Continuing my look ahead to the regular season and outlining the background and story-lines that I will be following. Week 3 will see the Giants visiting the electrifying young Panther’s team for their first road game of the season.
The Panthers record in 2011 was not the greatest (6-10) but under first year head coach Ron Rivera and led by the outstanding first overall pick Cam Newton at QB no-one could complain that they weren’t exciting. Their games were always fun to watch:
Newton posted record numbers for a rookie QB and dazzled with his highlight reel runs and rocket arm. The defense however didn’t shine and were ranked dead last in the league. Allowing over 6 yards per play and the fifth most yards in the league.
Ron Rivera’s background is as a defensive coordinator and with the benefit of a full off-season and the addition of some veteran free agents and rookies (including exciting rookie LB Luke Kuechly) I’d expect the unit to be a lot more solid going into 2012.
The Giants ‘D’ will have to be on the top of their game all day, Newton’s arm to threats like Steve Smith can take the top off the defense with deep balls and he has a big target/outlet in Greg Olsen in the red-zone and pass rush situations.
The real forte of the Panthers offense though is their running game. DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and the recently acquired Mike Tolbert pack a heady combination of force, speed and quickness that, combined with the double threat of Newton as a runner, will require discipline to stop.
With such potent run threats the play-action passing game will come into play as well and the Giants safeties and line-backers will have to stay on their assignments and not get caught looking into the backfield or cheating to the line otherwise it will be an easy six points from Cam’s arm.
The Giants offense will have to help the defense throughout the game, lots of ball control passes, moving the chains and maintaining drives. The running game will have to establish itself effectively and early. If the Giants can eat up the clock and establish a lead then they stand a good chance. Too many ‘three and outs’ or turnovers and the defense will get tired and the Panthers will rack up points and grind out yards and the clock on the ground.
This will be a close one but one that I think the Giants should win if they are for real and can execute their game plan on a very short week (this game is only four days after their meeting with the Buccaneers). Probably a 17-14 score line.
Giants Pass Rush vs Panthers QB Cam Newton
In all areas on ‘D’ the Giants need to be disciplined but the d-line have to be wary in pass-rush situations of being led past Cam, allowing him to step up in the pocket and escape on the run. If Cam gets loose in the open field while the Giants are in man-coverage in the secondary then they will be looking at giving up 20 yards+ a time.
The ends need to keep Cam in front of them and the interior line-men need to maintain gap control and squeeze the pocket. If they can make Cam uncomfortable and force him to throw on the run or off-balance then his effectiveness will be significantly lessened. The more hits and pressure they can get (even if not resulting in sacks) the better off the Giants will be.
Panthers WR Steve Smith vs Giants DB Corey Webster
Smith has been in the league a long time and if 2011 is anything to judge by he has a lot of mileage left in him. Despite his short stature he his a powerful receiver and is comfortable running the interior routes of the passing tree (slant, quick-in, post) and using his strength to beat jams at the line and get open. Smith is also an explosive player going deep on ‘9’ (go) and corner routes.
With the injury to Terrell Thomas likely finishing his season before it begins, Corey Webster is likely to be leaned on a lot throughout the season by the Giants and will usually be matched up against the opposing team’s best receiver. Webster is physical and will jam and press Smith at the line, I’d expect a lot of Giants formations to have safety Kenny Phillips deep on Smith’s side of the field to give Webster support and allow him to play with an inside leverage technique to try and take away the quick slant routes and try to upset the timing and rhythm of the Panther’s passing game.
Panthers’ Running Game vs Giants Front 7
The Panthers’ DeAngelo Williams is a good all-round back and can run between the tackles when required but where he excels is using his speed to get around the corner in the outside running game (stretch, toss, pitch etc) and he has the quickness to cut back inside and take advantage of a gap. Expect him to be running behind big fullback Tolbert and often a pulling guard to kick out the block on the edge and spring him into the open field.
In 2011 the Giants’ opponents often liked running against the right hand side of the Giants defensive line and occasionally had good success with it If there is one knock on Osi Umenyiora (and potentially the reason that the Giants didn’t lock him up to a longer contract – and why he couldn’t command a first round pick in the 2011 off-season) it is that he is sometimes soft against the run. There were notable exceptions to this where he made big plays against good runners last year and JPP is athletic enough to blow up a running play from any position (often chasing it down from behind).
The Giants’ linebackers will have a task in front of them, they will have to maintain clean gap control against a potential cutback or a QB keeper by Newton but they also need to be able to flow East/West to cover the edges against the run and try to prevent Williams turning the corner.
Spencer Paysinger, Jacquian Williams and Mark Herzlich are all young and fast enough to play a hybrid linebacker/safety role (which is increasingly the direction that the LB position is going in the NFL) all three are able to defend the edge and minimize running yards.
Free-agent Keith Rivers and long-time (on/off) stalwart Chase Blackburn and the perennially excellent Mathias Kiwanuka bring experience to the group as well and I hope to see some solid LB play against both run and pass.
On the interior of the line Chris Canty and (the newly slimmed down) Shaun Rogers will try to fill the gaps against the interior running game and Newton stepping up through the pocket.
The LBs and linemen will be tested in short yardage by the bruising Tolbert bursting through the A and B gaps and will need to be quick to meet him in the hole and shut him down before he can build up a head of steam.
Finally the pace-changing Stewart is the third head to the Panthers triple-threat running attack and is equally comfortable pounding it up the middle as he is looking for an edge.
It will be a long day for the Giants against the run, unless they can keep the Panthers in third and long situations or jump ahead quickly and force the Panthers to chase a lead through the air.