Three keys to victory for the Giants on Sunday in Carolina:
1. Don't take the eye candy. Between the franchise leader in both career touchdown passes and rushing touchdowns and a young running back averaging 5.9 yards per carry and 7.3 catches per game this season, the Panthers pack a mighty one-two punch with Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey. The Giants' defensive game plan begins with them. Together they create a lot of "run-pass conflict" in the words of defensive coordinator James Bettcher, whose unit goes up against yet another talented offense with dual-threat players. With new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who took over for current Giants offensive coordinator Mike Shula, Carolina leads the NFL with 166.0 rushing yards per game. By design and by improvisation, Newton accounts for 45.3 of them, nearly six yards above the 29-year-old's career average.
"He plays above the rim," Shurmur said of the 6-foot-5, 245-pound former league MVP. "He can see what he's throwing to because he's so tall. I think [Turner] is doing a good job of featuring him as a runner, a lot of structured quarterback-type runs. There's a lot of eye candy to that to try to get you going one direction, then they're willing with him to pull it and run. They're doing a good job with that, they're doing what works for them – fake it to [McCaffrey], let him run, give it to McCaffrey, let him fake it, those type things."
View the starters for Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers
2. Run hard into soft zones. Two major topics of the week regarding the offense have been getting Saquon Barkley more carries and the lack of big plays in the passing game. They are connected. Shurmur, who calls the plays, acknowledged that the second overall draft pick didn't get enough touches against New Orleans after Barkley had a season-low 16, including a season-low 10 rushing attempts. That came against a not uncommon soft zone that the Saints were playing. Opposing defenses often implore that tactic to limit the threat of a threatening wide receiver in Odell Beckham Jr., who does not have a touchdown yet this season.
"That's something that we've got to take personal," Barkley said. "When we see a team playing cover two and playing soft zone, that has to be disrespectful to us and that's something we are really aware of and we hope to solve that problem really soon."
Like the Giants did in Houston, where Barkley ran 17 times for 82 yards and a touchdown in a victory, the best way to combat an aggressive front can be to run right at it. If they can gash the Panthers on the ground, the defense will start to creep up and that's when you can go over the top. As always, though, that's easier said than done.
3. Be positive. With 15 sacks, 14 runs, and six passes, the Giants have a league-high 35 negative plays for a loss of 174 yards (second-most) this season. They haven't necessarily slowed the offense on third down as the Giants have the seventh-best conversion percentage (45.3), but they average only 18.8 first downs per game (26th in the NFL) while having the second-highest average yards to go on second down at 9.32.
"More importantly, we need to score more, however we do it," offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. "Whether or not it's Odell, or Saquon, whoever it is. We just need to get down there number one, and finish drives. It's all about scoring points. On the drives that we've been successful, for example, the first drive last week, we really didn't do anything fancy. Everyone just did their job, and stayed out of the negative plays. I think that's probably our focal point. In this day and age, we all get it. Everybody wants touchdowns, everybody wants great stats, but our guys do a good job of just realizing what the most important stat is in winning the game. We've just got to do a better job of putting ourselves in positions to do that."