Key matchup: Giants defense vs. Panthers QB Cam Newton
We should find out pretty quickly on Thursday night whether the Giants will be employing their version of a spy cam.
Rather, make that Spy Cam.
Newton, who broke out this season on Sunday with a career-high 71 rushing yards employing a series of read-option plays against the Saints, will be a task for the Giants’ defense. But will the Panthers’ game plan for this contest look more like what they ran against the Buccaneers in Tampa in Week One or the one they rolled out Sunday?
You could understand why the Panthers wanted to throw against the Bucs (36 dropbacks) with Ronde Barber moving to safety and rookie Mark Barron starting alongside him. But why did they forget about the run (13 attempts, 10 yards)? Perhaps some of it had to do with the fact that Bucs head coach Greg Schiano had six months to game plan for Newton and was familiar with stopping the option and rushing quarterbacks from his time at Rutgers.
The Panthers were smart to attack an undisciplined Saints defense with their Newton-centric attack. They got back to the run (it helped that RB Jonathan Stewart was back for this game) and unleashed a smart, diverse attack that built from the run game — and Newton — outward. It started with him reading the defensive end and making pitches to Stewart or DeAngelo Williams or keeping it himself. The Panthers gained a whopping 219 yards on 41 carries.
And guess what? Newton’s passing became more lethal. The Saints’ ends had to play contain more than rush upfield. That’s one way the Panthers can slow the Giants’ talented pass ushers.
A great example of this came Sunday when the Saints blitzed heavily (rushed seven) with two safeties and a linebacker on a 1st-and-10 from the Saints’ 17-yard line. Newton was in the shotgun, faked play-action twice, drew in the defense and tossed the ball to Stewart, who had open field in front of him for an easy score.
The Giants are far more disciplined, assignment-wise, than the Saints. No question. Their ends can drop and play the run; they are athletic and move extremely well laterally. But they also can be aggressive, sometimes overly so, too. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell knows his defenders must keep their gaps controlled and carry out their assignments well against Newton and his run-pass ability.
“Well, I do like our athletes at (linebacker),” Fewell said Tuesday. “There’s no doubt about that. When we face a guy like Cam and a guy like Michael (Vick), you have to have 11 guys, not just the linebackers alone, but I do like our linebackers and the speed of our ’backers and the way that they can run and be able to defend these guys. You have to have all 11 guys looking at these guys and really know where these guys are, because they can bust out at any point in time.
“If it’s necessary, yes, I’ll use a spy. Versus an athletic quarterback like Cam Newton, or Michael Vick, there’s no doubt about it.”
So whether it’s Michael Boley, Keith Rivers or perhaps a Giants safety, someone likely will be keeping tabs on Cam on Thursday for at least part of the game, depending on the situation. If Newton and Co. can freeze those spies with play-action, the Giants’ coverage — which has been poor so far this season — could be in trouble against WRs Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell. Stopping the run early in the game, and on early downs, is always a key against the Panthers.