The New York Giants head to Charlotte to face the Panthers in a game that could decide the long-term future of both organizations.
It's 4th and one on Ron Rivera's career and he needs to decide whether he's willing to take a risk. Three years of gutless play calling and poor decision making has left the Carolina Panthers with a 13-21 record. Now the organization are knocking on the door of another coaching change. There are two things saving Rivera's job right now: First it's having an owner who typically leans to letting the season play out, secondly the deft move by Rivera to surround himself with enough inadequacy that it becomes hard to pick an interim head coach.
My prediction: Rivera makes it through, even with a loss. Either way it will be deck chair shuffling on the Titanic, but at the very least the players respond and respect Ron Rivera -- that's often not given enough play among the fanbase.
Tom Coughlin is also 0-2 on the year, but I'm lead to believe the man is untouchable. Two Super Bowl rings has made him the Giants' coach for life, and while there could be some changes around him, Coughlin is going nowhere.
Sunday's game is a battle between two similarly constructed teams, but at this stage the Giants have too many offensive weapons the Panthers' can't answer for.
A tale of two run games
Mike Shula and the Panthers have sucked out loud when asked to throw the football, but they are running it very well in spite of a patchwork offensive line. DeAngelo Williams' run style compliments the lack of blockers and he's hitting the gaps well. His 4.4 YPA is trending to be one of the lowest in his career, but the 30-year-old back is on pace for a 1,000 yard season -- something he hasn't had since 2009.
Then there's New York. Holy moly what a mess. No Giants' running back has managed to average 3.0 yards per carry this year and the team's offensive line has become a non-factor in run blocking. This issue is compounded by the fumble-happy David Wilson, who has dropped the ball twice in 14 carries. It's a mess from top to bottom, but that shouldn't really effect this game.
Big play potential
The Panthers are screwed.
Okay, maybe that's a little harsh. The Panthers are going to get decimated. One more try. The Panthers are in trouble.
Right now Carolina has no adequate secondary to suit up for an NFL game. The loss of Charles Godfrey compounded with issues at cornerback means it should be a field day for the Giants' receivers. It's so simple to attack the Panthers right now and the Giants have the weapons to do it.
Look at Seattle and Buffalo's receiving corps -- now turn the dial up to 11 and you have the Giants. Victor Cruz is on pace for over 1,800 yards while Hakeem Nicks is back to his old self and could end up with 1,500 yards himself. The hits don't stop there, as both tight end Brandon Myers and wide receiver Reuben Randle are trending for monster years too.
That's four potential 1,000 yard pass catchers... four.
Look at the stat line and you might think Eli Manning is making bad decisions with the football, but he's been forced to throw a lot when the Giants are down. New York might turn the ball over a lot, but they can also score in bunches -- averaging 27.0 points per game.
Cam Newton is being asked to write the great American novel with a stick of string cheese. The immensely talented quarterback is being hamstrung in every possible way by a poor offensive line, a lack of reliable receiving weapons and his own hangups which are causing the third-year quarterback to miss open targets. Pair this with a poor offensive coordinator and it's going to take a small-miracle for the Panthers' offense to keep in step with the Giants.
Edge: New York
Anything you can do, we can do better
Dave Gettleman wanted to model the Panthers after the Giants, and on paper he did just that. As a group the Panthers have the better defensive line of the two teams and arguably possess the best linebacker group in the NFL, even with Jon Beason's struggles.
The problem here is being opportunistic, something we only saw against the Baltimore Ravens in preseason. The defense has just three sacks on the year, forced two fumbles and intercepted one pass -- none of these are good enough for a team that needs to generate turnovers to help the offense.
Silver lining: New York is struggling more. Jason Pierre-Paul has registered just one sack and the Giants as a whole have gotten just two. They played good quarterbacks in Tony Romo and Peyton Manning, but both are traditional passers where Carolina faced mobile quarterbacks.
There's little doubt the Giants will turn it around, it just wont be this week.
The Panthers have the edge in two areas, but they are the difference-making elements to Sunday's game. The lack of a secondary will make this a very painful game if Carolina can't get a lot of pressure on Eli Manning. This is the time Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy need to show up if the Panthers hope to win.
Anything is possible, but New York simply has too many weapons.