EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The challenge the Giants' defense faces tomorrow is similar to the one it confronted last week.
It is also quite different.
Seven days after meeting an NFC South opponent, New Orleans, the Giants will tangle with another when they visit the Carolina Panthers. Both teams have quarterbacks – New Orleans' Drew Brees and Carolina's Cam Newton – who have led their team to one Super Bowl and played in multiple Pro Bowls. Brees is the more decorated passer, but Newton has also compiled some gaudy statistics. Each is backed by a sensational second-year running back, the Saints' Alvin Kamara and the Panthers' Christian McCaffrey.
Where the quarterbacks diverge is in their ability and willingness to run with the football. Consider these numbers:
Newton has played in less than half as many games as Brees, but has run for 10 times as many yards. His 57 rushing touchdowns are the most by a quarterback since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. Newton's ability to beat opponents with his legs as well as his arm is the extra dimension the Giants must be prepared for in Charlotte.
"He is a very physical, big guy who at times in the zone option scheme will take the matchup," Giants defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. "You will be in the right spot, you'll have the guy that's supposed to be on the quarterback, and he will take the matchup at times, whether that's just pulling the ball, or maybe that's giving the ball and taking the matchup. He's really smart with those kinds of things, and they do a nice job putting him in some of those kinds of situations."
How best to deal with Newton?
"Like anybody else, you just tackle him," safety Landon Collins said. "Other than that, when he's in the backfield and in the tackle box, you still got to treat him like a quarterback. When he's outside the tackle box, you just tackle him, honestly. Go after his legs. Every running back goes down when they can't run with their legs."
Even if Newton does nothing but hand off to his backs, the Giants will still be dealing with a formidable rushing attack. Indeed, Carolina leads the NFL with an average of 166.0 yards a game (the Panthers have played just three games because they had a bye last week).
"Overall, I think it's the most complete running game in the NFL," defensive tackle Damon Harrison said.
The Giants allowed at least 137 rushing yards in three of their first four games, including a 170-yard outburst last week by New Orleans. Kamara ran for 134 yards and three touchdowns, including a 49-yarder with 2:06 remaining that iced the Saints' 33-18 victory.
"Each week, one of the first things we game plan for is the run game," Bettcher said. "We haven't played as well as I would've liked to at this point in the run game, I think that's evident, but I take a lot of pride and our staff takes a lot of pride that that's the first thing we do."
The Panthers have an option-heavy rushing attack that attempts to deceive their opponents with a lot of pre-snap motion and misdirection that forces defenses to defend the entire field on every play.
"(This week)," Bettcher said, "you're going to spend a little bit more when there's motions, shifts, there's receivers lining up in the backfield, there's some of those things that either work against your eyes, or just work against being sound and responsive in terms of what your job is on every down."
After chasing Kamara last Sunday, the Giants must deal with McCaffrey, who leads the Panthers in rushing (271 yards and a 5.9-yard average) and receiving (22 catches for 157 yards).
"He's kind of like Alvin Kamara coming out of the backfield, a receiving-type running back who you can also hand the ball off to," Collins said. "You get him in open space, it's kind of hard to cover him. You got to keep an eye on him, definitely. He's shifty, he's quick on his feet, he could razzle-dazzle you. He also has strength. He's a nice back, he's very solid. He's a well-rounded back."
"One thing about him, when I turn the tape on, I see an explosive guy who's not afraid," Bettcher said. "He's shifty, he can do all those things in space, but he's not afraid to put his foot down, lower his pads, and he's going to try and run someone over. Those are the kinds of backs that as a defensive coach you have a lot of respect for, that when it's time to put your pads down and get those tough two yards, this is a guy who's going to put his pads down and get the tough two yards."
Like Kamara, McCaffrey can also split wide and catch a pass from Newton.
"The same kind of things that we had to deal with last week with the back we played against, a guy that, they'll split out empty, they'll motion him, they'll use him as a slot receiver and bring another back to put in the backfield," Bettcher said. "All those kinds of things that we dealt with last week, we're going to have to be good with this week in terms of where he's at."
*The Panthers have won the last two meetings between these teams (in 2013 and 2015) and lead the regular-season series, 5-4. Carolina also won the only postseason game, in the 2005 wild card round.