The Giants Must Climb Out Of This 0-2 Hole Against The Panthers
It might be a little too early in the season to start getting dramatic, but for all intents and purposes, Sunday's game in Carolina is a must-win game for the New York Giants. In an 0-2 hole after two head-scratchingly bad losses to Dallas and Denver, the Giants now must win in Carolina against Cam Newton and the Panthers for the second year in a row in order to avoid an 0-3 start.
Just this week, Victor Cruz declared this game the first "must-win" of the season, and while he's certainly right about that, the circumstances aren't quite as dire as they seem. With everyone else in the NFC East losing in Week 2, the Giants remain only a game out of first place. And with the Eagles hosting the Chiefs on Thursday night, the Redskins hosting Detroit and the Cowboys playing a much-improved Rams team, there aren't any real gimmes in the division this week either. That's why a win on Sunday over the Panthers can go a long way in helping to right the ship for the Giants.
It's not going to be easy, though. The Panthers are 0-2 as well and in the same situation that the Giants are in: desperate for a win and desperate to get on the right track before it's too late, especially in a division as competitive as the NFC South. Carolina is not going to roll over on Sunday, and Giants fans expecting a repeat of last season's 36-7 thumping should be prepared for a slugfest. The Panthers held Russell Wilson and the Seahawks to 12 points in Week 1, and their improved defense can cause a lot of problems for a Giants offense that has struggled mightily in their first two contests.
However, even if the Giants get locked in a close game with Carolina on Sunday, the odds will be heavily in their favor. The Panthers were 0-7 in games decided by less than a touchdown last season and 0-2 in those types of games this season as well, with a 12-7 loss to Seattle and a 24-23 loss to Buffalo already under their belts. As long as the Giants manage to limit their mistakes and seriously cut down on their turnover ratio, they should be fine. But that's asking an awful lot, especially considering the frequency with which they've turned the ball over in the first two weeks of the season.
Sunday also marks the Giants' first meeting this season with a mobile quarterback who can hurt them outside of the pocket, as well as in it. While the Giants were able to hold Newton only six yards on the ground in their meeting last year and picked him off three times, it still doesn't negate the fact that the Giants defense has had problems containing mobile quarterbacks in the last half-decade. With the pass rush as nonexistent as it's been in the past few weeks, keeping Newton in the pocket and forcing him to make bad decisions is going to be key for the Giants defense.
But the real keys to winning on Sunday are going to be getting the running game going and limiting those mistakes. As good as Eli Manning can be, his effectiveness is really reliant on a solid ground attack, as is the same with just about any quarterback. Without a consistent running game that can gain some yards on first and second down and eliminate those treacherous 3rd-and-10 and 3rd-and-12 scenarios, more of a burden is placed on Manning, forcing him to press when he shouldn't be, and force throws downfield that he shouldn't have to make. As a team, the Giants have rushed for a total of 73 yards in their first two games of the season, a number that is practically jaw-dropping.
If the Giants are going to win on Sunday (and win convincingly), they are going to have to get back to running the football well and giving Manning the breathing room he needs in order to make the plays that we all know he's capable of making. If that means getting David Wilson back into the mix and returning him to the workload he was supposed to handle before his bout of fumble-itis on opening night, then so be it. If Wilson is going to be the Giants' running back of the future, Tom Coughlin has to allow him to work through his issues and rebuild his confidence the only way he can — on the football field. Keeping him on the sidelines is not going to accomplish that. Hopefully, for Wilson's sake and for the Giants' sake, he plays a much bigger role come Sunday.