Sunday's season opener is a huge game for our New York Giants. Yes, it is the first meaningful game in New Meadowlands Stadium, but for me that is just a sub-plot. It might add motivation, and certainly it means a lot to John Mara, but in the big picture that is not important.
First and foremost, the 2010 Giants need to get off to a good start -- especially defensively -- to help mollify those lingering doubts after the debacle of the way 2009 ended. A slow start, and there will be a lot doubt boiling to the surface.
Secondly, though, have you looked at the schedule? Following Carolina are games at Indianapolis and against Tennessee. Beating the Panthers would be a very good idea.
Let's take a look at five things to watch Sunday against Carolina.
1. Can the Giants handle the Carolina running game?
This, actually, is the biggest question Perry Fewell and the Giants' revamped defense faces this season. Can they defend the run better than they did in 2009, when they were sieve-like against opposing ground games? The Panthers, with two 1,000-yard rushers in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, are a great barometer. Carolina ranked third in the NFL in rushing (156.1 ypg) in 2009 and gashed the Giants for 247 yards on the ground in last year’s 41-9 thrashing. The Giants are healthier and more talented along the front, with rookie Linval Joseph replacing Fred Robbins and Keith Bulluck replacing Danny Clark.
2. Can Justin Tuck rule?
Carolina's starting right tackle, Jeff Otah, will not play as he recovers from knee surgery. Thus, Tuck gets to line up against backup Geoff Schwartz. If Tuck can wreak havoc it should be a good day for the Giants defense.
3. Special teams play
I am not looking for miracles here. I am not looking for Darius Reynaud to score every time he touches the ball. I am not looking for a 60-yard field goal from Lawrence Tynes. I am not looking for 70-yard punts from Matt Dodge. All I'm looking for is a 'push' from the special teams. If the Giants don't get hurt by this portion of the game I will be happy.
4. Can the Giants run the football?
Coach Tom Coughlin has talked about the importance of running the football, and stopping the run, ever since the end of the 2009 season. It has been a huge emphasis for the Giants, though it has really been difficult to tell whether or not they have actually made progress in re-establishing their ground game. Ahmad Bradshaw takes over as the primary back, and he gives the Giants more ability to get yards on his own than Brandon Jacobs. This, however, will come down to whether or not the Giants can get back to consistently opening running lanes like they used to. Which leads to our final question.
5. Will the Giants offensive line hold up?
So many questions here. How healthy is Shaun O'Hara? How much does Richie Seubert have left? Can David Diehl still protect Eli Manning's blind side? Will Chris Snee's troublesome knee, which bothered him in the preseason, flare up again? The Giants need to be able to move people to run the football. On top of that, Carolina still has a formidable pass rush even though Julius Peppers is now in Chicago.