13 down and three more to go; that’s all that stands in the way of the Carolina Panthers and a perfect regular season. They’ve won some in close nail-biters and others in blowout fashion but next up will be a matchup with the New York Giants, a team that boasts one of the most dynamic playmakers in the league.
The Giants are an interesting team; they have an offense that centers on Eli Manning getting the ball to Odell Beckham Jr., but have shown inconsistencies at times and can become one dimensional. And their defense has been one of the biggest disasters in football due to a number of key injuries on all levels as they rank last in the league. But after a big win last week and fighting for their playoff lives, this team will have a lot of fight in them.
The Panthers are looking as hot as ever after their annihilation of the Falcons, with both the offense and defense putting on a show and proving why there are some of the best in the league. But the injury bug has taken a toll on Carolina and with Jonathan Stewart sidelined, and Bene Benwikere on IR, the team will have to hope the next men up can contribute as effectively.
Staying the course and stopping a potent Giants offense will be a necessity for Carolina this Sunday. Here’s what to watch for.
Replacements in the Run Game
Replacing a running back who has rushed for 989-yards (4th best in the league) and has accounted for more than 54% of the teams carries will be no easy task. But it’s one that Mike Tolbert, Fozzy Whittaker and Cameron Artis-Payne will need to accomplish if the Panthers want to maintain their balanced offensive attack.
With Stewart sitting out this week with a sprained foot, these three will man the backfield duties in a timeshare and hope to keeping things rolling with the prolific ground game of the Panthers. Head Coach Ron Rivera has said that it will likely be a committee approach this week with Whittaker or Tolbert getting the start and Artis-Payne coming in in support.
In the second half of last week’s game Whittaker logged 29-snaps and rushed for 34-yards and a score and Tolbert contributed his usual snap count with six carries for 17-yards in relief of Stewart. Artis-Payne has seen just 12 rushes this season as he’s been inactive for a majority of the team’s games but with a timeshare likely in effect, that number should rise.
The “lead” back for this contest will likely be the one who has the hot hand and the Panthers will absolutely need one of them to do just that.
All Eyes on OBJ
The premiere matchup in this game that’s drawn all the attention is the one between Josh Norman and Beckham and with them being two of the best at their respective positions it should be a battle of epic proportions.
But because of Norman’s resume versus many top receivers this year (just 89-total yards) we may not even see much of the two lined up opposite each other. Norman plays the outside and won’t follow any receiver into the slot and the Giants have already expressed their desire to move Beckham around to create mismatches for their big-play threat.
This means it won’t just be Norman vs. Beckham, but more so the entire secondary vs. Beckham.
Losing Benwikere, a tough young corner, hurts but luckily for Carolina, veteran Charles Tillman who has been out with a knee injury for some time is set to return and should be a welcomed asset for this defense once again. Cortland Finnegan and the newly signed Robert McClain will also have a spotlight on them in the slot as they attempt to eliminate Beckham as a threat.
Safety help will also be crucial in this one but the Panthers have a valuable weapon of their own over the top in Kurt Coleman who leads the league with eight interceptions and with all the action likely to come through the air for the Giants, could add even more to that total.
Limiting Beckham will be essential for this defense and it’ll be on the entire secondary to do so.
#1 vs. #32
No, this isn’t a matchup between two players. What these two numbers represent is the #1 ranked scoring offense of the Panthers versus the #32 overall ranked Giants defense, which should be the real matchup that draws the attention.
The Panthers moved into the top spot this week and are scoring a league high 31.6-points per game and, behind Cam Newton’s stellar play, are averaging 365.9-yards per contest. They’ve gotten even hotter as of late though and in the last four weeks, have outscored opponents 156-68 while averaging 39-points.
The Giants on the flip side are giving up a league worst 418.6-total yards to go with 24.6-points allowed per game. Their defense has been riddled with injuries and ineffective personnel and the opportunity is certainly there for Carolina to score in bunches.
With Newton and the offense playing so effectively, regardless of the running back situation, and New York’s defense playing so inconsistent and poor, the question shouldn’t be whether Carolina can contain Manning and Beckham, but rather, can the Giants contain Newton and the Panthers?