After a very disappointing loss at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys last week, the Giants will play against another top NFC opponent in another primetime matchup Sunday night. But this time the winner will get home-field advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs.
Make no mistake about it, just as last Sunday’s game was a must-win for the Cowboys, this game is a must-win for the Giants. Should they lose to the Carolina Panthers (11–3), in front of a capacity home crowd, they will drop to 11–4 and fail to secure the number one seed.
But more troubling is a possible three-game losing streak that could create the exact opposite momentum that catapulted them to the Super Bowl last season.
All year long the Giants offensive line has been heralded as the league’s best. But in last week’s game, Eli Manning could barely stay on his feet and was sacked eight times. Should the O-line play another poor game, the Panthers’ much underrated defensive line will be sure to capitalize.
Just as in the Dallas game, the Giants will be forced to adjust to a quick pass rush and blitzes—not something they have done well this season. In order to beat such a defensive scheme, the Giants must make the Panthers pay with quick passes and screens to the running backs.
They must also resort to passing first to set up the run. Ordinarily they run first, pass second.
But this plan didn’t work against Philly two weeks ago, it didn’t work last week, and it won’t work this week against Carolina. The Giants cannot afford to limit their scoring chances.
The Panthers have a very stingy defense and a surging offense lead by Pro Bowler Steve Smith (17.7 yards per catch, 1,240 total receiving yards) and rising star tailback DeAngelo Williams (5.5 yards per carry, 14 touchdowns, 1,229 yards rushing).
If offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride does not alter the play calling and neutralize the eight-man front that Carolina will surely bring, the Giants will fail to score enough points to keep themselves in the game. On the other side of the line, should that happen, the Giants defense will find itself on the field for most of the game and eventually give up some costly scores.
Gilbride commented on his unit’s recent poor play: “I could easily give you a litany of explanations, but the bottom line is we all know that we are going through a difficult spell and we all have to raise our level of play.
“I think our players understand that and they are looking forward to redeeming ourselves in the next two weeks.”
Without Plaxico Burress and Brandon Jacobs, the Giants offense has struggled. Without Burress, teams have been dropping a safety, clogging the line, and counteracting the Giants run game.
In Jacobs’s absence, the Giants have gone with Derrick Ward, who has been average at best. But sitting on the bench is Ahmad Bradshaw, who might fare better than Ward should he be given equal playing time.
In addition to the poor pass protection, the run blocking has also been weak as of late. Carolina’s tough 4–3 defense will surely pose matchup challenges for the Giants offensive line.
But Giants QB Eli Manning is optimistic, “We are excited about the opportunity [to be] playing at home in a big game, and we need to get back to playing good football.
“We have to play well. Everybody has to be responsible for their jobs, starting with me. I have to play better football. Our defense has been playing great, so we have to help them out.”
Speaking of the defense, the Giant must contain DeAngelo Williams. Last week, the Panthers rushed for over 200 yards. But the Giants run defense allows only 90.4 yards per game.
In addition to containing Carolina’s rushing attack, the Giants must pressure Carolina QB Jake Delhomme and force him into making mistakes. The Panthers have only given up 19 sacks all season, seventh fewest in the NFL. But the
Giants bring a fierce defense that ranks atop the league with 26 sacks.
This game will be the Giants biggest challenge yet this season. They know what has to get done.
“Forget about yesterday. Yesterday does not matter. What matters is this coming weekend,” head coach Tom Coughlin said on Wednesday.
“It is a defining game… because of what is at stake.”
Manning agrees, “We have to put everything behind us. We have to bounce back and this is a big game.”