Last week, the New York Giants were participated in Manning Bowl III. This week, they’ll play in the “Survival Bowl,” as both the Giants and Carolina Panthers will be looking for their first win of the season in what is already a "must-win" situation for both clubs.
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin pointed out that the Panthers have lost their first two games by a combined six points, noting that they’re still very much a worthwhile competitor.
“They’re a well-balanced, well-structured team,” he said. “They’re battling and scrambling just like we are, but I certainly do recognize the fact that they’re a good team.”
So what’s been the problem for Carolina? Well, much like the Giants, they’ve had a few plays go astray that swung the momentum to the opponent, such as their late-game red-zone fumble against the Seattle Seahawks in the regular-season opener and their pass-interference penalty that negated a drive-killing interception against the Buffalo Bills.
“They haven’t made many mistakes,” Coughlin noted. “When they have, it’s definitely hurt them. Their games have been very tight, very competitive. They’ve had chances to win both games.”
Sort of like the Giants, whose biggest mistakes have been momentum-killing turnovers—seven interceptions and three lost fumbles, to be exact. The frustrating thing for the Giants, though, is that prior to committing such egregious mistakes, they were in two tight contests against the Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos.
So how do the Giants go about ensuring that when the clock runs out they are not left on the short end of the scoreboard?
“It’s got to start on the practice field,” said receiver Hakeem Nicks. “I thought we had a nice practice (Wednesday), but we have to go out and have that translate over to the game.”
Nicks pointed out that the Giants are just as desperate for a win as the Panthers, and expressed confidence that his teammates could get it done.
“We’ve seen teams turn around plenty of times,” he said. “We can’t just bank on that, though. We have to go out and perform.”
Quarterback Eli Manning also believes that the Giants will pull together and end this stretch of sloppy football.
“We feel that we’re close to playing good football,” he said. “We know what the mistakes are, and what the corrections that we need to make to get better. We feel that we can straighten it out and start playing really good football real soon.”
How soon remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: The Giants, who aspire to make the playoffs and participate in the Super Bowl that will be held in their home stadium, generally don’t fare well if they fall to 0-3 to start a season.
The last time the Giants started 0-3 was in 1996, when they finished 6-10. Overall, the Giants have had 13 0-3 (or worse) starts, and have managed to finish with a winning record only twice—in 1970 (9-5) and in 1925, their first year in existence (8-4).
The Giants and Panthers will meet for the eighth time in the regular season, and New York holds a 4-3 advantage. The Panthers are 1-0 in the postseason against the Giants, having defeated them 23-0 in the first round of the 2005 NFC Playoffs.
Instead of asking how many rushing yards will David Wilson have in a game, it seems like the better question to ask, based on the showing these past two weeks, is which New York blockers will struggle the most in executing their assignments?
That’s why, despite the electric talent that Wilson possesses, I'm giving the edge to Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams, who is averaging 4.4 yards per carry to Wilson’s 2.6 yards.
The Giants have made an effort to get Brandon Myers involved in the passing game, and he’s done well. Myers is currently tied with receiver Victor Cruz for the team lead in receptions (13), and he’s third on the team with 140 receiving yards.
Myers' counterpart at tight end on the Panthers, Greg Olsen, leads his team in receptions and receiving yards (12 catches for 140 yards). He gets the edge over Myers in the blocking department.
The Panthers trio of Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn Jr. are certainly nothing to sneeze at. However, the Giants trio of Nicks, Cruz, and Ruben Randle can do it all, from the short ball to the deep pass and everything in between.
The Giants will finally field the same starting line as they had in the prior week for the first time since the preseason. The interior of the current configuration didn’t play well last week in what was center David Baas’ first week back from a knee injury; however, the hope is that with another week of practice under their belts, the breakdowns that heavily dotted their performance will be eliminated.
If New York's defensive ends come to play, the Giants could have a significant advantage at this spot. They also need Jason Pierre-Paul to be Jason Pierre-Paul again, a process that has come along slowly but which is progressing week by week.
The Giants linebackers have yet to make a single defining play, and have not yet fully convinced anyone that they aren’t a liability in coverage. The Panthers linebackers, meanwhile, are the strength of their defense, with middle linebacker Luke Kuechly being one of the best in the business.
The Giants defensive secondary is not only healthy, it’s been playing well considering that cornerbacks Corey Webster and Terrell Thomas have had people holding their breath over whether each would bounce back from his respective physical adversity.
Meanwhile, the hits keep on coming for the Panthers, who lost starting free safety Charles Godfrey for the year to an Achilles injury, and who have starting left cornerback Josh Thomas on this week’s injury report with a concussion.
Kicker Josh Brown has been everything a team could ask for through two games. Punter Steve Weatherford had a poor game last week, but is still one of the better punters in the NFL. The Giants return specialists haven’t been bad, but consistency has evaded this group.
It's been an emotional week for head coach Tom Coughlin, whose brother John passed away on Monday. And don't think for a minute that his players don't want to give a little extra effort this week to ensure that their head coach, who somehow balanced his work responsibilities with his family obligations, has a reason to smile.
"It just goes to show you the character that he has and how much he puts into the team and the organization," said fullback Henry Hynoski. "He treats us like we are his own sons. We want to go out and give that little extra for him this week. He's here for us and we have to be there for him, too."
