It had been quite a while since the New York Giants won a game as easily as they beat the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night. Turns out, all they needed to do was hand the ball off to Andre Brown and throw it to Ramses Barden.
With their starting running back and best wide receiver injured and unable to play, the Giants were forced to turn to a pair of little-used backups from the middle rounds of their 2009 draft. But with a steady-as-ever Eli Manning directing the offense, Brown rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns while Barden caught nine passes for 138 yards in a 36-7 Giants victory in Carolina.
Let's start with Brown, who ran hard and with power behind an offensive line that hasn't been able to open holes in the run game for Ahmad Bradshaw at all over the past year-plus. Carolina's run defense has been one of the worst in the league this season, and that clearly had something to do with Brown's success, but Bradshaw has run against poor defenses, too, and he hasn't had as many as 113 rushing yards in a game since Oct. 25, 2010. The Giants used Brown in a very specific way, a lot of draw plays and straight-ahead running that took advantage of his power style. But he also ran with patience, showed some burst when he needed to and found the holes he needed to find.
It's possible this line Thursday, with David Diehl injured, Will Beatty back at left tackle and Sean Locklear at right tackle, just blocked better than it's been blocking in the other alignment. But it's also possible Brown is running better right now than Bradshaw is. And if Bradshaw is recovered from his neck injury in time for the Giants' Week 4 game in Philadelphia 10 days from now, the Giants might still be looking to reward Brown's performance with an increased number of snaps. Maybe they will rotate carries now the way Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs used to. Heck, maybe Brown just went Lou Gehrig to Bradshaw's Wally Pipp. We shall see, but whatever the reason, it's been a long time since the Giants' run game looked as good as it did in this game.
Brown was the fourth-round pick of the Giants' 2009 draft and kept coming back after being cut twice. Barden was the third-round pick in that same draft, and his big problem over his first three years in the league was an inability to stay healthy. He got surpassed by Victor Cruz and had to fight for a roster spot this preseason, but during camp and in preseason games, he looked very good running those slant routes over the middle, using his size to shield the ball from defenders and showing good hands. So he made the team, and that's exactly the way the Giants used him in this game as the starter in place of the injured Hakeem Nicks. With Cruz drawing extra coverage on the other side, Barden was open all through the first half, and Manning kept throwing it to him with great success. Brown's runs and Barden's slants, along with a big game from a tight end, Martellus Bennett (who was supposed to be a run-blocker), helped the Giants march the ball down the field and build a 23-0 lead against a Carolina team whose starters looked overmatched against the Giants' backups.
The Giants believe in maintaining a deep roster, developing players and replenishing their roster from within. A game such as the one they played Thursday night shows the validity of that philosophy. It also shows the value of Manning, who continues to find ways to get the best out of the players around him, no matter who or how experienced they are. Manning was a ho-hum 27-of-35 for 288 yards and a win the Giants get to enjoy for a week and a half before their huge Sept. 30 division matchup in Philadelphia.
Some other thoughts:
Beatty, by the way, was one of the Giants' second-round picks in that same 2009 draft. (Nicks was the first-rounder.) I will watch the game again to make sure, but it seemed he looked very good in his return to the starting lineup. The offensive line was a huge part of this game, in pass protection and in run blocking. And if Beatty is fully healthy at long last, the Giants have a chance to have the line they planned to have all along.
Top cornerback Corey Webster continued his early-season struggles and broke his hand, although he says he'll be ready for Philadelphia. But second-year corner Prince Amukamara played well, as did rookie Jayron Hosley. Amukamara still needs experience and will continue to be picked on while he accumulates it, and he might give up a big play or two here or there. But he's a technically proficient defensive back. He's sharp in his coverages. His footwork looks good. He positions his body well and uses his hands well. He plays the position very well and should be an asset as he continues to develop. Hosley, the Giants' third-round pick this year, plays fast and hard, and stays with the play even when it looks like it's dead. It helped him get an interception and disrupt a Cam Newton pass after Newton juked him on a corner blitz. Hosley looks like a mid-round gem who was ready right away. He injured his hamstring in the game, but it doesn't seem to be too serious.
Safety Antrel Rolle banged his left knee on a camera lens while racing out of bounds near the end zone toward the end of the game. The Giants said after the game that it didn't appear serious, but I wouldn't be surprised if Rolle got an MRI on Friday to be sure. Rolle would be a bad loss, as the Giants don't have much proven depth at safety. But whatever. Nicks and Bradshaw should have been bad losses, too, and their replacements combined for 268 total yards from scrimmage Thursday.
Jason Pierre-Paul. There's just not much left to say. He's playing defense as well as any player in the league right now, and offenses are having a miserable time trying to even slow him down. His early batted passes had to be a big reason Newton couldn't get into a rhythm.