BERGEN COUNTY, N.J.– Charlotte, North Carolina on Sunday afternoon: 86 degrees with scattered thunderstorms and 74% humidity. Hardly “football weather” for October 7th, but here we are. The Carolina Panthers (2-1), coming off a bye-week, will be refreshed to take on the desperate-for-a-win New York Giants (1-3).
NEW YORK GIANTS KEYS TO VICTORY
1. Limit Cam Newton: It is not a secret that the Giants struggle when defending against teams that have mobile quarterbacks. Blake Bortles (Jacksonville Jaguars) broke a 41-yard run against the Giants in week 1 and Dak Prescott (Cowboys) had a 15-yard rush in week 2. Though Drew Brees produced -1 rushing yards, the Saints’ backup quarterback Taysom Hill (who they brought it for this very reason), gained 28 yards.
Unfortunately for the Giants, Panthers’ Cam Newton ranks among the best of the game’s mobile quarterbacks. This season, he has thrown the ball for 646 yards and 5 touchdowns (1 interception) and he has run the ball for 136 yards and 3 touchdowns. “He’s big and he’s physical,” Giants head coach Pat Shurmur said of Newton on Wednesday. “You’ve got to really make an effort to get him to the ground. He’s a big 260-pound guy…. I think (Norv Turner) is doing a good job of featuring him as a runner, a lot of structured quarterback-type runs.“
No brim? No problem 😃 pic.twitter.com/voCLd2slM9
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) October 3, 2018
For the Giants to win this game, they must revert to the defensive scheme they showed against the Houston Texans, in which they limited quarterback Deshaun Watson to 36 yards (10-yard max carry), which was his lowest total of the season to date.
2. Eli Manning: Manning, a future Hall of Fame quarterback, has caught some heat over the past weeks in the New York media for his level of play. When one reviews his stats, Manning appears to put in highly productive, efficient work (he’s only thrown one interception in 151 pass attempts), however, with an average completion yardage of around 7 yards per catch, there is a different story being told. Coach Shurmur told the Giants official team media department: “You certainly want more yards per pass. I think getting completions is important and short completions sometimes acts like a run, so yes. The key is, and this is the point everybody is missing, is getting the ball in the end zone more, no matter how you do it, and that’s the deal.” Early, blame was put on the offensive line (and rightfully so) for not giving Manning enough time to throw the ball downfield. Since then, the Giants seem to have found a combination of linemen that works well-enough for Manning to open up opposing defenses.
— New York Giants (@Giants) October 5, 2018
The onus is on Manning, who seems to lock-in on a specific receiver underneath while others are open further down the field. Shurmur called the fact that the Giants are not throwing the ball downfield a “false narrative”. He continued: “We have to check the ball down, keep the chains moving…. I think it’s important to throw the ball down the field, and we try to and we do it more than that narrative suggests.” Truth be told: trying to do it and actually doing it are two entirely different things.
3. Giants’ injury report: There is optimism that cornerback Eli Apple (who missed the last two games) and Sterling Shepard (cyst removed earlier in the week), and Cody Latimer (who missed last week’s game) will all return to action on Sunday. “If we can get [Olivier Vernon] back, it helps our defense” Coach Shurmur told the media members gathered at the Quest Diagnostics center. “We add another player that can play from the edge, not only to set the run but also to pass rush.”
.@oliviervernon54 ruled out for Sunday’s game, but Coach Shurmur says he’s close to returning.
— New York Giants (@Giants) October 5, 2018
Unfortunately, though, Vernon has been officially ruled out for Sunday’s contest. Evan Engram, who suffered a sprained MCL in the first half of week 3, will also sit Sunday’s competition out. Vernon’s sidelining may be the most detrimental of all of the players listed above: the Giants have been one of the worst teams in the National Football League against the run. The Giants cannot be happy with having their run-stopper missing-in-action against the prolific rushing attack of their opponents, the Panthers.
CAROLINA PANTHERS KEYS TO VICTORY
1. Maximize the ground game: The Panthers have the number one rushing attack in the NFL. They are unique in the fact that they have two dynamic rushers that can hurt defenses: running back Christian McCaffrey and quarterback Cam Newton. I outlined Newton’s production above and McCaffrey’s is no less-efficient. McCaffrey is one of two running backs tied for third in the NFL in most tackles avoided (12) and he is a dual-threat: out of the backfield and in the secondary.
Marshawn Lynch has been running over defenders over and over and over and over and over… and over so far this season. pic.twitter.com/RfvLaOrFi3
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 2, 2018
McCaffrey’s ability to line up in the slot or out wide creates mismatch headaches for defenses, especially since he is one of the fastest men on the field (4.48 forty-yard dash, March 2017). Expect offensive coordinator Norv Tuner (who has valuable experience as a head coach in the NFL with three different teams) to exploit the Giants’ linebackers with McCaffrey early and often.
2. Special Teams: Special teams, the third facet of football, always fly under the radar in game previews. The fact of the matter is that the Carolina Panthers’ unit, lead by Super-Bowl winning former Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn, is one of the best in the NFL. In fact, Pro Football Focus ranked the unit as the second best in the league.
The Chicago Bears have the best special teams unit in the NFL through four weeks.
Where does your team rank?
⬇️ ⬇️ ⬇️ https://t.co/61HM1oyxvG
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 4, 2018
Why, though? The major reason why the Panthers special teams unit is so dominant is because it has the best punter in the league in Michael Palardy.
Michael Palardy has been the best punter in the NFL so far this season. pic.twitter.com/EsQFbmyQ9d
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 3, 2018
Eight of Palardy’s fourteen punts have pinned opponents inside the 20-yardline. This season he averages approximately 42 yards per punt as compared to an opponent’s average return of 6.3 yards. Palardy will be a key to this game if he could play like he has throughout the Panthers’ first three games of the season.
3. Eric Reid: The Panthers announced they signed safety Eric Reid on September 27, and he is expected to start Sunday, just ten days later. His signing was a direct blow to anyone who believes the team owners are colluding against the players who kneeled during the playing of the national anthem. Panthers’ Head Coach Ron Rivera explained to gathered members of the media: “We’ll see how he does the first couple of series and use him from there,” said Rivera. “We really don’t want to overuse him. We have to be smart about it.” Obviously, this is a smart strategy to take with a player that has not seen NFL game-action since December 31, 2017.
Let’s WORK 💪 pic.twitter.com/8pjPNriu28
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) October 5, 2018
At Panthers practice, Reid seems to be picking up right where he left off. In fact, it was against a play-action run called in practice where he has most impressed Rivera this week. That spells trouble for Manning and the Giants’ offense: Manning is quite successful when utilizing play-action. If Reid can bottle up that option on Sunday, the Giants may be forced into committing turnovers deep into their own territory. Of note: Reid played at LSU with Odell Beckham, Jr. in the 2011-2012 season. There will be some familiarity between the two and it will be interesting to see which player can maximize that level of familiarity to gain a competitive advantage over the other.
With the best punter in the game, the Panthers will force Manning and company to sustain a whole-field drives without stalling. That is bad news for the Giants, as they are a team that successfully converts on third down only 45.3% of the time. Additionally, when looking at total points, the Panthers (71 points) have almost outscored the Giants (73 points). Why is that significant? The Panthers have played three games and the Giants have played four. Newton and McCaffrey will have their way with the Giants’ secondary, especially with a New York pass rush that will ultimately be a non-factor.
Final Score Prediction: Panthers 24, Giants 17