The New York Giants went into their week one match-up with the Dallas Cowboys with the mindset that the playoffs had already started. After losing that game, they went into their week two game against the Denver Broncos with the mindset that it was a must win. Now at 0-2 and starring 0-3 in the face, the Giants truly do find themselves in a spot that is a must win (although every game is technically a must win).
But they aren't alone. The Carolina Panthers are also 0-2 and understand that an 0-3 start puts their backs against the wall and truly diminishes their chances of making it into the playoffs. Accordingly, this is a tale of two teams battling for their lives, and you had better believe it will have a playoff-like atmosphere on Sunday afternoon.
Abuse the weak link
The Panthers will be without both of their starting safeties, as well as one of their starting cornerbacks on Sunday. Needless to say, their patchwork secondary faces a tall order against Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz & Co. And, turnovers aside, the Giants sport the No. 1 pass offense in football — granted, that comes due in large part to trailing in games and an inability to run the ball. Either way, the Giants have demonstrated an ability to move the ball through the air at will against healthy secondaries, and should be able to do exactly that against what amounts to second stringers and street free agents.
Don't allow Cam Newton to run wild
Newton may not be running like he had during his rookie season, but the Panthers' occasional read-option affords him an opportunity to do so. With their pass offense struggling, the Giants can expect to see a heavy dose of DeAngelo Williams and the aforementioned read-option featuring Newton. At the end of the day, the Giants' defensive line needs to keep contain, limit big runs by Williams and not allow Newton to beat them with his feet. They will have to force the young quarterback to beat them with his arm, while hopefully taking a few shots along the way. And with Carolina's offensive line struggling to protect him, it may be just what the doctor ordered for Big Blue.
Keep emotions in check
Although emotions aren't something that can be drawn up like a play, they can most certainly impact what happens on the field. For the Giants, they face two emotional challenges on Sunday: desperation to avoid falling to 0-3 and dealing with the loss of Tom Coughlin's brother, John. In both instances, it could cause players to press too hard and lead to avoidable mistakes. It will be important for coach Coughlin to lead the way and just keep his team focused on winning each down.
Giants Pass Offense vs. Panthers Secondary
As we mentioned previously, the Panthers are depleted in their secondary and this causes a drastic mismatch against a very good Giants aerial attack. And while the Giants will most certainly want to establish the ground game for the first time this season, they may be able to do so by beating the Panthers deep a few times. Either way, the Giants will want to take what the Panthers give them. If they guard against the homerun ball, take some short underneath passes and keep moving the chains. If they guard against short passes and the run, hit them over the top. If, somehow, the Panthers find a way to shut Eli Manning & Co. down, they stand a good chance at winning; if they don't — and it doesn't seem likely that they will — it could be another huge passing day for Big Blue.
BIG GAME ALERT
Linebacker, Spencer Paysinger
In the off chance you hadn't noticed, Spencer Paysinger has developed into quite a talented linebacker. Unfortunately, his transformation has been a bit overshadowed by the overall futility of the Giants' linebacker corps. And while the group is not likely to suddenly morph into the fear-inducing unit of Giants past, Paysinger is certainly likely to continue his solid play. He has taken over play calling duties, earned the respect of his teammates and coaches, and is now looking for a stage to assert himself as a top quality player. That opportunity comes on Sunday as the Giants try to avoid an 0-2 start against the Panthers, who will suit up a familiar face in linebacker Chase Blackburn, whom Paysinger has attempted to emulate in the film room.
Forget the records, forget the emotion and forget the absolute need to win. Even before all of those things, this game is one the Giants have no business losing. And it's not to say Carolina is a bad team, because they aren't; they're just not as talented or deep as the Giants.
Giants 34, Panthers 17
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