Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott's went into the game against the New York Giants needing a big game from his front seven.
And did he ever get one.
Carolina's front seven dominated the Giants in the trenches, sacking Eli Manning six times in the first half en route to a 38-0 victory on Sunday. Carolina tied a franchise record with seven sacks and forced three turnovers on the day.
The Panthers did it mostly with a four-man pass rush and without all that many blitzes.
"You don't understand how awesome it is to have a middle that can just push the pocket, and then the quarterback is right there once you beat your man," said defensive end Greg Hardy, who had three sacks on Manning in the first half.
Hardy credited rookie defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short — each had a sack — and veteran Colin Cole for stepping up in the victory.
"I think a lot of teams are going to be scared to face our defensive line moving forward," offensive tackle Jordan Gross said.
The Panthers were beat up in the secondary, but the front seven never gave Eli Manning a chance to expose those weaknesses. By the end of the first half the Panthers led 17-0 and the Giants had only 1 yard passing.
"They were beating us up front," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "They were winning the 1-on-1 battles. They did a nice job of rushing the passer and playing the run on the way to the quarterback."
Five reasons the Panthers whipped the Giants:
1. CAM CAME TO PLAY: Cam Newton shook off a sluggish start and threw for 233 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 45 yards and his first touchdown rushing of the season. It was by far Newton's best game of the season. He only made one mistake, that an interception in the flat deep in his own territory. But the defense bailed him out with a stop, and the Giants missed a chance to capitalize when Josh Brown hooked a field goal attempt wide left.
"He was the better quarterback out there and that's all we need from him," Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith said. "That's all we ask, for our quarterback to be the better quarterback. We don't need him to be outside of Cam Newton. That's all we need him to be."
2. ONE TEAM CAN RUN, ONE CAN'T: The Giants' main problem is their inability to run the football. They have just 133 yards rushing in three games and are averaging 2.7 yards per carry. Their inability to establish the running game continues to put Manning in terrible down-and-distance situations.
"We have to find ways to slow down the pass rush," Manning said. "Whether that is running the ball with screens or getting the ball out quicker."
Meanwhile, the Panthers ran for 194 yards, led by 120 yards from DeAngelo Williams.
3. OPPORTUNITY LOST: The Panthers were without four defensive backs because of injuries and had to start undrafted rookie Robert Lester at safety and recently re-signed Drayton Florence at cornerback. So you'd expect a big day from Manning, right? The problem was Manning couldn't take advantage of that because he was under too much pressure all day.
"They ended up with seven sacks, and our quarterback must have gotten hit 20 times," Coughlin said.
4. RETURN OF THE READ OPTION: The Panthers hadn't used the read option much in the first two games, but you'd better believe they'll be using it more going forward. Newton ran four times for 40 yards in Carolina's first touchdown drive and running back Williams also had a few first down jaunts after taking the pitch or handoff from Newton. Newton said the plan was in part to neutralize the aggressive pass rush of Jason Pierre-Paul.
5. GOING FOR IT: Rivera had been criticized for not taking enough chances on fourth-and-1 situations in the past, but he didn't pass up one early in the game. He went for it at the Giants 2 and Mike Tolbert found his way into the end zone for the score and a 7-0 lead. That set the tempo for the game.
"I felt like with the way we were playing defense even if we didn't get it we could keep them down at that end of the field," Rivera said.
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