By Curt Macysyn
Hopefully, the New York Giants (6-7) can conjure up some type of home field advantage reminiscent of what they used to have in old Giants Stadium. After a gut check victory on Monday night against the Miami Dolphins, this week Big Blue gets to match up against the Carolina Panthers (13-0) in a 1 p.m. start at MetLife Stadium. Maybe someone can lose the Panthers wake up call requests?
Current Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman was the personnel director for the New York Giants before heading to Charlotte in 2013, and he has managed the Panthers roster expertly. Before Gettleman arrived, the Panthers were in a serious salary cap crunch, but the veteran executive navigated through those waters and has put together a solid roster of stars and young high-level NFL talent.
The Panthers come off of a 38-0 dismantling of the Atlanta Falcons at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday. The win guaranteed a first round bye for the Panthers, and the team looks to secure home field throughout the playoffs with a win against the G-men. With only games against the Giants, Falcons and Buccaneers remaining, Carolina has a good shot at going undefeated in the regular season, but certainly Big Blue would like to wipe that smile off of the Panthers faces.
The Panthers 13-game winning streak has not been entirely peaches and cream, as the team had to fight off challenges from the New Orleans Saints 41-38 in Week 13, as well as a 29-26 overtime nail biter against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 8.
Carolina Panthers on Offense
Over the past four games—all victories—the Panthers have averaged 39 points per contest, and Carolina’s offense poses a major headache for the the much-maligned Giants defense. The offense begins with quarterback Cam Newton, as the fifth year player from Auburn completes 59 percent of his passes. Newton has 3,069 passing yards with 28 touchdowns against only 10 interceptions. The 28 touchdowns are a career-high for Newton, who also remains a threat on the ground with 480 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. If those number do not speak the initials M-V-P, then you are following the wrong sport.
Dependable running back Jonathan Stewart is no longer in a ride share situation with D’Angelo Williams, so Stewart’s production in the ground attack has picked up. The veteran running back has 989 rushing yards as he seeks to break the 1,000 rushing yard plateau for the second time in his career (2009), although a foot sprain suffered against the Falcons may slow him down this week.
Newton’s primary receiving threat is New Jersey native Greg Olsen with 969 receiving yards. Olsen hails from Wayne, where he played football for his father Chris Olsen. The younger Olsen has six receiving touchdowns this season. Veteran receivers Ted Ginn, Jr. and Jerricho Cotchery are reliable targets for Newton in the passing game, as the team is mixing in rookie Devin Funchess as well. Ginn is the team’s designated home run hitter with eight touchdown receptions, while Funchess has been more visible in the passing game since Nov. 8, when he caught his first NFL touchdown against Green Bay.
Carolina Panthers on Defense
The quarterback on defense is middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who has accumulated 86 total tackles on the season. Despite missing two games, Kuechly still ranks second on the team in tackles, and he has a quarterback sack and four interceptions to his credit as well. Under-rated linebacker Thomas Davis leads the team in tackles with 88, and he also is second on the squad with 5.5 quarterback sacks. The 32-year-old Davis shows no signs of slowing down, as he has three interceptions on his ledger as well.
Defensive tackle Kawann Short leads the team with nine quarterback sacks, and he will be a handful for Giants offensive guard John Jerry to handle. Veteran safety Kurt Coleman comes into the contest with a five game interception streak, and he has seven picks total in 2015. The Giants should be familiar with Coleman as he spent four years with the Philadelphia Eagles before following Andy Reid to Kansas City last season.
Many observers throughout the NFL consider cornerback Josh Norman to be the best at his position. Grading by Pro Football Focus would seem to support that conclusion, as Norman has a (+20.6) grade this season, behind only Arizona’s Tyrann Mathieu in the league. The Odell Beckham – Norman match-up should be fun to watch.
Carolina Panthers Players to Watch
Cam Newton is a big man (6-5, 245 lbs.), and poor tackling by the G-men has been noticeable lately. It is imperative that the Giants set the edge, so Newton cannot break containment. In addition, New York has to make a commitment to gang tackle Newton, so that he does not run rough shod over their porous defense.
The Panthers defensive scheme allows middle linebacker Luke Kuechly to make plays, so neutralizing the All Pro linebacker will require an innovative game plan from offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, and stellar execution from Eli Manning. If Big Blue allows Kuechly to make plays behind the line of scrimmage, or in the passing game, then it will be a long day for Manning and company. Even if the Giants neutralize Kuechly, Josh Norman may be able to blanket Odell Beckham in the passing game, but first thing’s first.
On paper, this game would seem to be a classic mismatch, as the Panthers are on a roll and have much more talent than the Giants do. On offense, can the Giants reasonably expect Marshall Newhouse and John Jerry to block better? On defense, can J.T. Thomas and Prince Amukamara step up their play against this potent Panthers offense? If the answers are yes to both of those questions, then the Giants may have a puncher’s chance against the Panthers.
Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past four seasons for Examiner.com, and he is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA). Born and raised in New Jersey, Curt attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, N.J. and is a graduate of Rutgers University – New Brunswick. Follow him on Twitter @CurtMac23 for the latest NFL and New York Giants news.