With Brandon Jacobs back, the key will remain stopping the run first. The Giants' 1st ranked run offense stalled without Jacobs in, and the Giants struggled to respond. Their 18th ranked pass offense, lacking Plaxico Burress, is efficient but somewhat punchless, and Eli Manning's trip to the Pro Bowl is despite stats more akin to Delhomme's than brother Peyton's. Despite having power and having the ability to pass, the Giants have struggled to convert touchdowns in the red zone. Losing Jacobs for a time hurt, and worse, having Burress' size missing has disrupted.
Jacobs is almost exclusively a runner or blocker - he's only caught 5 balls all year, compared to backup Derrick Ward's 38. As well, FB Madison Hedgecock has only caught 5; the team has a high amount of pass attempts from playaction, in base formation. The team, despite their supposed offer to trade for Tony Gonzalez, don't use a lot of 2 TE, and backup TEs Darcy Johnson (6'5, 267) and Michael Matthews (6'2, 260) have two catches apiece. Hedgecock is a Pro Bowler, and starting TE Kevin Boss is an alternate. Only Boss, of the secondary blockers, plays often in pass sets, and has 28 rec/338 yards/5TD, ranking 6th on the team. Boss is, of course, a more likely short and goal target.
Ward plays more often in pass sets compared to Jacobs or third back Ahmad Bradshaw, and the other four top receivers are WR. Tom Coughlin would traditionally prefer to spread the defense out, but keeps things tighter for the run game, so on more traditional passing downs, he'll use more spread and push 3-4 WR into combo routes and rely a lot on the slot. 6'3, 200 lb Amani Toomer, the veteran of the group, starts and plays mostly outside, leading the team with 537 yards on 44 catches.
Backup Steve Smith, who leads the team in receptions with 52, does a lot of short work from the slot, but it was Dominick Hixon that got the start with Plaxico Burress out. Hixon, 6'2, 190, is good at beating the bump because of an unorthodox stance, not unlike a praying mantis, that has him exploding through a defender. He's had mixed success as a starter, after playing well in situations and having excelled as a kick/punt returner. Carolina doesn't lack size in the secondary, so there are no real matchup problems. It will be imperative to keep Charles Godfrey at home, however, and keep him on his man while Coughlin attempts various ways of luring the rookie out of position. Smith on Richard Marshall short won't be a key worry, as Marshall has struggled more deep and the Giants don't send him deep. The Panthers have good passing game matchups here, and may be able to pull Chris Harris into the box more often than if they were playing against a midseason Giants team with Burress.
Eli Manning, who has been named to the Pro Bowl, completes 60.3% of passes, has 20 TD/10 INT, but has struggled at home in recent games (53.7 QB rating) and since the second week of November (his completion percentage for December drops 10 points from the other three months). With a lessened run threat, he hasn't been able to produce, and without Burress to go get his jump balls he's been more limited in his daring. He's also had trouble working the sidelines this year, and trouble in the cold oddly enough.
LT David Diehl has 5.5 sacks on the year, and gave up 13.5 sacks last year. He faces a hot Julius Peppers, who has turned it on down the stretch (though was held statless against Denver due to Ryan Clady and numerous double teams). Banged up Kareem McKenzie faces the rotation of Charles Johnson and Tyler Brayton. Inside, the Giants had problems last week - Rich Seubert went out with injury (and should be starting again this week) and the Giants struggled with Grey Ruegamer in. The middle of Seubert and Pro Bowlers Chris Snee and Shaun O'Hara is rock solid, and Carolina will need whatever they can get out of Ma'ake Kemoeatu to go with Damione Lewis, and the team may upgrade Nick Hayden to a jersey instead of Darwin Walker to add size. Gary Gibson will definitely be active.
Injuries played a part, but Dallas also did a lot schematically that helped. Three wide situations, instead of putting the traditional nickel in, Dallas played 5 DL and 1 LB more often, although their OLB are effectively DL, Ware did stand up. Stacking the line a bit more against the Giants' front caused more confusion, allowed more stunting, and Diehl struggled heavily against Ware standing. Peppers is solid standing up, and with 4 other DL on the field, they can afford to play with him a bit more. The team hasn't messed with moving Julius Peppers around much other than swapping sides, but it would cause confusion to dust that off. Blitzing Manning from a traditional 4-3 isn't as effective, but blitzing from nickel (while more transparent) has been more effective since protection isn't as great as he's used to from a max-protect playaction style pass.
The key will, of course, be stopping the run, and letting the Giants get a bunch of 3rd-and-2 situations will lead to disaster for Carolina.
NY sent both their kicking specialists to the Pro Bowl. John Carney, now 44, hasn't tried a 50+ FG all year, and is 29-31 overall. Punter Jeff Feagles has a 44.0 yard average, and their coverage unit allows only 4.3 per return. They use Hixon as a returner, but have shied away from using him since starting, and Bradshaw takes more of the kick returns anyway. They allow 22.4 on kick returns.
An aside - it's the battle of the Ledford High School fullbacks, with Hoover and Hedgecock both graduating from there.
why we will beat the giants.
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