Thursday, December 18, 2008

A look ahead to the Panthers

Giants are in a bit of a funk offensively, or so it seems from the last two weeks. At the superficial level, it seems straightforward: with Burress gone, defenses don't have to respect the deep passing game and can walk a S (or two) up to the line of scrimmage to stop the running game. With Jacobs out against the Cowboys and the second half against the Eagles, the offense was yet more limited.

On the other side of the field, the Panthers have won 3 in a row and 7 of 8, putting up huge numbers in the running game against Tampa Bay and Denver. The combination of Carolina running the ball down the throat of the Giants defense and Giants offense in a slump running the ball seems like a tough combination to overcome.

But this ignores the most important aspect of how well you're playing and what your record is. Specifically, it leaves out considering who your opponent is. Panthers ran up huge running numbers the last two weeks against Bucs and Broncos, but those teams are rated 23rd and 30th against the run defensively. By contrast, Giants are one of the best teams defensively against the run, ranked 4th in the league. I am sure the Panthers will run against the Giants, but I am counting on the fact that they will not be able to gash the Giants in the running game like they did the Broncos last week. If Giants stop the Panthers running game without having to commit a safety to do so, they should be able to keep Steve Smith and Delhomme more or less under control. Delhomme has a big arm, but he is not the most accurate of passers. I see the Giants defense doing to the Panthers what the Cowboys and Eagles did to the Giants the last two weeks: take away the running game, get Delhomme in some uncomfortable passing downs and then get after him with a pass rush. Delhomme is not a great runner, so Giants can be creative and aggressive with how they rush him.

The other aspect of who-the-opponents-are is the Panthers record at home and on the road. Panthers are a perfect 8-0 at home and 3-3 on the road. That's a good formula in the NFL as it is in any sport: dominate at home and split on the road. But the Panthers 3 road victories have come against teams that are now under .500 and their 3 road losses came against Falcons, Bucs and Vikings. These are hardly the elite teams in the league, but they are good teams and they thoroughly dominated the Panthers in those games. Panthers are playing well, but Giants can handle them.

Giants game plan defensively should be to try to make the Panthers one dimensional - concentrate on making them a passing team by taking away the run and get after them with the pass rush. This might be a little harder this week because Robbins is hurt at DT. But I have a lot of confidence in Cofield and Alford and I think the Giants can make some plays against them in the running game. When Giants lost to Carolina in that playoff game 3 years ago, Giants LBs were decimated by injury and Giants literally signed players off of the street to play, who had not been in the NFL the entire year. Fox came up with a game plan to go after the Giants LBs. He ran a lot of screens, got the RBs out in pass routes over the middle and ran short and medium crossing routes that tested the middle of the field usually patrolled by LBs. Last year the Giants were vulnerable to TEs over the middle and medium crosses, partly because the LBs were not good and because the S play was overrated. The LBs are a little better this year and the S play is much better, but I still think the LBs are the weakest part of the defense. The Eagles attacked the middle of the field against the Giants with TE LJ Smith and RB Westbrook and the Cowboys made some plays with Choice at RB and Witten and gave up some big gains on screen passes. I would think Fox would try to do something similar this week, because as good as the Giants defense is, the LBs are the weakest part of it and the Panthers have strong RBs. Giants will need a big game from their DL and from the S group to handle this. Panthers will go after the Giants with screen passes. Steve Smith is a deep weapon and Giants need to handle him carefully.

On offense, I think the Giants can run against Carolina. Cowboys have a great front 7 and Eagles dropped a S or 2 down to the line of scrimmage to stop the run. But both these teams are strong against the run to start with. Giants ran for 200 yards against the Eagles in the first matchup, but that was one game: Eagles are 5th in the league against the run and Cowboys are 7th. Panthers are 18th. No doubt, Panthers will bring extra guys up to the line to stop the run, but I think Giants will still be able to run the ball against them. Giants should have a normal balanced offensive game plan against the Panthers. They have to have a good mixture of pass and run and give some help to Diehl against Peppers in obvious passing downs. Panthers db-field is not great and Giants need to take some shots down the field on 1st and 2nd down to test them. Hixon did not practice on Wednesday, but I think he will play. Giants will need some productivity from Manningham in the passing game because Sinorice Moss looks to be out.

2 comments:

CarolinaDon said...

When the Pathers played Tampa on that Monday night game Tampa had only given up 1 running TD - the Panthers got "4" that night. Tampa's defense (run & pass) had to be ranked high at that time.
If the Panthers line is intact they will run but they have a few injuries - that will be key. Smith is red hot so they can be very dangerous. I think the Giants offense will be out to prove something - let's hope they can do it. We don't want to lose home field advantage - it's a long ride to Charlotte. :)

wolfman said...

CarolinaDon:

How unusual: a Giants fan in Carolina!

Panthers are tough, but I think Giants are ready to come out of their offensive funk.

Also - Panthers have a DT injured and Robbins, according to today's papers is coming back for the Giants. That could be important swing for us in trying to establish the running game and stop theirs in what could be a bad weather game.

-wm