Joseph Person’s three things to watch in Sunday’s Carolina Panthers game at the New York Giants:
How will Charles Tillman hold up?
While the Fox cameras will be trained on the Odell Beckham-Josh Norman matchup, the Panthers’ coaches will be keeping a close eye on Tillman. The 34-year-old cornerback has missed four games with a knee injury, but was pressed into action this week after Bené Benwikere fractured a bone in his leg. Tillman will be lined up mostly against Rueben Randle, who has 47 catches for 591 yards and five touchdowns. Tillman matches up well size-wise with the 6-foot-2 Randle. But things could get dicey if Tillman reinjures his knee. The Panthers’ next options would be Cortland Finnegan, who’s been with the team three weeks, or Robert McClain, who joined them Tuesday.
Stay disciplined in coverage lanes
The Giants have one of the league’s most dangerous returners in former East Carolina standout Dwayne Harris, who became the first Giant to score on a punt return and a kickoff return in the same season since 1955. But Harris missed practice Thursday with a sore shoulder and is listed as questionable. Randle is the Giants’ backup punt returner, while Shane Vereen likely would bring back kickoffs. The Panthers have allowed a punt return (80 yards by the Saints’ Marcus Murphy) and a kickoff return (99 yards by Washington’s Andre Roberts). But they’ve been better in punt coverage as Brad Nortman has improved his directional kicks. With temperatures in the 40s, weather should not be a factor in the kicking game – a rarity for a December game in the Meadowlands.
Backup backs have to block, too
The Giants are a beat up and bad defensive team, especially against the pass. Long known for a strong pass rush from their front four, these Giants have 16 sacks in 13 games, which is ahead of only Atlanta. Panthers QB Cam Newton should enjoy clean pockets, much like he did last week against the Falcons. One potential snag in the Panthers' protections could be the running backs' ability to pick up blitzes. With Jonathan Stewart out with a sprained foot, the Panthers plan to play both change-of-pace back Fozzy Whittaker and rookie Cameron Artis-Payne, along with fullback Mike Tolbert. Look for the Giants to bring pressure to see if they can get one of the backup running backs matched up against a linebacker.
Panthers at Giants
MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Sunday, 1 p.m.
FOX (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews)