FOX Sports Exclusive
NYG-CAR Thursday lineup calls
There’s one huge question to left unaddressed for Thursday’s showdown in Carolina. How’s Eli Manning’s arm feeling after firing up so many passes in the frantic fourth-quarter comeback against the Buccaneers?
Seriously, the Giants escaped a spirited effort by the Buccaneers, an effort aided tremendously by the sheer volume of injured New York players. We knew the secondary was susceptible to ceding big plays because of injuries, and Prince Amukamara’s departure because of an ankle injury certainly didn’t help matters.
Amukamara has been listed as “Probable” for Thursday’s affair and will likely be matched up against blossoming third-year receiver Brandon LaFell. LaFell amassed nine receptions for 155 yards in the Panthers’ first two games (13 targets), adding a 25-yard run to boot, and will create a huge challenge for Amukamara. I suspect that Cam Newton tests Amukamara’s ankle early while the Giants concentrate on shutting down Steve Smith. Despite persistent issues with his knee and foot, top wideout Steve Smith has posted back-to-back 100-yard games. He’s been targeted 15 times through two weeks.
To that end, there’s no hesitation in putting Newton into the mix as a top-5 option against the Giants. The vaunted New York pass rush has yet to expose its fangs, producing just four sacks combined against the Cowboys and Buccaneers. The decided lack of a persistent pass rush has left the secondary exposed against Tony Romo and Josh Freeman. If Freeman were more accurate, Vincent Jackson might still be running.
The Carolina offensive line has surrendered four sacks against the aforementioned Buccaneers and the heretofore toothless Saints defense.
The Panthers pretty much had their way with the Saints, rushing for over 200 yards as a team (Newton led the way with 71 yards) while Newton passed for 253 yards with one touchdown. Newton has also completed 69.8% of his pass attempts.
Add Carolina tight end Greg Olsen to the mix for a spot play this week. Olsen has caught seven of 10 targets for 69 yards thus far. He’s hardly a rock-solid choice, but the holes in the New York back-seven elevate his status.
Now, let’s deal with the three-headed monster in the Carolina backfield.
- Jonathan Stewart returned to action and ran well against the Saints. Stewart produced 51 yards on 11 carries (4.6 YPC) and scored on a 17-yard catch-and-run from Cam Newton.
- DeAngelo Williams ran well in tandem with Stewart, averaging 4.9 YPC on his 14 attempts, including a rushing touchdown. It was a fantastic rebound from his dismal Week 1 output.
- Even goal-line vulture Mike Tolbert got into the mix against the Saints. Tolbert carried the ball twice for three yards with a touchdown romp while adding two receptions for 23 yards.
What should you do in fantasyland? I check Stewart in as a back-end RB2 for Week 3 against the Giants. Williams warrants consideration as a Flex play. Tolbert will creep in from the goal line and break your heart … while sitting on your bench.
Now, let’s shift gears to the high-octane, big-play New York passing attack.
Eli Manning rallied from a terrible first half against the Buccaneers. Manning passed for nearly 300 yards (295) after the intermission, including huge plays to Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Martellus Bennett.
- I saw the Tweets and heard the howls in the local watering hole while enjoying a huge wall of games when Manning connected with Cruz. “Hey, Victor Cruz wears No. 80!” Yep. We get it. Cruz led all NFL receivers with 17 targets in Week 2, producing 11 receptions for 179 yards. Did that make up for his three drops in Week 1? Nope. This isn’t Rotisserie baseball.
- Martellus Bennett is a player still flying under the radar who should be claimed in your league immediately. Bennett scored for the second straight week in the frantic comeback victory, finishing the day with five receptions and 72 receiving yards. Bennett came up empty in his four red zone targets last week, but hauled in a 33-yard touchdown from Manning. He was targeted 10 times in the game (16 times overall).
- ** BREAKING ** We expected to see Hakeem Nicks on the injury report for Thursday’s game. We could not have expected the late-breaking Wednesday afternoon news that Nicks had not joined the team for its flight to Carolina. I know his foot had been stepped on by Mark Barron, but the team was optimistic that he’d be available. The short week worked against him.
Nicks bore the “Questionable” tag entering Sunday’s game and responded by winning “Offensive Player of the Week” honors by catching 10 passes for 199 yards, including a 50-yard reception.
Nicks isn’t the only member missing from the New York receiving corps for Thursday’s tilt. Tom Coughlin’s unit travels with just four wide receivers, as Domenik Hixon has also been ruled “OUT.” He’ll miss Thursday’s game after sustaining a head injury in Week 2. Hixon won’t clear the concussion tests in time for this contest.
As a result, the Giants will count on two young, inexperienced options Thursday night against Chris Gamble and Captain Munnerlyn. I’ll toss out a deep “sleeper” option (“Ninjas” in our world) in rookie Reuben Randle. The 6-foot-3 rookie out of LSU is willing to work across the middle and could play a big role in Kevin Gilbride’s set.
Ramses Barden, a 6-foot-6 potential red zone beast, will also pick up reps in this short-handed receiving reps. Barden caught a single pass for 24 yards in Week 2 against Tampa Bay.
Now, let’s turn to the big injury note affecting fantasy owners heading into Week 3. Oft-injured running back Ahmad Bradshaw sustained a neck injury in Week 2 against the Buccaneers and will be unavailable against the Panthers. Andre Brown stepped into the No. 1 role following Bradshaw’s departure and performed well. He amassed 90 total yards and scored a touchdown in the Giants’ comeback win.
Brown takes the top spot in the New York backfield ahead of David Wilson, who dropped a would-be touchdown pass early against the Buccaneers after fumbling his first carry against the Cowboys. I still believe Wilson will play a huge role for this squad in 2012, but it’s difficult to believe Tom Coughlin elevates him to a higher touch count for this week. Owners who won the waiver claim on Brown this week should slot him into the RB2 slot with confidence.
Finally, the Giants’ offensive line will play without David Diehl, who sustained a knee injury against the Buccaneers. Sean Locklear will slide into the starting lineup on the right side with Diehl out.
Look for the full “Lineup Calls” pieces on FOXSports.com Friday morning.
More Stories From Michael Harmon