EAST RUTHERFORD NJ - SEPTEMBER 12: Steve Smith #89 of the Carolina Panthers celebrates his touchdown against the New York Giants on September 12 2010 at the New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford New Jersey. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Hello all! The Panthers will face the Super Bowl champion New York Giants on Thursday Night Football. This will mark the first regular season night game since Cam Newton was drafted, and here's to many more for the future!
As for the game, the Giants have been battered by injuries, giving the Panthers a considerable leg up to start it off. However, never count out the Super Bowl champs, with Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning at the helm of the offense.
I'll take a look at some of the key matchups after the jump...
With Hakeem Nicks being ruled out with a foot injury, along with Domenik Hixon, the Giants will be considerably thin at wide receiver. Jerrel Jernigan and Reuben Randle will be looked on to step up and make some plays, along with Martellus Bennett. But, the main weapon at Eli Manning's disposal is none other than 2011 sensation Victor Cruz, whose amazing year helped get the Giants to the Super Bowl. Cruz is no laughing matter, even without fellow elite Hakeem Nicks opposite of him.
This matchup could determine how the Giants passing game fairs against the Panthers. While Randle is an impressive rookie out of LSU, the loss of Nicks makes Cruz the consensus number one target, also making him Gamble's matchup this week. Chris Gamble has been solid throughout the season thus far, locking down any receiver the opposing team puts in front of him (including a nice play on Jimmy Graham last week). The Panthers will look to get after Eli Manning, and Cruz is one of his favorite targets. If Gamble can contain Cruz, we may very well see a normally potent passing attack fail.
Steve Smith vs. Corey Webster
And at the opposite end, we have the matchup of Steve Smith vs Webster. Smith has racked up two 100 yard games and looks to continue his 2011 form. However, the Giants will want to try and take him out of the equation as they try to contain Cam Newton and get some pressure on him. Normally, Steve Smith doesn't struggle against the Giants, but the recent knee injury might create problems for the veteran. Look for Brandon LaFell to also continue his hot start to the season, as Prince Amukamara is returning from injury and Michael Coe is questionable.
The last time these two met was the 2011 preseason, where JPP nearly ate Jimmy Clausen alive. However, that was the preseason, and this is prime time during the regular season. JPP is looking to continue his impressive 2011 campaign, as the Giants will try to get after Cam Newton and keep him contained. With defensive ends coming after Cam all day, the tackle play by Gross and Byron Bell (or Bruce Campbell/Garry Williams, depending on injury) will determine how the Panthers offense functions. Look for Gross to try to matchup one on one against JPP, as the right side will have their hands full with Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck.
Justin Tuck vs. The Rest of the O-Line
Justin Tuck is similar to Julius Peppers in terms of how the Giants like to use him. They move Justin Tuck all over the line of scrimmage. He will rush from an end position, a tackle position, and even a standing position. Tuck is used to try and find any weakness in the offensive line. The Panthers offensive line played extremely well last week against a solid Saints front seven, but Silatolu, Hangartner, and Kalil will have their hands full as it is. If the collective unit can keep Cam Newton as upright as possible (or at least enough for him to get out of the pocket and run with the ball) we will see some success here. However, if Cam is getting hit and knocked down like the Giants defensive line has done to countless other quarterbacks, this could be a rough day for Ace-Boogie.
The game is just around the corner. I, like many others, am just chomping at the bit to see the Panthers in a nationally televised night game. It'll be a good one fans!