The entire Carolina Panthers organization is breathing a collective sigh of relief. The Panthers managed to turn a matchup of sliding 0-2, into a drubbing of the once-great New York Giants, injecting some hope and life into a seemingly snake-bitten team. Both teams were facing extreme pressure to bounce back, coming from the fanbase, the media and from within the organization, but only one team stepped up. The Panthers made keys adjustments coming into the game while the Giants continued to crumble under the weight of their inadequacies, and those decisions were indicative in the score. So, what did we learn from this lopsided clash?
The Panthers front four was already hot coming into the game, but on Sunday they absolutely abused the Giants’ offensive line. Greg Hardy was borderline unstoppable, and he made Will Beatty look like he was still playing at UConn. Some of their success was due to the incompetence of the Giants line, but they controlled the line the entire game and stymied the Giants’ offense almost single-handedly. With the addition of Star Lutulelei in the offseason, who has been stellar in the middle, the Panthers have arguably developed the best defensive line in football. With addition of an exceptional linebacking corps, they may also have the best front seven in the NFL.
Hurt, But Not Broken
The Panthers entered the game missing four members of their secondary and had to plug in three new starters, not to mention having to deal with covering Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. They played surprisingly well, keeping Nicks and Cruz almost silent, and giving Eli Manning nowhere to throw the ball. Melvin White came out of nowhere and forced two turnovers, and rookie Robert Lester held up well at safety. The defense made this happen by making one key adjustment: keeping it safe. In previous games the secondary tried to cover the whole field, leaving them stretched thin. This game, they reverted to a conservative coverage scheme that took away the deep and the outside balls while leaving middle to the linebackers. The front four collapsed the pocket. The Panthers have the front four to play in spite of their secondary, which is a great sign.
Opening the Book
Mike Shula was under heavy scrutiny for his conservative play-calling, which has stagnated the offense. Shula opened up the playbook against the Giants to utilize Cam Newton‘s skills as runner, passer and decision maker, and the offense flourished as a result. Newton got first downs a number of times on designed runs and options, using his athleticism and decision-making to drive the offense, as well as using his strong arm on deep throws. Newton could have had a number of long touchdown passes had he put more touch on them, but that’s just something he’ll have to learn. Shula still maintained the power-run game, which led to 120 yards from DeAngelo Williams. Shula fixed what was broken, but kept what was working, and it has paid off handsomely.