Sep 16, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Brandon LaFell (11) with the ball in the second quarter. The Panthers defeated the Saints 35-27 at Bank of America Stadium . Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE
The Panthers will see their first night game during the regular season since the BC (Before Cam) era ended. And what a game it should be, as the Panthers will match up against the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. The Panthers are coming off an offensive explosion after a rough week one, while the Giants are coming off a come from behind victory against the surprising Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and that followed a week 1 loss to the divisional rival Cowboys. Both teams scored 30+ points in their week 2 matchups, and this looks to be a game of offense. The Panthers offensive line will have their work cut out for them, however, as the Giants will surely look to get after Cam as much as possible with their always impressive pass rush. The Panthers will need all of the home field advantage they can get in this one.
This game is going to be important for both teams, as both will look to go 2-0 after losing Week 1 to divisional rivals. How will the Panthers offense match-up with the Giants defense? I'll dig into it... after the jump
X Factor: Steve Smith's health
Steve Smith is coming off his second consecutive 100 yard receiving game (with 3 receptions at that!). However, we also know that Smitty's knee is banged up, and it showed during the Saints game, where he got caught on a play a normally healthy Smith would surely have scored on. Smith said that his knee injury "isn't serious, though he continues to feel soreness." (Yahoo! Sports) Now, on Thursday night, Cam's favorite receiver will undoubtedly still be feeling the pain, as he will match up with Corey Webster and look to help keep the chains moving. With the pass rush constantly being in Cam's face, Smith's role in the offense will be important in determining how the Panthers passing game functions. And for the run game, us Panthers fans always love seeing Smith lay the wood on some tacklers!
Steve Smith's status will determine just how much the Panthers passing attack will succeed.
Panthers Passing Attack vs. Giants Secondary
As mentioned before, Smith's health is in question, though it appears he should be suiting up and playing Thursday, even if he isn't at 100 percent. Still, a 75% Smitty is better than no Smitty at all. In addition, Brandon LaFell is coming off a stellar 6 reception, 90 yard performance against the Saints, and looks to be the number two receiver the Panthers have been looking for. He consistently got open against the Saints, and also caught the Panthers' only touchdown week one. LaFell has been money on 3rd downs especially and will look to continue his production against the Giants secondary.
Now, Prince Amukamara did not play this past Sunday against the Bucs, and neither did Michael Coe, giving the majority of snaps to rookie Jayron Hosley. If Amukamara does play, it will be on a limited basis per Yahoo! Sports. Coe's issue is his hamstring, which has been lingering as well, keeping him out of practice yesterday. If Coe is out, most likely Hosley would start again, and LaFell should match up on the rookie. Look for Louis Murphy to also get some looks against Justin Tryon, who hasn't been having the best of luck in his games as of late. Greg Olsen will also see many looks against the Giants' linebackers, all of which he can beat in the passing game.
Also factor in the running backs into the passing game, as all three got touches in both the passing and running games
Edge: Carolina - with a banged up secondary and a solid group of receivers, if Cam can stay upright he should be able to find someone open all day. However, the trench war is where the key matchup lies, which is where we look next.
In the Trenches: Carolina Offensive Line/Running Game vs. Giants Front Seven
The Giants have made their mark in the playoffs with their disruptive pass rush. Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Brett Favre, Tom Brady, the list goes on and on with teams who were dismantled by the pass rush. Jason Pierre-Paul is coming off a 16.5 sack season, and the Giants will look to use their rotation of Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, and Osi Umenyiora to get after Cam Newton as much as possible.
This past Sunday, Cam ran the ball and got banged up in the trenches. He may have problems doing this against the defensive line of the Giants. Jordan Gross is going to have his hands full keeping the backside as clean as possible for Cam, while Byron Bell (who is still injured and didn't practice, but should play) will also have to handle one of the Giants 3 defensive ends. The Giants also like to send Mathias Kiwanuka after the quarterback, and they will want to get after Cam as much as possible. Amini Silatolu, Kalil, and Hangartner will need to try and keep the pressure out of Cam's face so he can step up in the pocket. Look for Cam to try and run the ball a bit this Thursday, however, as the Giants will try to get after him as much as possible to help their weakened secondary.
On Sunday, we saw a much improved offensive line, as they abused the Saints in a 219 rushing yard performance. The run game will be key to reducing the pass rush for Cam. If the Panthers can get it going, look for the running backs to have another good day in both the run and passing game.
Edge: Giants - The Panthers had a very good game on Sunday against the Saints, but if the Giants can replicate the Buccaneers performance against the offensive line, Cam will have trouble getting things going. The fearsome line of the Giants will look to stop the run, and if they succeed, the passing game will also struggle. The Panthers will have to have some success running the ball to win this game.
This should be a good one Panthers fans. I, like many of you, are hoping for a stellar performance by the Panthers against the Super Bowl Champs, as a win here would put the league on notice that the Panthers are back, and we aren't going anywhere.