Panthers defense needs to respond to Giants in battle of winless teams

jjones@charlotteobserver.comSeptember 17, 2013 

Captain Munnerlyn remembers the nationally televised, primetime game at home against the New York Giants in Week 3 last year.

The Panthers were 1-1, had a healthy secondary and were facing a team that was missing its top running back and two of its top four receivers.

“I just remember last year we played those guys and they came in here with backups, and they embarrassed us with backups,” Munnerlyn said of the 36-7 demoralizing loss at home.

No Panthers defender looked particularly good against Eli Manning and the Giants last year when New York posted 405 total offensive yards. Now, with the depleted secondary that will have to play Sunday against New York, the front seven will have to step up its play.

Starting free safety Charles Godfrey is out for the season with a torn Achilles, and strong safety Quintin Mikell (ankle), cornerback Josh Thomas (concussion), cornerback Josh Norman (MCL) and defensive back D.J. Moore (MCL) have their statuses for the game in doubt.

“The other guys got to step up, and the front seven has to be special,” defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. “That’s what we talked about. The great players have to play great every week. The margin for error in this league is very small. Our great players have to play great, our front seven has to be special and we’ve got to make sure we’re sound in the secondary.”

Ron Rivera echoed his coordinator’s sentiments Monday, saying that the “playmakers have to make plays” against the Giants (0-2), a team that’s just “as desperate” for a win as the 0-2 Panthers are.

The Panthers defensive line will need to get to Manning more than it has the previous two quarterbacks Carolina has faced. Carolina’s front line has totaled just one sack through two games while both EJ Manuel and Russell Wilson had career-high days in passing yards.

Manning has thrown for 812 yards this season, which is just 1 yard off the top mark by Aaron Rodgers. But he’s also been mistake-prone with a league-high seven interceptions – three more than the next closest quarterbacks.

He passed for 288 yards with a 77.1 completion percentage against the Panthers last year in one of his best passing performances of the 2012 season.

Manning did that to the Panthers without Ahmad Bradshaw and wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Domenik Hixon, who is now with the Panthers. Running back Andre Brown and receiver Ramses Barden both had career days against Carolina, with Brown rushing for 113 yards and Barden hauling in nine catches for 138 yards.

Those single-game totals for Barden and Brown were both career highs.

“The biggest thing is just challenging receivers more,” Rivera said about what the team needs to do this year compared to last year. “They picked on Josh Norman. Josh had played well up to that point and I think early on they made a couple of big plays against Josh and Josh kind of got, I think he lost his confidence a little bit, played soft. And that got into his head. The thing we’ve got to do is be able to challenge them.”

According to Pro Football Focus, receivers covered by Norman were targeted eight times and came up with five receptions for 65 yards with two pass defenses by the then-rookie.

Barden caught three passes against Norman for 51 yards according to PFF, and Norman hasn’t forgotten that.

“(I remember) Ramses Barden catching these in routes and me coming up and tackling him and me not really knowing the scheme of the game, where they were targeting,” Norman said. “This time around, it’s different. Very much so.”

Indeed, it will be different. The Giants will have their entire cadre of receivers and the Panthers will have a new-look secondary.

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9

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