The New York Giants dominated the Carolina Panthers from start to finish on Thursday Night Football, and running back Andre Brown rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries to lead Big Blue in their 36-7 victory.
For the first time in a long time, the Giants weren’t forced to climb back in a regular season game, giving Cam Newton trouble while attacking the Panthers’ weak defense all night long. Ramses Barden had a breakout game with nine catches for 138 yards, delivering a swift slap in the face for all of those who called for him to be cut during the preseason.
The win was a positive look for the Giants, who struggled in each of their first two games. Eli Manning looked as spectacular as he ever has, and he captained the team in a fantastic performance despite missing four offensive starters.
In doing so, Manning and the Giants taught us a lot about what we can expect from them going forward. Let’s take a look at the lessons learned in their big Thursday night triumph.
1. Eli Manning makes everyone better.
Not to take anything away from the performance of Barden, Brown and others, but it never ceases to amaze when Manning takes a makeshift group of players and leads them in a dominating performance.
With key offensive weapons Hakeem Nicks and Ahmad Bradshaw out, Manning found a way to make things work on offense, spreading the ball around to all of his receivers and getting Barden involved for a big game. Manning has this indomitable confidence in his teammates and, as a result, the Giants players generally rub off on it and step up to the plate for their quarterback.
That ability is something few quarterbacks have and easily separates him from the pack. His prowess as a leader was ever present on the gridiron Thursday night and it paid off, putting another game in the win column for Big Blue.
2. The Offensive Line is better without David Diehl.
In the past two games, the offensive line has looked dominant and reminiscent of old. Of course, much of that has to do with David Diehl’s absence along the front five.
I speculated about the Giants’ offensive line improvement prior to the game with the Panthers, and though the Panthers defense is nothing to gloat about, the big hogs up front looked impressive once again. Will Beatty and Sean Locklear appear at home in their current roles, something the Giants’ insistence to keep Diehl in the lineup was foolishly preventing from happening.
Diehl has been a sturdy presence along the offensive line for some time now. Unfortunately, this may be the end of the road for the 10-year NFL veteran.
3. Ahmad Bradshaw’s starting role may be at risk.
Ahmad Bradshaw came into the regular season as the incumbent and unquestioned starter, but Andre Brown is starting to make a strong case that he should be the No. 1 running back. Brown’s 100-yard game is the first for the Giants since Bradshaw’s Week 6 annihilation of the Buffalo Bills last season where he 104 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
The Giants are a team that loves to employ a well-balanced offense. The inability to run the football has placed more pressure on Manning and the passing game, but Brown has rejuvenated the rushing attack with back-to-back performances that have the caught the attention of folks everywhere.
Bradshaw is still the starter when he returns from his injury, but he’ll be splitting a lot more time with Brown than he was when he went out—Brown was the third-string running back just three days prior to the Giants’ Week 3 matchup with the Panthers.
4. Jason Pierre-Paul is who we thought he was.
Jason Pierre-Paul is a freak. There’s no other way to put it, quite frankly, and every week proves as assurance of what Pierre-Paul has quickly become in the NFL.
He is in on every play, run or pass, doing all he can to stifle the opposing offense. Few defensive ends in NFL history have looked as good as Pierre-Paul looks right now, and it’s scary to think of what he could be able to accomplish when all is said and done.
After tallying a phenomenal 86 tackles and 16.5 sacks from the defensive end position last season, Pierre-Paul is at it again in 2012 with 15 tackles and 1.5 sacks through three games. He played a big role in the Giants’ win over the Panthers, spending much of the night in Newton’s face, stuffing the Panthers rushing attack at will and even nearly came down with an interception in the first half.
5. Jayron Hosley and Prince Amukamara will be key for the Giants secondary this season.
One of the Giants’ biggest concerns has been in their secondary. Injuries have riddled their cornerbacks and left the team scrambling to find an answer. Fortunately, with rookie Jayron Hosley and Prince Amukamara healthy and looking to contribute, the Giants appear to have found some stability for the time being.
Both players starred in coverage against the Panthers, making fantastic plays on the ball that kept Carolina off the scoreboard, including Hosley, who recorded his first career interception in the NFL.
Hosley has been impressive in two starts for the Giants, showing why New York was wise to take a chance on the prospect. The rookie could prove to be a steal if his efforts continue, as the Giants selected him late in the third round after Hosley slid down draft boards for testing positive for marijuana at the combine.
Amukamara, meanwhile, has been progressing slowly and Thursday night’s game was a needed boost for his confidence going forward. With Terrell Thomas done for the year and Corey Webster struggling, the Giants will need Amukamara’s best to succeed in the pass-happy NFL.
6. The Black Unicorn is the real deal.
Cited as an underperformer in Dallas, Martellus Bennett has been huge for Manning and the Giants in the passing game.
In three games, Bennett has 15 receptions for 185 yards and three touchdowns—one in each of the Giants’ games. Bennett has proven to be a dependable target for Manning and with defenses force to account for Nicks and Victor Cruz, Bennett continues to see huge opportunities to catch the football.
Bennett was a key player in the Giants’ win, catching six passes for 73 yards and that aforementioned touchdown. He is currently playing at a surprising level, leading the way as one of the NFL’s best blocking tight ends as well. As a result, the Giants offense is thriving. Should Bennett’s play continue, opposing defenses are going to have a tough time stifling the Giants’ lethal offensive onslaught.