By Erik Sabol
Cold, Hard Football Facts NFC South Analyst
The New York Giants stormed into Carolina Thursday night and quickly crushed the upstart but overmatched Panthers and star quarterback Cam Newton, 36-7.
The Giants have put on an awe-inspiring display of dominance over the last five-quarters-plus of play. The Panthers, meanwhile, don't stay afloat for long.
After a promising victory over the panicking Saints, Carolina froze in the national spotlight.
Here are five things we learned from New York's big win.
1. The Giants can turn it on whenever they want.
New York was just 11-10 in its previous 21 regular-season games heading into Carolina Thursday night.
Yet they're also the defending Super Bowl champs, romping over the best the NFL had to offer in four straight postseason games after a 9-7 campaign in 2011 in which they gave up more points than they scored.
We're seeing more of the same dichotomy in 2012. The Giants came out soft in Week 1, losing at home to the Cowboys 24-17.
New York was also behind 27-13 in the third quarter of their Week 2 game against Tampa.
The champs had been blasted, 51-30, essentially through the first seven quarters of the season.
They've since whitewashed two NFC South hopefuls by the combined score of 64-14 in little over five quarters of play.
Now we just need to know which version of the Giants will show up against Philadelphia and its devastating pass defense next week.
2. Maturity, and passing efficiency, mean everything in the NFL.
Newton is the most physically talented quarterback to take an NFL snap since Michael Vick sprinted and somersaulted his way out of Virginia Tech.
Eli Manning was never considered a physically gifted performer, but he's developed into one of the true elites in the game, much like he said he was before the start of the 2011 season.
Manning clearly got the best of this battle all-important battle of passing efficiency. How important? Teams with a better passer rating this year are now 31-2, according to our Correlation to Victory table at CHFF Insider.
Here's how the two stacked up:
- Manning: 27 of 35, 77.1%, 288 yards, 8.2 YPA, 1 TD, 0 INT, 110.2 rating
- Newton: 16 of 30, 53.3%, 242 yards, 8.1 YPA, 0 TD, 3 INT, 40.6 rating
Anytime you see a statistical blowout like that in passer rating, you see a blowout on the scoreboard.
Last year, Newton distinguished himself as the greatest dual threat in league history, setting major NFL records for passing yardage and rushing touchdowns. Chudzinski's shotgun-focused option offense catered to Newton's wildcard talents, and the stratosphere was the ceiling for Carolina's franchise player.
But the first three games of 2012 have proven a beautiful truth about the NFL: ability aside, no one does it alone. If it's left up to Newton, the team's going to suffer. He's not yet a mature enough passer to carry a one-dimensional offense to victory -- the Panthers are 1-8 in Cam's career when they rush for fewer than 150 yards in a game.
3. Rob Chudzinski outsmarted himself.
Two weeks ago, against the Buccaneers, the Jonathan Stewart-less Panthers abandoned the run early against 2011's softest rush defense. They called only 12 rushes in a close game, and relied on Cam Newton's deep ball to penetrate the opposing defense.
Fast-forward two weeks to Thursday Night Football. An offense featuring DeAngelo Williams, Cam Newton, and Mike Tolbert rushed only nine times in the first half, despite some early success. A season ago, Chudzinski earned head-coaching candidacy through innovative game plans, creative use of offensive talent, and encouraging his players into positions where they were most comfortable.
Yet the farther the Panthers fell down the scoreboard, the more uncomfortable Newton seemed, and the harder he pressed his passes. Which inspires an oft-overlooked point...
4. A poor defensive front will sabotage Carolina's defense.
Heading into their Thursday night contest, the Panthers ranked twelfth or better in all three of the defensive passing Quality Stats. Their pass defense has been a relative surprise early in the season, but a porous set of Defensive Hogs prove the difference between a team strength and a liability.
Both of Carolina's sacks -- courtesy of Dwan Edwards and Frank Alexander -- came in garbage time, and reflect the defensive woes. They force Negative Pass Plays on only 6.58-percent of dropbacks and can't get off the field on third down. And despite one of the most athletic trios of linebackers in the league, they allow 4.65 yards per carry, and surrendered 113 rushing yards to relative unknown (and former Carolina Panther) Andre Brown.
5. Some NFL teams struggle for an identity.
Quality Losses won't ever have the same ring as Quality Wins. But for Carolina, there are lessons to be learned from a beat down by a better team.
The Giants exploited Carolina's soft defensive front. They suffocated the run game and forced Carolina's game plan to fold in on itself. They educated Ron Rivera and his inexperienced squad, and taught the nation something important:
The Carolina Panthers have no identity. One of the most dynamic and successful rushing offenses of the new century has evolved into a pass-heavy, deep-throwing, big-play slot machine that pays out as often as a scratch off ticket.
If Rivera and Chudzinski can pinpoint a common goal, then the Panthers will revert to that dangerous playoff spoiler they were a year ago. Until then, they're lopsided. And they don't scare anyone.
Tom Coughlin and his Giants sometimes struggle with an identity, too. As we saw in 2007 and 2011, with mediocre regular-seasons followed by powerful romps through the postseason.
We saw that struggle again so far this year: seven poor quarters of play followed by five explosive romps.
The key for the Giants is that they know, we know, and other teams know, that they have that switch somewhere inside.