Big Blue Bullies the Carolina Panthers: 10 Things We Learned About The Giants
The New York Giants christened the new Meadowlands Stadium with a victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
Beating the Panthers 31-18, the Giants displayed both reasons for hope and dismay that the 2010 NFL season might be a fruitful one for the team and its fans.
The game was an interesting one, as it was both closer than the score indicates, and not as close as the score would indicate. Oxymoronic isn't it?
In the first quarter, the Panthers had every chance to blow the game open but failed to capitalize.
And in the second half, the Panthers never had a chance as the Giants put their collective boots on the Panthers' necks.
And any chance the Panthers had was squelched by their quarterback Matt Moore, who looked just awful. Jimmy Clausen, anyone?
The following is a list of 10 things we learned about the Giants based upon their season opener on Sunday, four good and one very bad.
Keep in mind that obvious things, like Eli Manning is a good player isn't on the list. We knew that already.
1. The Good—Hakeem Nicks Is a Star
Hakeem Nicks abused the Panthers secondary to the tune of four catches for 75 yards and three touchdowns.
Think about that for a second, 75 percent of Nicks' catches on Sunday were for touchdowns.
Fantasy nuts must be going, well, nuts.
And the game did not start off well for Nicks. A very catchable ball went flying off his fingertips and into the arms of a Carolina defender.
While the stat sheet will attribute the interception to Eli Manning, it was clear that it was Nicks' fault.
Nicks responded well though, instead of burying his head in the sand, he came right back out to play.
Nicks caught all three of his touchdown passes in the left corner of the end zone and looked dominant doing it.
Nicks is one of those rare players that seems to be gravitationally attracted to the end zone. The closer he gets to it, the faster he goes. He just needs to stay healthy and stop creating interceptions.
While Nicks showed this game that he still has a lot of room for growth, the rest of the NFL should still take note; Hakeem Nicks is ready to be a star.
2. The Good—Mario Manningham Is The Giants X-Factor
Mario Manningham started off last season red-hot. While the end of the season talk was about Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith, the beginning of the season was all about Manningham.
But then Manningham hit a brick wall around the the 10th game of the season, and he started having weird issues with the sideline.
Entering this season, Manningham was considered little more than an afterthought, as it was clear to all that Steve Smith was a star and Hakeem Nicks was destined for stardom. So where did that leave Manningham?
Well, if Manningham plays this season like he did Sunday against Carolina that will make him the X-Factor.
When teams double Nicks or sit-down on Smith, there will be Manningham, abusing single coverage making teams pay.
That is exactly what Manningham did to the Panthers, slicing them up to the tune of four catches for 85 yards.
And that is the Giants' hope for Manningham this season, that he will the other edge of the sword.
Leave Nicks or Smith single-covered and you will pay, double them and Manningham will destroy your third cornerback.
While not a starter for this team, Manningham has a chance to be one of the offense's most important players this season if he keeps it up.
3. The Good— Brandon Jacobs Looks Spry
Running back Brandon Jacobs was awful last year. For a man 6'4, 260 plus pounds he played a twinkle toes variety of football that just did not suit him.
Fresh off being given a contract extention, Jacobs proceeded to stink it up last season, and this season he lost his starting job to Ahmad Bradshaw.
Jacobs is a emotional man, so he spent a lot of the offseason pouting and whining to the media about how the Giants coaches and front office were wrong for how they were treating him.
I along with everyone else took it with a grain of salt, Jacobs is after all an emotional man.
Many were worried this season that Jacobs would play like he did last year, twinkle toes instead of battering ram.
Well Jacobs proved against the Panthers that he is back to being a battering ram. To top it off, I barely even saw him taunting opposing defenders, that was new too.
Jacobs looked fresh, he had good burst in his legs. His acceleration was nice and he even broke off a couple of decent-sized runs. He also stopped moving laterally, and just going north-south.
Perhaps the thing about Jacobs that impressed me the most was his catching ability. He was better at that against the Panthers than any point last year. Hopefully, he keeps it up.
4. The Good— Perry Fewell's Defense Looks Nasty
Last season was an unmitigated failure for the Giants defense. Hence all the coaches who got fired.
A lot of people, including myself, were curious to see how the new-look Giants defense under Perry Fewell would look to open the season. While there were a few hiccups, the results were promising.
The Giants got to the quarterback, created turnovers and looked crisp against the run.
The run defense was particularly impressive as they were facing perhaps the best running back duo in the NFL in DeAngelo Williams and Jon Stewart.
The Giants defensive line consistantly won the line of scrimmage, forcing the Panthers' running backs to run into a brick wall of man instead of having seams, cracks or holes.
Matt Moore looked horrible as well, and part of that is because Moore played poorly but part of that also was the Giants aggressive secondary.
Terrell Thomas, Antrel Rolle, and Chris Canty all looked particularly strong this game, with Canty disrupting the line of scrimmage and penetrating with extreme predjudice while Rolle and Thomas controlled the backend.
And enough cannot be said about Osi Umenyiora's play against the run. It was better against the Panthers than any game he played in last year.
And the pass rush looks nasty again, attacking in painful waves that make quarterbacks cry. I mean that, I thought Matt Moore was going to cry after Osi Umenyiora knocked him out of the game.
This though comes with the caveat that the Giants need to do better closing out teams on third and long. Matt Moore converted far too many easy long third down, that can't continue in the coming weeks.
5. The Good—Justin Tuck Is Healthy
Last season, Justin Tuck had humongous expectations. Some analysts had preseason predictions of 15 sacks for him.
Once offensive tackle Flozell Adams inflicted a nasty cheap shot when the Giants played the Cowboys in the first game of last season, Tuck was not the same player.
