The New York Giants came into Bank of America Stadium and completely dismantled the Carolina Panthers in all three phases of the game on Thursday night. The Panthers simply had no answers for what the Giants wanted to do on either side of the ball.
The worrisome part, if you're a Panthers fan, is how completely and totally inept Carolina looked against the defending champions. Banged up, on a short week, with a bevy of inexperienced role players stepping in for injured starters, the Giants reminded NFL observers everywhere why they are one of the best-run organizations in the league, and they illustrated just how far away the Panthers are from even being considered worthy of that label.
It started with the very first drive, as Eli Manning marched his offense down the field, throwing the ball like he was in a seven-on-seven drill, aided by the hard running of Andre Brown, a journeyman back who had been cut eight times by five different teams.
The biggest concern for the Panthers has to be how completely overmatched they looked—not just physically, but in how they seemingly prepared for the game.
Both offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who had been a head coaching candidate in Jacksonville this past offseason, and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, who was fired from the same job in Philadelphia for fielding defenses that looked similar to the one on display Thursday, seemed to be in over their heads against their adversaries, Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.
On offense, Chudzinski seemed uninterested in working the ball downfield to Steve Smith, who represented a major mismatch against anyone in the Giants secondary.
Instead, with arguably their best back on the bench in Jonathan Stewart due to a toe injury, the Panthers tried attacking the strength of the Giants defense—the defensive ends. Play after play, Chudzinski tried running quarterback Cam Newton or running back DeAngelo Williams on read-option plays, and nearly every time, the Giants defensive ends were too athletic to be beaten.
There are a lot of defensive ends that can be exploited by what Chudzinski was trying to do on Thursday, but Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul are not among them.
And where to start with McDermott and the defense?
It was as though the Panthers were still running the calls from their first preseason game. Vanilla zones, a plethora of straight four-man rushes and the occasional, easily diagnosed blitz. McDermott was a protege of the late Jim Johnson, one of the masters of blitz design out of a 4-3. Nothing Johnson left as a legacy was on display Thursday.
It was as predictable as a bad made-for-TV movie and just about as hard to watch.
Nothing McDermott did seemed to faze Gilbride and Manning. Two deep safeties? Here's the tight end ripping up the seam. Playing off coverage? Here's a slant play to Victor Cruz or Ramses Barden, another backup player that the Panthers helped make look like a budding star.
What may be the most alarming aspect of the Panthers performance is how unfamiliar this all looks when connected to head coach Ron Rivera, a man who was as tough as hell as a player but who now presides over a group of men who look about as tough as the Krispy Kreme donuts they invented in nearby Winston-Salem.
Yes, there were more than coaching issues on display. Newton threw three interceptions, each one more horrific than the last. Rookie wide receiver Joe Adams fumbled on a punt and a kickoff return.
Obviously, repeatedly giving the ball to the defending champs in prime field position is not in the game plan. But those mistakes were only a sideshow to a bigger problem.
The Panthers were dominated on both sides of the ball before kickoff.