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Panthers' D is biggest challenge in Week 15


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Carolina Panthers will not only bring an undefeated record to the MetLife Stadium on Sunday, but perhaps the most imposing all-around defense in the NFL.

"They do a good job," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said today. "They do a good job bringing pressure, different guys, different looks, showing pressure, bailing out, and not giving tips when they are bringing pressure. So they have a good scheme, a lot of guys are rushing. We just have to make sure we're on the same page and everybody knows their assignments, and knows what to do when they're bringing pressure and when they're not bringing pressure."

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Pressure? Yes, Carolina can do that. The Panthers' 40 sacks are the league's third-highest total. And even when opposing quarterbacks evade the rush and release the ball, it doesn't always find its intended target. Carolina leads the NFL with 21 interceptions.

Indeed, the 13-0 Panthers are ranked in the top nine in 11 different defensive categories. They are tied for fourth in points allowed (18.7 a game). They are third in yards allowed per game (307.8) and second in yards given up per play (4.7). Carolina is second in the league vs. the run, allowing 84.6 rushing yards a game, and fifth vs. the pass, giving up 223.2 yards per game.

The Panthers also lead the league with 33 takeaways (about 2½ a game) and turnover differential (plus-18).

"They're a very good football team," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "They're a very well-rounded football team. They're balanced. They're a very strong defensive team.

"They are physical up front. You can attest to that by the numbers not only from the run standpoint, but also from the 40 sacks and the way in which they've played the run. They are physical. They have a good front seven, if you will. Secondary is very much involved in that."

Carolina has standouts at all three levels of its defense, from Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei up front to standout linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis to cornerback Josh Norman and safety Kurt Coleman in the secondary. Short has a team-leading 9.0 sacks, Kuechly and Davis each have more than 100 tackles, Norman has played his way into the discussion of the league's best cornerbacks, and Coleman has an interception in each of the last five games, and seven for the season.

"They just have some smart players, especially in their linebacker corps," wide receiver Rueben Randle said. "Gets them in great position to make plays, and it's going to be up on us to make sure we don't give them any opportunities (for takeaways). Make sure we take care of the football, and once our opportunities do come, we make them pay for it."

"They do a good job against the run," Manning said. "They get teams in third and long, they get a big lead on teams, so the second half, they (opposing teams) have to throw it. They get a lot of turnovers on defense, so they've got a lot of good things going for them."

Norman, the fourth-year pro from Coastal Carolina, has been one of them. He regularly covers the opposing team's top wide receiver, so he'll likely spend a lot of time following Odell Beckham Jr. on Sunday. Norman has four interceptions this season, including two that he's returned for touchdowns.

"He's a good player," Manning said. "He's making plays. He'll follow the best receiver some. He does a good job in their scheme, knowing his assignments. On one-on-one, he's making some plays and breaking up a lot of passes."

"(He) just goes out there and makes plays," Randle said. "Try to talk himself a little bit, but he makes plays and backs it up pretty much.

"He's a great athlete, he knows how to take the ball once it's in the air, and I think that's what kind of separates him a bit."

Of course, the Giants have a few positives in their corner. Among the most notable is Manning, who today was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his four-touchdown, zero-interception performance in the 31-24 victory in Miami Monday night.

Manning completed passes to eight different receivers, and spread around the credit today as he did the ball the other night.

"I think all the guys, all the receivers, tight ends, running backs, everybody played well," Manning said. "I think we're at our best when we spread the ball around, and everybody is in the mix and I'm just going through my progressions and my reads. Guys were getting open. A lot of times, first or second guys were getting open on the reads, and that's good, that's what we need to do. Finally got a couple plays where we got the coverage we wanted and had Odell running the routes, we were able to hit a couple big ones."

That will be difficult to do this week against Carolina's outstanding defense. But the Giants must find a way if they are going to attach the first blemish to the Panthers' record.

*Linebacker Devon Kennard (foot/hamstring), defensive tackle Markus Kuhn (knee) and defensive end George Selvie (concussion) did not practice today. Rookie tackle Ereck Flowers (ankle) was limited.

Playmakers on the Panthers first-team offense, defense, and special teams, presented by Nike

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