|With Hakeem Nicks out, Giants receiver Victor Cruz (above) could face significantly more double coverage from the Panthers on Thursday night. (AP)|
Giants at Panthers -- Week 3
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C., (grass, outdoors)
When: Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET (NFL Network)
Spread: Giants by 1
Forecast: Cloudy, low 60s, 10 percent cWith hance of rain
2012 records -- Giants (1-1), Panthers (1-1)
Past results: The Giants and Panthers have each won three regular-season games against the other, with New York taking the most-recent matchup 31-18 in the 2010 season opener. Carolina did beat New York 23-0 in the Wildcard Round of the 2005 NFC Playoffs.
What matters: Panthers LB Jon Beason and SS Charles Godfrey each had a pick in the Week 2 win over the New Orleans Saints, and although Beason has been limited with an elbow injury this week, Giants QB Eli Manning is facing a defense that’s geared toward creating turnovers. It’s unclear how much blame Manning deserves for his three interceptions (he also had some bad throws that weren’t picked off) in Week 2, but it seems that Carolina needs to create turnovers to stay competitive. The Saints outgained the Panthers 486-463 on Sunday, but they lost 34-27 largely because Carolina won the turnover battle. The Giants needed 604 yards to barely beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. If Manning can’t protect the ball, they may not be as fortunate next time.
Who matters: With Hakeem Nicks (foot) out for Sunday’s game, Victor Cruz could be seeing significantly more double teams. That puts a lot of pressure on backup WRs like Ramses Barden and rookie Rueben Randle.
They’re both bigger than the 6-foot-1 Nicks (Barden is 6-6 and Randle is a bit over 6-2) and have good hands, which is important because the ball is coming their way. Manning aims for weaknesses in the defense, and the Giants wouldn’t put a player on the field unless their franchise quarterback was comfortable with him. If the Panthers leave Barden or Randle in single coverage, they could pay a severe penalty.
Key matchups: Cruz had 11 catches for 179 yards and a touchdown, and TE Martellus Bennetthad five for 72 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, so even without Nicks in the lineup, there will be a lot of pressure on Carolina’s secondary.
“They play a lot of single-high safety coverage,” Cruz said. “They do a good job of mixing it up. But the majority of their stuff is single-high stuff.”
That means Bennett could see a lot of Godfrey (the strong safety often comes down to play man over the tight end in single-high coverage), but it leaves only one safety to apply the double on Cruz or Nicks' replacement (likely Barden). Needless to say, Manning will try to throw into single coverage as often as he can.
Injuries of note: Nicks was a late scratch and did not make the trip to Carolina because of his surgically repaired right foot. The reigning NFC offensive player of the week had 10 catches for 199 yards and a touchdown against the Buccaneers, so he’ll obviously be missed. Expect Barden and Randle to see significantly more time Thursday night.
The Giants will also be without three other major offensive contributors -- RT David Diehl (knee), RB Ahmad Bradshaw (neck) and WR Domenik Hixon (concussion). They’ll also be without DE Adewale Ojomo (hamstring).
Diehl will be replaced by Sean Locklear, who slides over from left tackle, and last year’s starter Will Beatty will get the nod on Manning’s blind side. Beatty, who was going to be the starter at left tackle until a sore back limited him in the preseason, was a bit rusty after Diehl was injured in the first quarter of Sunday’s win, but Manning never got sacked and that’s obviously a win for the line.
Andre Brown was brilliant after Bradshaw left Sunday’s win in the second quarter (he scored the game-winning touchdown) and Barden had a 24-yard catch after Hixon left with the concussion.
CB Michael Coe (hamstring) is questionable, and LB Keith Rivers (hamstring), RB Da’Rel Scott (knee) and CB Prince Amukamara (ankle) are probable. Amukamara might start at cornerback, although rookie Jayron Hosley said he’s preparing as if he’ll be starting his second consecutive game. Regardless of whether Hosley starts, the third-round pick will be at nickelback when the defense shifts to the sub package.
Inside stuff: Sometimes single-high safety coverage leaves defenses vulnerable against the run (if the strong safety has man responsibilities on the tight end, he can be taken out of the box, leaving one safety to defend the run) and that could be why the Panthers rank 28th in the league in run defense. And because Brown had 71 yards on 13 carries in relief of Bradshaw (neck) in Sunday’s win, this could be a great opportunity for New York’s running game to take another step in the right direction. It wasn’t just Brown, a North Carolina native, who played well on Sunday. The offensive line blocked well even after Diehl left the game. For a team that won a Super Bowl in spite of finishing last in the NFL in rushing, a little momentum on the ground could go a long way.
Connections: Beason played with Giants Ss Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle at the University of Miami.
Stat you should know: The Giants trio of Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck have combined for one sack this season. Umenyiora and Tuck have yet to touch a quarterback, and things won’t be any easier this week facing the Panthers' Cam Newton. New York’s defense is predicated on getting to the quarterback, so if things don’t change against Carolina, don’t be surprised if defensive coordinator Perry Fewell tweaks a few things before Week 4.
Bulletin board quote: Tuck is confident the Giants can get to the quarterback, even if they haven’t shown much of a pass rush through the first two games.
“I think our reputation, in some ways, is hurting us,” Tuck said. “[Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan] knows us well, and they did their best to nullify what we do up front. It’s still a young season, we’ll figure out ways to get our pass rush going.”
Looking ahead: The Giants travel to Philadelphia for a Sunday night matchup with the Eagles in Week 4, before hosting the Cleveland Browns in Week 5. S Tyler Sash’s suspension will end after Week 4, so expect a roster move to be made after the Eagles game. In Week 6, the Giants travel to San Francisco for an NFC title game rematch with the 49ers, and you can argue that’s the toughest game on New York’s schedule this season.
Prediction: Giants 27, Carolina 20
Follow the Giants and Alex Raskin @CBSGiants and @AlexRaskinNYC.