If he has trouble getting open, Manning will have to look elsewhere for a viable receiving option.

    That’s where the second and third wide receiver options (as well as tight end Martellus Bennett) come into play. Fourth year wideout Ramses Barden will get plenty of playing time, as will rookie Rueben Randle. 

    If the Giants’ offense wants to build on last week’s 25-point fourth quarter performance, Manning will need to get in sync with his two new receivers right away.

    The Panthers game will be a big one for Randle, who has been patiently waiting for his opportunity to make an impact, and an even bigger one for Barden, who has been consistently underwhelming and is now in a contract year.

    At least one of these two players will need to have a big game on Thursday to make up for the lost production with Nicks and Hixon inactive.

Take Advantage of a Poor Run Defense

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    Starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw may have been ruled out for Thursday night’s game, but that doesn’t mean the Giants shouldn’t push the rushing attack.

    The Panthers have given up 146.5 yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry through two games this season. Even without Bradshaw in the lineup, New York should be able to find some way to exploit this apparent deficiency.

    Andre Brown, a player who spent last year’s Super Bowl season on the practice squad, will earn his first career start against the Panthers. He entered last week’s game after Bradshaw’s injury in the first half and carried the ball 13 times for 71 yards and a game-winning touchdown. 

    Brown’s impressive performance was surprising, but he plans on improving even more in Week 3. Unfortunately, no matter how determined Brown may be, his success is still heavily dependent on the play of his offensive line.

    The Giants had the league’s worst rushing attack in 2011, and through their first two games of 2012, it doesn’t look like much has changed. They are only averaging 88.0 rushing yards per game, and the offensive line has shouldered most of the blame. 

    It’s also more than likely that rookie David Wilson will finally get his chance to shine, as a fumble in Week 1 has significantly limited his opportunities. The Giants hope that Brown and Wilson can revive the Giants’ floundering rushing attack. A strong showing versus Carolina would be a great start.

Avoid the Early Mistakes

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    The Giants got themselves into trouble very early on against the Buccaneers. Three Eli Manning interceptions allowed Tampa Bay to put up 21 points in the second quarter, sending them into halftime with an 11-point lead.

    The Giants proved that they still have the ability to fight back from a deficit and win the game in the fourth quarter, but it’s certainly not a habit they want to form. The Giants need to play flawlessly against the Panthers, especially since the team will be missing several of its key players.

    If the Giants want to avoid falling behind early, they’ll need to minimize the penalties, play smart football and win the turnover battle.