Reason being Tuck is the rare defensive end whose strength is not in his hips, but his shoulders.
Tuck’s shoulder strength and flexibility is easily top five in the NFL, and it is what makes him a special player. When Adams took that from him last season, he was a shadow of himself.
But it’s a new season, a new day and Tuck looked healthy and nasty against the Panthers.
He was constantly disruptive against the pass and the rush, and while he had no sacks, he was constantly in the face of quarterback Matt Moore.
This is good news, as a healthy Tuck is a prerequisite for the Giants to have a good season this year.
6. The Good—Kenny Phillips Is Back!
Kenny Phillips was on his way to stardom when he developed a severe arthritis in his knee and required radical microscopic knee surgery to fix.
There was some question as to if Phillips would ever play football again, let alone this year.
But there was Phillips on the field against the Panthers, making touchdown-saving shoestring tackles and end-zone interceptions.
It was refreshing to see, and I am sure it was a major boost to his Giant teammates to see him on the field and making plays.
While Phillips might not be fully back to pre-injury form until next year, if he can be 80 percent of the player he was in the first two games of last year, the Giants should count their blessings.
Here is to hoping that Phillips’ knee remains healthy, and that the newly grown cartilage in his knee holds up better than the original stuff.
7. The Bad—The Offensive Line Looks Average
The Giants offensive line was a unit known for being an elite group consisting of a bunch of above average veterans and one stud guard.
Chris Snee is still a stud guard, but those above average veterans are not just average at best.
David Diehl let up too much pressure, Shaun O'Hara was holding people left and right.
Rich Seubert is just average at best right now, and Kareem McKenzie lets up way too much pressure.
But that is in the passing game, the real problem is in the running game.
The run game is anemic right now, the offensive line is just not opening up effective holes for the running backs.
The Giants offensive linemen used to be experts at pulling and acting as lead blockers down the field, now most of them can't even get out of their stances quickly.
While the Panthers front seven is young and inexperienced, they have some impressive athletes. It was obvious Sunday that the Giants offensive line struggled against those athletes in the pass game and run game.
The linebackers made impressive plays against the run, ensuring all holes were plugged while the defensive line constantly beat the tackles to the edge.
While David Diehl still might be the best option at left tackle for the Giants, it might make sense to insert William Beatty into the starting lineup at right tackle, benching Kareem McKenzie.
It might be a few weeks until that happens, but I can see it happening.
If the offensive line continues to play this badly, it wont matter that Bradshaw looks healthy and Jacobs looks spry, they wont have room to run.
And that will force the Giants to throw the ball more, exposing Eli Manning to all kinds of nasty hits.
None of these options sounds appealing.
8. The Bad—The Receivers Need To Hang Onto the Ball
Eli Manning will be credited with three interceptions against the Panthers, but the reality is that none of those picks are his fault.
Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Ramses Barden all let perfectly thrown passes bounce off their hands and turn into interceptions. And even Steve Smith bobbled a ball or two.
By the way what a terrible introduction for Ramses Barden. You think that is going to instill trust into the coaching staff and quarterback? He needs to do better than that.
The Giants were lucky because Matt Moore was a turnover machine, so those interceptions did not turn into a lot of points for the Panthers.
But the Giants wont be playing Matt Moore every week, so those turnovers are a one-time luxury.
If the Giants receivers don’t stop pulling in passes that they should those turnovers could really end up killing the Giants later on.
9. The Bad—The Tight End Position Is Thin
Second-year, third-round draft pick Travis Beckum was thrust into the starting lineup when Kevin Boss was knocked out of the game in the second quarter.
Beckum has been known as a pass catching specialist who can’t get into games because of his subpar blocking.
Well, not only was his blocking only average when he got into the game against the Panthers but he made a minimal impact in the passing game.
The best play he had of the day was called back by a holding call. Still Beckum needed to make something happen, and he didn't.
The NFL is all about taking advantage of the opportunities given to you. You are only given a chance to earn your playing time; nothing is handed to a player (ask Matt Leinart).
But who knows how long Kevin Boss is going to be out? He suffered a neck injury, his knee got dinged up and he is concussed.
No one knows how he will respond to the concussion because those things can be tricky.
He could be back next week, or he could be on the bench for the next month or two. Who knows?
It all depends on how he responds to the neurological tests that are sure to come.
In the meantime the only other tight end on the roster is Travis Beckum.
The Giants also used offensive tackle William Beatty as a blocking tight end against the Panthers, but that was nothing more than a short-term fix.
The Giants need more than Beckum and a tackle playing tight end.
So while I expect Beckum to start in Boss’s place should he miss any more time, the Giants need to search the first-week waiver wire and free agent pool to find another tight end.
10. The Bad— The Giants' Special Teams Is Weak
The new punter Matt Dodge, a rookie seventh-round draft pick, is terrible. He takes way too long to set up his punts and he kicked ducks at least twice against the Panthers.
The reason his punt was blocked is because he takes far too long to set up. He stares at the ball far too long in his hand; it’s weird. He has to go, tryouts for his spot should be open for competition tomorrow.
The coverage on kick-offs was also terrible. Far too much room for Panther’s kick returners was given, giving up excellent field position in the process.
The NFL is a game of field position. Allowing the opposing team to start every drive at their 45-yard line puts the defense in a very difficult spot.
And no matter how good the defense is, they will give up points under those circumstances.
As usual, kicker Lawrence Tynes can’t reach the end zone if his life depended on it and his field goal kicking will remain an adventure.
On top of this the return games for kick-offs and punt returns is average at best.
Simply put the Giants’ Special Teams is weak right now.
No wonder Giants' fans at the new Meadowlands were chanting "Jeff Feagles!" at the game.