It may not be a surprise that the Carolina Panthers currently rank third in the NFL in sacks with 40 however it is surprising that their best pass rusher, Charles Johnson, only has one sack on the year.
The nine year veteran has not had the 2015 season that he would have liked due in large part to being forced to miss eight games this year when he was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. The frustation for Johnson boiled over to Twitter this week when he voiced his frustration about playing time after the Falcons game. This is not typical behavior of Johnson and he even said on Thursday that he could have handled it better, according to ESPN's David Newton.
This game presents a great opportunity for Johnson as he the Panthers are going to need to get steady pressure on Eli Manning to try and slow the Giants' offense down. This year they have done a good job of protecting their quarterback, allowing only 21 sacks which is tied for the fourth lowest total.
While the defense has had no problem getting to opposing quarterbacks this year, if Johnson is able to get on a roll against the Giants it just going to make them that much tougher to stop.
Fozzy Whittaker/Cameron Artis-Payne
The Panthers' offense is going to be without one of their key contributors on Sunday as Jonathan Stewart has already been ruled out with a foot injury. Ron Rivera said on Thursday that the team will most likely go to a running back by committee which presents an opportunity for Fozzy Whittaker and Cameron Artis-Payne to see the most work they have all season. The team will also use Mike Tolbert but I expect the majority of the work to go to these two running backs.
Whittaker has been the team's primary back-up this year however that doesn't mean he has seen regular action in games. The coaching staff has leaned heavily on Stewart, who currently ranks second in the league in rushing attempts, and Whittaker only has 18 carries on the season with eight of them coming last week against the Falcons.
The biggest wild card for this game as to be Cameron Artis-Payne, who has played only one snap since Week 4 and for the year has only carried the ball 12 times. The former Auburn Tiger entered this year with high expectations due to the fact that there wasn't an established back-up with the team releasing DeAngelo Williams. I believe Artis-Payne has the best chance of replicating what Stewart brings to this offense however he has not had a chance to show it yet.
The loss of Stewart this week is going to leave a huge hole in this offense however it will present a great opportunity for one of these two to make a case to earn more carries down the stretch, even when Stewart returns from injury.
This is going to be the most talked about matchup this Sunday as Josh Norman will be given the task of shutting down Odell Beckham Jr.. The Panthers' cornerback has been able to rise to the occassion when he faces some of the best wide receivers this year as evident in NFL Network's Andrew Siciliano's tweet Wednesday.
Beckham is a huge part of what Eli Manning and the New York Giants do on offense and if Norman is able to neutralize him, it could be a long day for Giants. On the Panthers' side Norman is equally important to what this defense is able to do. Whichever player is able to impose their will on this game, could be the deciding factor for whichever team is able to win.