The clash of the NFC Titans is almost upon us.
The two injuries to watch during this game is the running back for the Giants Brandon Jacobs, and the DT run stopper for the Panthers Maake Kemoeatu. If Brandon Jacobs is out, the Panthers will have a much easier time stopping the run. If Maake is out, the run will become that much more effective along the interior of the line. No news yet on those injuries, but you can view them at http://www.nfl.com/injuries as soon as the information becomes available. The big story here is going to be Jacobs. The Giants are 0-2 without him.
The Panthers have to get the running game going against a defense that is rated 4th in defending the rush. It sounds like a tall order, but that's why the Giants are 11-3. However, the Panthers are good at executing the run, that's why they're 4th in the league in performing it. It'll all come down to a battle in the trenches. In past seasons where a injured offensive line would have doomed us in this game, our offensive line is completely healthy except for the recent loss of Keydrick Vincent. Vincent is replaced by Jeremy Bridges, so it doesn't really affect us as much as it usually would. Will it be enough though?
We won't see any crazy 4-4 defenses like Denver tried to do. We'll see a hard-nosed defense that is used to stopping everything that their opponents try to do. They have held 9 out of 15 teams 17 points or below. Brian Westbrook is the only man who was able to break out for 100 yard against them, while he made only 26 yards in his previous encounter against the Giants. We will have to succeed where other teams have failed, and I have a feeling that early in the game we will have to get the ball to Steve Smith in order to soften their run defense. In fact, while I'm on the subject of Steve Smith, here's the top 5 matchups of week 16.
Steve Smith vs Corey Webster
This corner has been a nightmare all year. They will attempt to match him up against Steve Smith. As I say attempt, I mean attempt. Steve Smith has shown that no mere mortal can cover him one on one, so Corey will need some help from his safeties. They know the ball is going to go to Steve Smith, so he's going to get double covered every play. One mistake and the ball is going to him. Without a mistake....well....the ball is probably going to him anyway. With the run defense at the top of the league and their pass defense only average, it has to be done.
Moose vs Aaron Ross
Aaron is their other corner on his second year. He's definately not as good as the guy on the other side, and if Jake were to give the ball to him a couple of times early in the game it would do wonders to help Steve Smith out. During the Bucs game against a tough defense, right after Moose made a reception in midfield, two plays later the ball went to Steve Smith in the endzone for a touchdown. The Giants have a tough defense as well, so they will need to be reminded that we have two good starting receivers on the field, not one.
Offensive line vs Defensive Line
The highlight on this matchup is the injuries. The Giants have two starting linemen suffering from injuries. DE Justin Tuck is the major one, he's one of the leading defensive ends of the NFL at 12 sacks, 60 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, and a INT. As of Wednesday, he's listed on the injury report as limited in practice with a lower leg injury. One of their DT Fred Robbins is injured as well, listed as not being able to practice at this time. On the Panthers side of the ball, we've lost Keydrick Vincent to injury and he's probably gone for this game. However, he is replaced by Jeremy Bridges, whom has proven time and time again that he can pitch in at any part of the line. You can thank John Fox and his purge on guards during the off-season for that.
DJ Hackett vs Dwayne Jarrett
One of these guys need to hurry up and win the 3rd receiver spot. Neither one of them are helping out the team that much, and when a ball is thrown to them they usually drop them. Remind you of anyone? Dwayne Jarrett is a promising player physically, but he's not shown any of it on the field. Perhaps we'll see more of him when Moose retires, but it's not really an encouraging thing when Dwayne can't win the 3rd spot against DJ. Meanwhile, Steve Smith was his teammate at USC, and he's already nailed down a starting spot with the Giants and over 500 yards at the 3rd receiver spot most of the season. Jarrett needs to prove himself, and soon. Can he be inspired to outdo his teammate? I hope so.
Finally, Smash and Dash need to do what they usually do. It's going to be tough to break a long run, but once the passing game is established they need to get back to what they're used to doing. That's the only way the Panthers will win. That's how they've been winning the whole season. They need to run the football. The best defense is a good offense. Keep Eli Manning off the field by staying on it. There are a thousand ways you can say it.
At the end of the day, it's all on the line. Panthers win this game they get home field advantage. That's all that matters in the end.
Go Panthers! And Happy Holidays everyone! Merry Christmas to all.