Hakeem Nicks/Victor Cruz vs. The Last Men Standing in the Secondary
I think we all know who Victor Cruz is. And right now, he's on pace to shatter 1000 yards easily. Meanwhile, the Panthers secondary is banged up severely and therefore lacks depth (or serviceable starters in some respects). Josh Thomas, Quintin Mikell, DJ Moore, and likely James Dockery will be out on Sunday, leaving us with just four healthy corners (including recently re-acquired Drayton Florence) and three healthy safeties. At safety, Mike Mitchell will play out of position at free safety so undrafted rookie (stop laughing) Robert Lester can step in at strong safety. Then behind them only Colin Jones, a career special teamer, will be the lone backup. This doesn't look good for Carolina. Our weakness plays right to the strengths of the Giants.
Last year, the entire defense got shredded by the Giants running game and dink-dunk passing game. The Giants were able to neutralize the Panther pass rush by running three and five step drops for Eli and letting him sling the ball fast. In recent history, any team that is able to run this systematic, rhythmic style of offense has almost always torched the Panthers. McDermott likes to let the four man rush come, but he may need to dial up the high percentage blitzes this time around. But the Panthers secondary didn't help much last time by letting guys like Ramses Barden get wide open. This time last year, the secondary was actually healthier than it is right now. So pass rush could be all the difference, but the secondary needs to step up and at least stay with the receivers. Tackle well and don't let them behind you. Easier said than done.
Justin Tuck vs Byron Bell
This is another matchup that doesn't favor the Panthers. Last year, the Giants blew up Bell with Jason Pierre-Paul. This year they will likely use all three of their pass rushing weapons intermittently to get after Bell. Bell is coming off one of the worst games by a tackle, ever. It is highly unlikely Bell can block any of the Giants rushers alone. But if the Panthers can give him some help, whether it be a tight end or even a running back, we may stand a chance to not give up 5 sacks to the same player. Bell needs to step up. Ron Rivera clearly sees something in Bell. What it is, I don't know. Is it love? Ever lasting happiness as they run away together at season's end, driving into the sunset? The Romeo to his Juliet?
Justin Pugh vs. Charles Johnson
Last week, Carolina couldn't seem to generate any pass rush. For such a highly touted front seven, this is unacceptable. The front seven is the core of this defense. Their success directly correlates to how the secondary will do each week. If the quarterback can get consistent protection they will put on a clinic against this secondary, especially the flaming bag of poop we are putting on the field this week. Johnson has a chance to abuse a rookie offensive tackle making only his third start. Greg Hardy will be dealing with Will Beatty on the flip side, who didn't allow him to do much last year. Johnson may need to generate most of the rush in order to keep Eli out of rhythm. The Giants will also likely try to get their run game going this week, so Johnson will need to keep Pugh from getting leverage and pushing him back. Johnson usually does a fairly good job of abusing rookies. Hopefully we see more of the same this week.
Steve Smith vs. Prince Amukamara
Last week it seemed pretty well established that the Panthers will likely only see consistent production from Steve Smith and Greg Olsen. LaFell has been doing a great job of getting open and Ted Ginn's done a nice job of becoming a deep threat. However, LaFell dropped a lot of key passes and the Ginn connection didn't seem to work, whether it be due to an errant throw by Cam under pressure or Ginn not extending his arms all the way. Smith will need to move the chains. The running game has been decent for Carolina but the Giants front seven could easily shut it down fast. The Giants will want to put Carolina in third and long situations. Rivera and Shula will probably try to run the ball into a brick wall and take deep shots on simple routes until its third and long. Then when Cam's in a pathetically obvious passing situation, the Giants will try to get after him. Its simple, yet effective.
The Panthers will need to try and get the short-mid range passing game going. No, its not Cam's strength. But its what this football team is suited to do, run the ball and hit short-mid range passes. Cam will look for Smith, he always does. And the saving grace here is Corey Webster likely won't play, leaving the Giants second corner to cover Smith. Smith will draw double coverage per usual, so someone else will also need to step up. But in the end the Cam-to-Smith connection needs to be working. For Cam's sake.
Ron Rivera vs Conservativism
Honestly, I understand the whole kicking a field goal on 4th and 1 with a lead against the bills. I do. People criticized Ron Rivera for it because the Panthers lost. But if the Panthers went for it and didn't get it, the Bills would only need a field goal to tie it up. And if the Bills tie it up with a field goal and win in overtime, the fan base is likely saying "Why didn't we just take the field goal and let our defense play? We gotta have faith in our defense." It was the second game of the season, a lot of calls didn't go our way and the offensive woes from multiple field goals and not touchdowns didn't help anything. Its over and done with, now its week 3. This week though, Rivera's job could possibly be on the line. An 0-2 start is not favorable by any means, but a win this week takes the Panthers into the bye week on a positive note.
Rivera has been telling us we will be the team top "twist the knife" and beat our opponents down. However, the Panthers need to stab the Giants before we can twist the knife. If the Panthers are playing with a small lead, we will need to try and make that lead larger as fast as we can. Eli Manning and his receiving core possess the skill set to easily cut down the lead, fast. If the running game is working, great! Keep it up. But don't run the ball into a brick wall and try to eat up clock time. We saw it happen last week, it could happen again this week. This is the time where a win is severely needed. The Falcons and Saints are the kind of teams who go for the kill shot if they have the chance. Our offense isn't as potent as theirs, but the mentality should be the same. Don't put it in the hands of the defense if you don't have to. Go for the kill shot. Winning the game early isn't a bad thing.
Ron Rivera vs. "The Game Plan"
The Panthers often have a decent game plan drawn up going out against the teams we play. We see a lot of success in the first half defensively, and the offense seems to do just enough to take the lead. The problem is a lack of adjustment. The coaching staff's situational play calling seems to be abysmal at times. We come out to the second half and play as if we aren't going to score anymore at times. The defense doesn't adjust (well) to anything new the opposing offense does. The offense doesn't change the game plan if its not working well. This is unnacceptable. I'm not saying Rivera will have a job at the end of the year the way its going, but any successful head coach must adjust accordingly. You can't win if you don't prepare on the fly.