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Eye On the Carolina Panthers: Scouting Report

Carolina Panther quarterback Cam Newton (1) hands the ball off to running back Christian McCaffrey (22) against the Cincinnati Bengals during the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018. The Panthers won 31-21. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)
Carolina Panther quarterback Cam Newton (1) hands the ball off to running back Christian McCaffrey (22) against the Cincinnati Bengals during the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018. The Panthers won 31-21. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants will attempt to win their second consecutive road game Sunday when they face the Carolina Panthers in Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. A loss last week to New Orleans left the Giants at 1-3. Carolina, 2-1, had a Week 4 bye. The Panthers have home victories against Dallas and Cincinnati. The Giants lost their last two games to Carolina and trail in the regular-season series, 5-4. The teams last played on Dec. 20, 2015, when the Giants overcame a 28-point third-quarter deficit to tie the score, but lost when Graham Gano kicked a 43-yard field goal as time expired to give the Panthers a 38-35 victory.

What is the Panthers' biggest strength?

The combination of quarterback Cam Newton and running back Christian McCaffrey, who together provide Carolina with most of its passing, running and receiving yards. Newton has completed 67.4% of his passes and thrown for five touchdowns against just one interception. He has also run for 136 yards and three of the team's four rushing touchdowns. McCaffrey leads the Panthers in rushing (271 yards and a gaudy 5.9-yard average) and receiving (22 catches for 157 yards). Oddly, he hasn't scored a touchdown.

Which player is key to the Panthers' offense?

McCaffrey, whom former general manager and current Giants G.M. Dave Gettleman drafted in the first round in 2017, is playing extremely well. He is a dynamic athlete who has the skillset to be both a workhorse back between the tackles and a mismatch in the passing game. In Week 2, McCaffrey tied the franchise record with 14 receptions in a loss in Atlanta. The following week, he had career-high totals of 32 carries and 184 rushing yards and played every offensive snap for the first time in his two seasons. Last year, current Giant Jonathan Stewart (currently on injured reserve) often played on first and second downs, and McCaffrey stepped in on third down. Now McCaffrey is an every-down back.

What is the strength of the Panthers' offense?

The McCaffrey-led rushing attack. With new offensive coordinator Norv Turner calling the plays, Carolina leads the NFL with an average of 166.0 yards a game on the ground and is third with a 5.5-yard per-carry average. The Panthers have a creative run game that includes a lot of pre-snap motion, misdirection and deception. What is perhaps most impressive is Carolina's ability to overcome injuries. Both projected starting tackles, Matt Kalil and Daryl Willliams, are on injured reserve. They have been replaced by Chris Clark, the left tackle signed off the street on Sept. 12 (he has 62 career starts). and Taylor Moton, a second-round draft choice last year who is an improving player with a powerful upper body. Tight end Greg Olsen re-fractured his right foot in the opener vs. Dallas. The same injury cost him nine games a year ago.

Which player is key to the Panthers' defense?

That's easy, five-time Pro Bowler and four-time first-team All-Pro Luke Kuechly, the NFL's best middle linebacker and the pulse of Carolina's defense. Kuechly gets his teammates properly aligned, has rare instincts, and competes hard on every play. He was credited with at least 112 tackles in each of his first six seasons, including 2016 when he played in only 10 games. This season, he has a team-high 29 tackles (25 solo) in three games. When the Giants hosted the Panthers three years ago, Kuechly had 15 tackles.

What is the strength of the Panthers' defense?

Carolina's defense is built around stopping the run and getting after the quarterback. But that unit has also been hurt by absences. Linebacker Thomas Davis is serving a four-game NFL suspension (which ends after the Giants leave town Sunday evening). Their top secondary free agent signings, safety Da'Norris Searcy and cornerback Ross Cockrell (who played for the Giants last season), are on injured reserve. The Panthers' league–long streak of 22 consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher ended at Atlanta, where Tevin Coleman, playing for the inactive Devonta Freeman, ran for 107 yards. Defensive end Mario Addison leads the team with 2.5 sacks, and 17-year veteran Julius Peppers is an effective situational pass rusher. Cornerback James Bradberry usually shadows the opposing team's best receiver. In the two games prior to the bye, he held Julio Jones and A.J. Green to five catches apiece.

What is the strength of the Panthers' special teams?

The metronomic Gano, who has made 32 of his last 33 field goal attempts. In 2017, he was selected to the Pro Bowl after leading the NFL with a 95.7 field goal percentage (29 of 30). Gano also set a franchise record with an 84.8 touchback percentage (70 of 83) on kickoffs. He has made all three of his field goal tries this season, including a 54-yarder.

Based on the scouting report, what must the Giants do to win the game?

The Giants' mantra should be, "stop the run and number one." The latter refers to Newton, who can beat teams with his arm and his legs (when he escapes the pocket). And McCaffrey can do it by running and catching. When the rushing attack gets going, Carolina has a very effective play action game. Every Panthers' opponent seeks to stop Newton and McCaffrey. The Giants will be no different.

Statistics you should know:

*The Panthers have won their last seven home games dating back to last season, the NFL's longest active streak.

*Carolina has the NFL's fourth-oldest roster, which includes six players with at least 10 years of experience. Peppers is the senior citizen at age 38.

*Peppers' 154.5 sacks lead all active players.

*Kuechley's 16 interceptions lead all active linebackers.

*Free safety Mike Adams' 15 fumble recoveries lead all active defensive backs.

*The Panthers beat Dallas in their season opener and now have three consecutive games against NFC East opponents; they play in Washington and Philadelphia the next two weeks.

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