Brandon Croce: The Giants have plenty of experience being in this position, going up against an undefeated team when they beat the Patriots in 2007. The majority of the team has changed since then but it still has key figures in Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin. Do you think that game will play a role in preparation ahead of Sunday's game with the Panthers?
Josh Fyffe: While the experience is very similar, the 2007 Patriots and the 2015 Panthers are vastly different in their strengths and weaknesses. That being said, the experience of pulling off an improbable win has resonated with the Giants through the duration of Eli Manning’s post 2007 tenure. The Giants know they can hang and beat any team and the league and will often play up or down to the opponent’s level.
The Giants reaffirmed their ability to hang with the best earlier this season when they played the 8-0 Patriots back in week 9. That game may be more valuable because as a team it showed them that they were a play away from beating one of the best teams in football. The Giants will certainly be bringing the “we can beat anyone” mindset this week when they face the Panthers.
BC: For the past few years, the Giants have developed a reputation of being an excellent pass rushing defense with a talented defensive line. This year they rank 30th in sacks with only 16. Does this drop in production fall on Jason Pierre-Paul or is there a bigger problem?
JF: Jason Pierre-Paul has only played a little less than half the season so it is hard for him to shoulder the blame. The Giants lack of a pass rush stems from defensive line injuries as well as sloppy coverage by the backend of the defense.
The Giants lost their starting defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins to a pectoral injury and they primarily used him in nose gap blitzes to stimulate interior pressure. He disappeared from the lineup right as JPP reappeared and the two never got to put together the equation for an effective pass rush formula.
Currently the duo of Ayers and JPP have been leading the pass rush for the Giants, and had their best success two weeks ago against the Jets. Part of the trouble of generating a consistent pass rush are the lack of depth at safety and corner, as well as various injuries to the linebacking core. The Giants may be focusing this week on containing Newton in the pocket though rather than taking him down.
BC: One of the most talked about story lines with the Giants has been their struggles in the final minutes of games. Against the Dolphins though they took the lead in the fourth and then held the ball for almost five minutes to seal the win. Do you think this team has turned a corner in late game situations or do they still have something to prove?
JF: The Giants were thought to have turned a corner against the 49ers back in week 4 when they pulled off an improbable game winning drive, however they ended up falling into another losing streak later in the season. This team is as unpredictable as a classic Giants team.
That being said, the win against the Dolphins was a huge boost in confidence this late in the season because it has been their Achilles heel all season long. Finishing off a game in a definitive fashion always provides a team with a confidence boost. Their execution in the final quarter has been something they have been working on all season long. I would expect that confidence and late game situations to carry over into Sunday’s matchup against the Panthers.
BC: The Giants offensive line started the season strong keeping defenses away from Eli Manning, allowing only 12 sacks through the first nine games. However they have given up nine over the last four. What has changed and are the Giants concerned about this with the Panthers coming to town ranked third in sacks?
JF: The Giants have had a notably high different amount of combinations on their offensive line. Rookie left tackle Erik Flowers has missed sometime and was reinjured last week against the Dolphins. Justin Pugh, who starts at left guard, has moved to left tackle in his absence, but the Giants have also had injuries to their center Weston Richburg and their right tackle Marshall Newhouse. The consistent shuffling on the offensive line in recent weeks have caused the increase in sacks.
The Giants also had matchups against the Jets and the Patriots defensive line during that span, allowing 5 sacks between those two games alone. Both the Patriots and the Jets boast comparable defensive lines to the Panthers but there is no doubt that protecting Manning is one of the Giants’ leading concerns heading into this matchup. The Giants will be focusing on establishing the run game and putting together short passing plays in order to diffuse the pass rush if their offensive line has a disheveled early performance.
BC: Who is one player on the Giants who is a bit under the radar but Panthers' fans should be watching for Sunday who could play a major role in the outcome of this game?
JF: My answer to this almost every week is Dwayne Harris. Harris has been one of the biggest impact players for the Giants in 2015, currently ranking second on the team in touchdowns scored (only trailing Odell Beckham Jr). Not only does Harris provide a comfortable option in the slot for Eli Manning, but he is usually in single coverage due to opposing defenses primarily focusing on Odell Beckham Jr. Harris also has scored two touchdowns on special teams and always has the potential to make game changing plays in the return game.
The other player who could fly under the radar is rookie tightend Will Tye. Tye has really stepped out in the absence of Larry Donnell and Daniel Fells. The rookie has over 5 receptions and 50 yards in three of his last four games and has been one of Manning’s more reliable targets as of late. He can definitely make a few impactful plays despite not being a headline player.