The Super Bowl champions are 1-1, heading into Carolina to face the Panthers and Cam Newton, feeling confident only because of Eli Manning’s second half performance in week 2, but knowing they’ve got a lot of problems all across the field, especially with their running game and secondary.
A lot of mismatches in this one, which means it might just fall to quarterback execution. Eli Manning turned the ball over three times against the Buccaneers last week, but finished with 510 yards and three touchdown passes as the Giants won 41-34. He threw for 243 yards in the fourth quarter alone. Carolina have been doing OK against the pass this season, 13th in the NFL, allowing 225.5 yards per game. Drew Brees did throw for 323 yards against them in week 2, but he was intercepted twice and averaged just 6.6 yards per attempt.
The bigger issue for the Giants’ offense is their running game, which has been stuttering so far this season. Ahmad Bradshaw won’t be playing against the Panthers, and it seems that Andre Brown, who ran for 71 yards on 13 carries in the win over the Bucs, will take most of the running game load. The rookie out of Virginia Tech, David Wilson, is still being punished for fumbling the ball against the Cowboys, getting only 5 carries in two games.
However, the Panthers aren’t exactly the best in stopping the run, ranked 28th in the NFL after the first two games, allowing 146.5 yards per game. That’s countered by their own power running game, with Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams probably looking to get a lot of touches against the Giants. They combined for 219 yards against the Saints.
But this is Cam Newton’s show, be it in running and passing. He goes through the motions in games and sometimes over-targets Steve Smith, but there are few quarterbacks in the NFL with the ability to make plays like Newton. The main matchup to watch will be him against the Giants’ pass-rush, so far forcing three interceptions out of opposing quarterbacks. Newton has been sacked four times in his first two games, so the Panthers O-line are going to have their hands full.
How well will Manning be protected? It’s hard getting him as it is, and he wasn’t sacked once against the Bucs. The Panthers got to Drew Brees only once, but were much more interested in keeping the balls out of receivers’ hands than sending out blitzes. It’s going to be the same on Thursday night, as they’ll probably challenge Manning to find Nicks and Cruz, who combined for nearly 400 yards on Sunday. A short week might mean a bit sloppier play, like it was on their season debut against the Cowboys.
It’s been nearly three years since the Panthers beat the Giants, winning 41-9 in New Jersey. The two teams met in 2010 as well, with the Giants winning as Eli Manning threw three touchdown passes along with three interceptions. The last time they met in Charlotte was in 2006, another Giants win (27-13) with Manning, him again, throwing three touchdown passes.
Prediction – As good as Eli Manning gets in second halves, there are too many things going wrong for the Giants at the moment – depleted secondary and a very bad running game. Add that to the fact that they’re turning the ball over and travelling on a short week, and it seems to me that stopping Cam Newton and the Panthers running game might be a bit too much for them on the day.
Game time is 8:20 PM, Eastern time, at the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.