The other intangible on the Giants side is that New York is as healthy as it's been in quite some time, listing only two players on its injury report, OT David Diehl (thumb) and TE Adrien Robinson (foot), both of whom are unlikely to play on Sunday.
"I hope it helps," Coughlin said of having mostly all hands on deck. "This may be a week where, God willing, we have a good week of practice, everyone stays on their feet without getting in any trouble in that regard, and perhaps that will happen."
The Panthers, meanwhile, have 11 players on their injury report, nine of whom didn't practice on Wednesday. Of those nine, three are cornerbacks who could miss this game, making a banged-up secondary even worse.
Everyone knows about the injury woes the Panthers have in their defensive backfield, and everyone probably figures that the Giants, whose passing game is their strength, will go right after the banged-up Panthers secondary.
Count Panthers head coach Ron Rivera among that crowd as well. On a conference call with the New York media, Rivera was asked if he was expecting the obvious on Sunday.
“Most certainly,” he said. “I think that’s a part of who they are. “
If the Giants are truly looking to reestablish balance in their offense, this would be the week to try to get it done. The Panthers are allowing an average of 109.5 rushing yards per game this season, which should be good news for a Giants rushing attack that ranks dead last in the NFL (36.5 yards per contest).
The key will be how the Panthers deploy their linebackers, which is the strength of their defense. Do they play them a little deeper in coverage and risk surrendering more rushing yards, or do they find a middle ground in order to force the Giants into as many three-and-outs as possible?
Manning, remember, has an explosive vertical passing game at his disposal—receiver Victor Cruz alone has seven career touchdowns that have gone for 70 yards or more. While the it won’t go deep on every pass attempt, the Giants offense would appear to have the advantage going into Week 3, given the injuries to the Panthers secondary. If Carolina brings extra men into the box, Manning should be able to sling it down the field; if the Panthers play deep, lanes should open up for running backs David Wilson and Brandon Jacobs to exploit on the ground.
The Giants’ pass rush has not yet shown up from its offseason break. That could change if the Panthers’ offensive line, which struggled last week in pass blocking, has another shaky performance.
Quarterback Cam Newton tends to hold onto the ball far too long, and were it not for his ability to scramble, he probably would have been sacked many more times than he already has at this point in his career.
If the New York's pass rush is to get back on track, it will need a solid showing from defensive ends who, through two games, have been invisible. Jason Pierre-Paul claims he still isn't where he wants to be with his play, but if he’s looking to regain some of that lost confidence, this could be the opponent to do it against.
The Giants defensive tackles have done a consistent job in collapsing the pocket; it’s up to the edge-rushers to finish the job, something that hasn’t happened to date.
Speaking of the defensive ends, it’s important that in the running game, they set the edges so that Williams doesn’t burn them by getting to the outside.
The biggest concern in this matchup is the Panthers tight ends against the Giants’ linebackers. As we saw against Dallas, the Giants linebackers just didn’t have the speed to keep up with the tight ends. If the linebackers were in close, the pass was thrown behind them; if they were back deep, the pass was thrown in front of them.
Can defensive coordinator Perry Fewell rely heavily on his nickel package once again? Probably not, as the Giants might have to bring one of their safeties in tighter to provide an extra layer of coverage.
Lastly, the Panthers have a pair of very good receivers in Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell. The good news for the Giants is that their starting corners, Corey Webster and Prince Amukamara have played well, as has third cornerback Terrell Thomas, who could line up against Ted Ginn Jr. this week.
Special Teams Strategy
Giants’ punter Steve Weatherford had one of his worst games last week, as he failed to kick high and deep punts away from the Broncos' dangerous return man Trindon Holliday.
This week, he'll face another dangerous returner in Ted Ginn, Jr., who is averaging 10.0 yards per punt return.
Much like last week, the strategy is simple. Deploy directional kicking and to avoid the low, line drive kicks. If Weatherford can do that, he'll help his coverage out tremendously.
What They’re Saying
"My head is thinking, but my body is not responding."
—Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul on what he believes is holding him back from being the player he was prior to his back problems.
"Absolutely. We’re a better football team. There’s no doubt about it."
—Safety Antrel Rolle on if the Giants are better, despite giving up 77 points in their first two games.
Giants Injury Analysis:
Diehl (thumb) is probably another two weeks away from returning from thumb surgery. Meanwhile Robinson (foot) is unlikely to play on Sunday until he gets a full week of practice reps in.
This Week’s Game Stats and Facts (courtesy of the NFL's Communications Office)
- Giants quarterback Eli Manning is 4-1 against the Panthers. The Giants are also 21-4 in games (including playoffs) in which Manning starts and has a passer rating of 110 or higher.
- Panthers receiver Steve Smith has a touchdown reception in two of his last three games against the Giants.
- Victor Cruz will be looking for his third straight game with 100-plus receiving yards. Cruz is currently averaging 118 yards per game.
- Carolina TE Greg Olsen had seven receptions for 98 yards in his last game against the Giants.
- Giants receiver Rueben Randle’s first regular-season reception came against the Panthers in the game between the two team last season. On the defensive side, cornerback Jayron Hosley had his first career interception against the Panthers in that same game.
- Since entering NFL in 2012, Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly leads the league with 187 tackles.