Thursday Night Football: Panthers vs. Giants Preview
The Carolina Panthers will take on the defending champion New York Giants tonight in a Thursday Night Football showdown that has the makings of an offensive explosion.
Both the Giants and Panthers are coming off of huge week two wins in which both teams scored at least 35 points and won their game. By doing so, both teams avoided starting 2012 in an 0-2 hole. While that probably felt great for a week, now one of these two teams is destined to drop down to 1-2.
With the Eagles and Falcons both leading the NFC East and NFC South at 2-0, respectively, neither team can afford to drop further behind in the standings. This will surely be a heated battle that will likely go down to the final minutes. Let’s take a closer look at five things to watch for in this contest:
1. Carolina’s Rushing Attack
The first two weeks have been very different for the Panthers, and the common ingredient, or lack thereof, has to be the running game. When it was nowhere to be found in week one, the entire offense struggled and the Panthers fell to the divisional rival Buccaneers. When they made a concerted effort to get their rushing attack back on track in week two, they disposed of the Saints. It’s not a coincidence. If the Panthers stick to the ground game and run the ball like we all know they can, they’re very touch to beat. They have several bodies that can get the job done, including Cam Newton, who rushed for a career high 71 yards last week. Jonathan Stewart is a bit iffy for this one, and fans should be at least somewhat concerned that Carolina could slip back into being a bit one-dimensional if they’re without him like they were in week one.
2. No Hakeem Nicks or Ahmad Bradshaw for Giants
This is obviously great news for Carolina, as it just got a heck of a lot easier to defend a very tough Giants offense. It will be interesting to see how Eli Manning adjusts without one of his most reliable and explosive targets. After all, Nicks did rack up 11 catches and 199 yards just last week. However, his absence could simply clear the way for tight end Martellus Bennett to be used more than ever in week three. He’s already showed good play-making ability and should continue to get more comfortable in New York’s system. Rueben Randle and Ramses Barden will rotate in with Nicks out, but neither can fully be relied upon.
As for Bradshaw, a neck sprain will keep him out for at least this contest, and possibly longer. That means Andre Brown, who looked good in spot duty last week, will draw the start. Depending on how much success he finds early, the Giants could rotate in explosive rookie David Wilson, as well. Wilson coughed up a fumble in week one and the Giants have been visibly afraid to use him ever since, but there’s no denying his talent. If he plays with confidence and gets a chance, Panthers’ fans could wish Bradshaw were healthy pretty quickly.
3. Carolina’s Pass Defense
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been pretty impressed with the Carolina secondary this year. Their run defense and pass-rush hasn’t been elite so far, but the pass defense has held up pretty well. They limited Josh Freeman in week one as they should have, but making Drew Brees into a pedestrian quarterback for much of week two couldn’t have been an easy task. This unit continues to perform, and they’ll have to raise their level to keep Eli and co. out of the end-zone. They get a bit of a break with Nicks out this week, but they still have their work cut out for them.
4. Greg Olsen Alert
Olsen had six catches in week one, but just one last week with Newton passing just 20 times. I think this is a shootout this week, which means 30+ passes for Newton and a stat line for Olsen that looks a lot more like week one. He hasn’t really blown up yet this year, despite being the top guy and no Jeremy Shockey in town. This is the perfect game for him to blow up. I expect at least one touchdown and 60+ receiving yards.
5. Eli vs. Cam
This is what it’s really all about, right? The Giants and Panthers both have fairly soft defenses with limited strengths. New York can get after the quarterback, but they can be run on and they give up a lot through the air. That probably means a huge game by the numbers for Newton, who has a cannon arm and can evade pressure and take off running with the best of them. He’s a matchup nightmare for the Giants, regardless of how talented and deep their defensive line is.
Carolina can be very stingy against the pass, but they can’t stop the run and they’re still giving up yardage overall. Manning might turn the ball over a couple times, as he is one to do, but ultimately he’ll figure this defense out enough to make this a competitive battle. This is an offensive showdown that should come down to Manning and Newton – especially if Jonathan Stewart joins Giants’ starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw on the sidelines for the night.
It should be a great night of football action, and hopefully for the sake of a long line of weak Thursday Night Football matchups, this one doesn’t disappoint.