EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** They didn't physically visit a college campus, but the Giants' defensive coaches still went to school last spring as they prepared for the 2013 season.
"We watched a lot of college football film in the offseason," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. "We tried to get ideas of what coordinators and teams throughout the college ranks were doing to try to contain the option offense."
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That offense, featuring mobile quarterbacks who can gash a defense by either running with the ball or passing it, has become all the rage in the NFL. The Giants will play almost half their schedule against such teams, including four games in the NFC East vs. Philadelphia (Michael Vick) and Washington (Robert Griffin III) plus Oakland (Terrelle Pryor) and Seattle (Russell Wilson), The first of those tests is on Sunday, when they face Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in Bank of America Stadium. Both teams are 0-2.
Newton is no mystery to the Giants. A year ago tonight, they intercepted him three times in the Giants' 36-7 rout in Charlotte in a Thursday night game. But Newton has improved since then, a cause for concern considering that in addition to throwing for 3,869 yards and 19 touchdowns last year, he led the Panthers in rushing with 741 yards and scoring with 48 points (eight rushing touchdowns).
"Cam is a great quarterback," safety Antrel Rolle said. "He can hurt you with his legs as well as his arm. He's a multi-talented guy. We just have to stay disciplined and understand who Cam is and how he can hurt you."
"I think, year-to-year, when you're watching a quarterback, he's definitely gained some ground and improved a bit," defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said. "Everybody knows about his feet and when he escapes the pocket he can still look down the field and he can make people miss so our job will be to push the pocket, get people up in his face and make sure we get him down on the ground."
They Giants' familiarity with Newton has been augmented with their exhaustive study of him specifically and the multi-dimensional quarterbacks they will often face in their final 14 games.
"I think it's just become more of a focus of the defenses now because of what's happening in Washington, Philadelphia, what's happening around the league, so it's become more of an emphasis," Fewell said. "We emphasized it more in the OTA's, as well as training camp. We hit on certain segments of it throughout jog-through practices."
The game on Sunday will be the Giants' initial opportunity to take what they learned in the offseason and apply it in a game.
"It will be a good test run for us for the weeks coming up," Fewell said. "No doubt about it."
In two games this season, Newton has completed 60.7 percent of his passes and thrown for three scores and rushed for 53 yards. Although he threw those three picks last year, Newton passed for 242 yards. He ran for only six yards on six carries.
"I think we played a great game plan on a short week," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "I think we executed more than they did."
They'll likely have to repeat that performance on Sunday. Newton's 9,920 passing yards in 2011-2012 were the most in history by a player in his first two NFL seasons. The former mark was held by a pretty good quarterback named Peyton Manning. And though he hasn't rushed for a touchdown yet this season, Newton's 22 career rushing touchdowns are the most by a quarterback through his first three seasons in history.
The Giants will face many dual-threat quarterbacks this season, but none of them post Newton's numbers.
"That's part of the challenge of being in the NFL," Rolle said. "We're seeing that a lot lately, especially in our division, so it's something that we're prepared for. The coaches make the calls, we have all the trust and faith in them and we just have to go out there and execute."
Newton is hardly a one-man band. Wide receiver Steve Smith remains a force in his 13th season. He is 23rd in NFL history in receiving yards (11,555) and 28th in receptions (783). Tight end Greg Olsen leads the Panthers with 12 catches. DeAngelo Williams averages 4.4 yards per carry and leads a rushing attack that is traditionally one of the most productive in the league.
But Newton runs the show and the Giants want to limit the time he has to throw and the space in which he has to run.
"You've got to close him in there and put pressure on him if you're going to be able to control the pass aspect of the game as well," coach Tom Coughlin said. "You can't sit there and let him throw the ball."
"We have a really good defensive line, so we're preparing those dogs up front," cornerback Aaron Ross said. "Our job, number one, is to shut down the receivers and let that defensive line just hunt. We're really confident that JPP (Jason Pierre-Paul) and Tuck and all those guys can get after him and contain him from making those 30-yard runs on us."
On Sunday, the Giants will give it the old college try.
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