The Giants have the No. 1 passing offense in the league, grossing 390.5 yards, but a big reason why they are still winless (0-2) is because they also have the worst rushing attack in the league, averaging 36.5 yards.
That discrepancy is likely the primary culprit as to why the offense bogs down. This week’s opponent, the Panthers, have an imposing defensive front seven, led by defensive end Charles Johnson and linebacker Luke Kuechly, but a secondary that is ailing.
The Panthers (0-2) are so banged up in the secondary that undrafted rookie safety Robert Lester was with the starting unit on his very first day on the Panthers’ active roster Wednesday. Lester is in because regular starter Charles Godfrey is out for the season with an injured right Achilles that he suffered in a Week 2 loss to the Bills.
Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said he “most certainly” feels Eli Manning will attack his team’s depleted secondary, and fears a lack of communication between the defensive backs could come back to haunt them.
“You hate to see it happen [because] he really found his niche at free safety for us [and] you’d love to have him, but we don’t,” said Rivera.
Godfrey moved from strong safety to free safety for the final three games of the 2012 season and flourished in his new role.
Wideout Hakeem Nicks, a former star at the University of North Carolina making his return to the area, said he’s “anxious” to see the offense have a breakout performance against a solid defense like the Panthers.
“I think things are going to start going our way pretty soon,” Nicks said. “I’m confident in that and I think everything is going to be OK.”
Manning is confident, too, adding that his confidence stems from the fact that he feels the offense can get back on track and exploit some mismatches once everyone gets on the same page.
“I feel like we’ve just been one block away or maybe six of the guys are doing a great job and one guy is maybe missing [an assignment],” Manning said. “We’re very close to getting back on a roll, gaining some balance and doing things we want. Obviously we’re playing against a good defense, they have good players and they’re going to make some plays sometimes, but I think we are close on a lot of them and we’ll get that going.”
The leader of the Panthers’ defense is Kuechly, the ninth-overall draft selection in 2012. He led the NFL in total tackles as a rookie last season and is currently second in the league with 23 tackles, and even recorded an interception last week.
“They’re a really good defense, and the first two games, they’ve played outstanding,” Manning said. “They held Seattle to 12 points, and they did really well against Buffalo. The two-minute drive at the end and a penalty was a big part of Buffalo getting into the game in the first place, [but] they’ve played very well. … We’ve got to go out there and play our best football.”
The key for the Giants is how well they can protect Manning and whether they can create rooms for running backs David Wilson and Brandon Jacobs.
The offensive line is getting healthy and almost back to form.
“I think our offensive line has done a good job in protection and is getting healthy,” Manning said. “I think guys are getting open, so I think it’s a positive that if it’s something we need to go to and we have to throw it we can do that, which opens up the running. … We feel very good about it. I think if we can get a mix, it will help us out.”
Big Blue notes …
»Offensive tackle David Diehl (thumb) has yet to return to practice, but was seen taking shadow reps again during the walkthrough portion of team drills.
»Tight end Adrien Robinson (foot) was also seen on the sidelines, working with the trainers during practice.
»Cornerback Corey Webster (hip), offensive linemen Brandon Mosley (back) and quarterback Ryan Nassib (ankle) were all added to the initial injury report. None practiced Thursday, although Mosley said he’ll likely participate on Friday.
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.