Crunch Time For Big Blue: #1 Seed On The Line Vs. Carolina

Dave Turner@DturnersportsContributor IDecember 20, 2008

All Text and Photos © Dave Turner 2008

The last two weeks were certainly the worst two weeks that the Giants have suffered since the middle of last season.

Ineptitude on offense, accompanied by a defense that couldn't make a big stop when needed resulted in two painful losses to both of the Giants biggest rivals. There is usually nothing more disheartening than losing twice in consecutive weeks to the Eagles and Cowboys, but for the Giants they can put that all behind them in a big way with a win on Sunday night.

One would expect due to the way that both teams are playing that Carolina would certainly have the edge in this one. They are coming off of a huge Monday night win over Tampa Bay and a blowout win over Denver. The silver lining? Both of those games for Carolina were at home, and away from home they are just 3-3.

They have all the momentum in the world, but that can work against a team sometimes in a big game if they come out and let their emotions get to them. Is this Panthers team as good as advertised? Yes, in some ways I think they are. I also think that there are ways to stop this team on defense, as well as ways to score on them. The question is, will the Giants be able to exploit those weaknesses?

When the Giants have the ball:
The first touchdown will be huge for the Giants. They need to score early not only to prove to themselves that they can put the ball in the endzone when it matters, but also to keep the fans in it.

I would assume that the Giants faithful will be pretty edgy after the last two weeks, and the fans need to be a factor all game. Big Blue should have some success against the Panthers running the ball, but a big factor will be if they can get the passing game going to keep the Panthers from dropping another player into the box. If Domenik Hixon doesn't play it will further hurt the Giants ability to pass.

They will need to rely heavily on Steve Smith to move the chains. The biggest thing the Giants need to accomplish is getting yardage on first and second downs. There will be a desire to pass on first downs in order to keep the Panthers off balance, but really there is nothing more the Giants can do to make their third downs easier than getting at least five yards between first and second downs.

Converting third and longs are not only harder to do because of the yardage, but it also gives more time for the defense to get pressure. On a third and say three or four, Eli Manning can take a quick drop and fire the ball, whereas a third and eight or nine he must go through a full drop back and look further down field. Manageable third downs will eliminate Julius Peppers and also make it easier to use all the routes in the playbook.

The running game needs to get going, and get going early. Who knows how well Brandon Jacobs will move, but he will need to grind out the tough yards. I really think that in his absence the Giants realized just how important he is. Jacobs wears down the defense, and can make holes out of nothing.

If Jacobs has a big day, it could be the difference. I would also like to see the Giants throw more to the running backs. If Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw can get open on the release, it will not only take away a linebacker from a possible blitz, but opens up the middle of the field more if they have to commit a player to covering the flat.

When the Giants are on defense:
The two headed Panthers running attack of Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart has been fantastic all season, and even better during the last two weeks. This duo really worries me because they are slashers, and can cut back and reverse field, something the Giants do not do well with.

While it is imperative to attack them at the line and fill gaps to eliminate the gain, these guys both will cut back and burn any defense that overpersues. Really, if it takes leaving someone on the backside to contain, then it must be done. They will run against the Giants, there is no doubt about that. The biggest thing will be for the defense to cut down any big gains, and make the Panthers work for those yards on the ground.

The Panthers passing game is not as strong as it used to be, but the one constant is still there, Steve Smith. Smith needs to be doubled the entire game, because all it takes is one slip up and Smith can score on a deep pass.

Mushin Muhammad is not the same receiver that he used to be, and I would like Corey Webster's chances on him one-on-one. Really, Aaron Ross as well as safety help up top should be blanketing Smith the entire time.

If the Panthers begin to run well on the Giants and Big Blue is force to put another man in the box to stop it, this is when Jake Delhomme can hurt you. The Panthers have been very much like the Giants lately, where they pass when needed and when the bait the defense with the run.

This will be a tall task for the defense, but considering they really haven't played to poorly the last few weeks, giving up 20 points in both games, they should be able to keep this one close, as long as the offense can do something.

Three X-factors:
1. Steve Smith x2- Which Smith will have a better game? The one that does will certainly help his team score by moving the chains in a big way. Steve Smith (CAR) is more of the vertical threat, but Steve Smith (NYG) will catch first downs consistently.

2. Julius Peppers- If the Giants let Peppers do to them what they let Demarcus Ware do, it will be a long day for Eli. Peppers is a fantastic player, but he is also not supported by a plethora of pass rushers like the Cowboys have, which makes it a little easier to block Peppers.

3. Brandon Jacobs- His success will be the catalyst for the G-men on offense. If he has a big game you like the Giants chances. If not, the offense could struggle again.

Three reasons why the Giants will win:
1. Home field- The Giants Stadium crowd should be in full force for this one. The snow/rain should stop by game time, but if not it will make things even worse. The temperature? 32 degrees to start and should hit about 24 degrees or so by the end of the game. It should be quite a hostile environment for the Panthers to come into.

2. The running game revives- The Giants won their 11 games this season by pounding the ball at defenses and controlling the clock. If they get back to their success with the run, I can't see why they wouldn't be able to do enough to be in position to win.

3. Big Game Eli- Last year's postseason run has tagged Eli has a big game player. Well, this is a big game and if he holds true to form he should have a good game. If Eli is on and has enough time to go through his reads, he could take advantage of a pedestrian Panthers secondary.

Three reasons why the Panthers will win:

1. They get the run going- When this teams is successful with the run, they tend to run away with games, literally. They hit homeruns with the running game, and it also opens up things in the passing game. If the Panthers are getting chunks of yardage on the ground they will find success.

2. They eliminate the Giants run- If they stack the box early and take the Giants running game out of it, they will be able to put more pressure on Eli and force him to throw. If they are able to stop the running attack, it will certainly make stopping the pass easier as well.

3. They score early- With a downtrodden Giants offense, if the Panthers can take a quick lead and force the Giants to play catch up from the get go it will greatly effect the Giants ability to mix run and pass. Also, if they can take the crowd out of it, things will be much easier for the Panthers.

I want to pick the Giants in this one, but injuries, as well as the abysmal play of the offense the last two weeks tells me that this one should go to the team that is healthier, and hotter at the moment. While I don't think that the Panthers will run away with it, in the end it will be the Giants needing a big score late in the game and the Panthers putting it away with a late touchdown.

Like usual, I hope I am wrong, but it is just too hard to actually pick the Giants considering how they have played as of late. Hopefully they do wake up and realize now is the time they have been waiting for all season.

Pick: Panthers 27 Giants 13


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