News trickled in today that both Ahmad Bradshaw and Hakeem Nicks would be out for tomorrow’s game in Carolina. I’ve watched both of Carolina’s games this season. In the first game, they got down early, abandoned the run, and finished with 10 rushing yards against one of the worst run defenses in the league a year ago. Last week, they looked a lot more like the team I expected to see, as they ran for a very impressive 219 yards against New Orleans. I think tomorrow night’s game, unlike most NFL games, will come down to the running game. Can the Giants stop the Panthers’ rushing attack, and can the Giants run on a Panthers defensive that has not looked like they’re very good against the run?
• The Panthers ran a ton of nickel last week against the Saints. They either didn’t respect the Saints running game, or deeply feared their passing game. Even when the Saints went with 2-TE sets, the Panthers stayed in nickel. Here are the Saints with a 2-TE set to the left side of their formation. The Saints should easily be able to run the ball with their personnel against this defensive personnel. TE David Thomas and S Charles Godfrey are circled:
The Saints run play action to the left and Drew Brees bootlegs to the right. Again, circled are Godfrey and Thomas:
Brees tries to throw to Thomas who has run across the field from his spot on the left side of the line, but Godfrey beats him to the spot:
Touchdown the other way:
A linebacker probably isn’t going to make that play. The Giants’ rushing attack was not good Week 1. It got better Week 2. If the Panthers want to come out in nickel sets against 2-TE formations, the Giants have to make them pay on the ground. I suspect the Panthers will still have plenty of respect for the Giants passing attack, even without Nicks. Expect to see a lot of nickel from Carolina.
• The Panthers had some major tackling issues Week 2. Mark Ingram drove a pile for about 5 extra yards on the opening drive, and there were some other really ugly whiffs. I wouldn’t be surprised if they missed 15-20 tackles. The Giants haven’t run the ball effectively/consistently in a long time. As noted above, Ahmad Bradshaw has already been ruled out against Carolina. I don’t care. This would be a great game to get their run game on track, even if they’re without Bradshaw. I liked what I saw out of Andre Brown last week.
• The Panthers do some creative things on offense. They showed a little no-huddle, which I didn’t expect, and some option runs, which I did expect. On their option runs, they really impressed me with their ball fakes. This is a great fake handoff to Mike Tolbert out of the Shotgun. He really sticks it in there, leaves it for a beat, then pulls it out and runs:
That moves the linebackers to the right, but Cam Newton keeps the ball and it’s basically him and DeAngelo Williams with a 2-on-1 against Malcolm Jenkins:
Cam fakes the pitch out to Williams, Jenkins bites, and Cam is down the sidelines for 40 yards:
They carry out their fakes like a college team that has been running the option all season. It’s very impressive. The Giants linebackers need to stay disciplined and not over-pursue.
Some more option. Here’s a play where the Panthers are going to leave the DE (circled) unblocked, and it’s Newton’s job to read him:
The LT Jordan Gross (69) blocks the LB (57), and the TE heads to the second level to take on the safety (41). DE Will Smith is unblocked, but he’s afraid to get beaten on the outside, so he plays contain:
Newton reads this and hands the ball to Williams, who has gaping hole:
That’s far too easy.
• OK, now this one is awesome. Here’s Cam faking a backwards pass to Jonathan Stewart while simultaneously handing the ball off to Brandon LaFell on an end around. This one even tricked me watching it on TV:
LaFell went for about 25 on that play.
• Cam Newton will not go down on his own, by the way. The Panthers had a 3rd and very long (something like 20), Cam had nothing down field, and he took off and ran. He had defenders closing in and had no shot of getting the first down. Slide? Nope. He put his head down and made a defender pay. That’s probably not good for the long-term interests of the Panthers, but it’s not good for the defense either.
• Some other quick notes:
- When you look at FB Mike Tolbert, he looks like a round, frumpy beef muffin. Don’t be fooled. The guy can catch passes out of the backfield, he can run, and he can hit. The Panthers like to use him on obvious passing downs as their primary back.
- The Panthers’ red zone D was very unimpressive. They gave up an easy TD on the Saints’ first trip down there, and would have given up another on their second trip, but both Lance Moore and Jimmy Graham dropped sure touchdowns. The Saints got into the red zone two more times on the afternoon and scored TDs on both trips. Sean McDermott is the Panthers’ defensive coordinator. The McDermott-led 2010 Eagles had the worst red-zone defense in the NFL since the 1988 Houston Oilers.
Game prediction: Tough game for the Giants this week. It’s never easy traveling on a short week for a Thursday game. Still… The Panthers’ defense really underwhelmed me, even in “holding” the Saints to 27 points. Too many missed tackles, and shaky talent on that side of the ball. I think the Giants will finally be able to run the ball, and I think their receivers will be able to make plays after the catch. Giants win 31-27.