Panthers Are Ready To Pounce On G-Men, Pick Up Win
By Blake Baxter
It is only Week 3 of the 2013 NFL season and we already have our first matchup between teams in must-win situations. The Carolina Panthers and the New York Giants meet in Charlotte this weekend, each vying for their first victory of the year. The Panthers hung tough with the Super Bowl favorite Seattle Seahawks in Week 1, but fell short. In Week 2, they lost another close one to the Buffalo Bills. Carolina lost the first two contests by a combined score of six points, which initially appears much more encouraging than if they were getting blown out. However, if you consider the number of close games that they have lost in the past few seasons, then it begins to look like a disturbing trend. The Giants, on the other hand, lost their first game to the Dallas Cowboys by only five points, but alarmingly managed to turn the ball over six times in the process. Last week, Eli Manning and company got pummeled by big brother Peyton and the cruising Denver Broncos.
Both the Panthers and the Giants play in divisions that were purported to be among the league’s best in the preseason and are at the risk of falling behind. In the NFC South, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have also gotten off to a rough start, falling to 0-2. The Atlanta Falcons, fresh off a playoff run and with more expectations than normal, fell to the division rival New Orleans Saints in Week 1 but rebounded with a win over the St. Louis Rams in Week 2. Although the Saints have not been perfect, they have knocked off the Falcons and the Buccaneers in back to back weeks. In the usually strong NFC East, the Washington Redskins have had their share of struggles in losing to division foe Philadelphia as well as the Green Bay Packers. The rejuvenated Philadelphia Eagles beat Washington in style in Week 1, but failed to have that same luster against the San Diego Chargers the following week. Lastly, there are the Dallas Cowboys, who nearly flubbed away what should have been a blowout over the Giants and then blew a winnable game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
So far, the two divisions have not quite played up to their potential. However, both the Panthers and the Giants need to start putting W’s on the board before their rivals start clicking and they fall out the race. A win this weekend could get them back in the hunt. It will not be easy for the Panthers, a team that has had plenty of areas of concern the past few weeks. They certainly are not going to sort everything out overnight – a lot of these problems will probably take all season to figure out – but here are a couple things that they need to do to get
back on track in Week 3.
Get More Out Of Their Offense
In Week 1, the Carolina offense was absolutely dreadful. The well-regarded Seattle defense lived up to its reputation and made things unbearable for them. Panthers QB Cam Newton had more or less the worst day of his NFL career, throwing for just 125 yards and one touchdown with just 38 rushing yards. The rest of the Panthers rushing attack did not offer much either. DeAngelo Williams ran for 86 yards and had a game-changing fumble. The following week, Newton looked a little better and also found more ways to get more people the ball. This is often something that occurs when your quarterback is completing more passes. Newton threw for 229 yards and two touchdowns while completing 21 of his 38 passes. It is not anywhere close to where he was last season, but it is an improvement over that horrendous first game. Although Newton threw the ball most often to WR Steve Smith (11 times), his most consistent target – as has tended to be the case the past couple of seasons – was TE Greg Olsen, who hauled in seven of the eight passes thrown to him for 84 yards and a touchdown. Newton also made an effort to get the ball to WRs Ted Ginn Jr. and Brandon LaFell, which is a good sign and something that he will need to do consistently going forward. The Panthers will also need more from their rushing attack – one that has failed to amass 150 yards in a game this season – to take pressure off their struggling young quarterback.
Make Fewer Mistakes In The Secondary
Before the season began, some predicted that the Carolina defense could be among the most imposing in the league. However, that was primarily due to their talented front seven. In the first two weeks of the season, the front seven has been overshadowed by a shoddy secondary that has made mistakes at the worst possible times. In the fourth quarter against the Seahawks, CB Josh Thomas got burned down the line by second-year receiver Jermaine Kearse and it ended up being the game-winning touchdown. Then, with seconds left in the game against Buffalo, CB DJ Moore lost track of Bills receiver Stevie Johnson, who hauled in the game-winning score. To make matters worse, the Panthers secondary is banged up and depleted. Starting safety Charles Godfrey tore his Achilles tendon and is out for the year. Fellow safety Quintin Mikell tweaked his ankle and is out this weekend. Also, Thomas suffered a concussion against Buffalo. The status of their secondary is so poor that the Panthers brought back CB Drayton Florence, who was cut before the season started. They will have to hope that Florence’s veteran presence will result in a little stability, or at the very least, fewer mistakes at crucial times.
There are more problems in Carolina than just the offense and the secondary, but luckily for them, the Giants have been struggling too. The Panthers will not need to be perfect to beat the Giants – just better in a couple of key areas.