Once a week throughout the 2013 season, we will focus upon on a player or matchup that could prove troublesome for the Giants in their upcoming game. In Week Three, we turn our attention to Panthers return specialist Ted Ginn.
If the 2013 Giants don’t get out of the habit of giving away things for free, they could struggle to get to .500, let alone dream of the playoffs.
Everyone knows the Giants must correct the turnover problems that have plagued them in the first two games. But let’s set aside the turnover talk and focus on another area to watch as the Giants try to earn their first win of the season Sunday at Carolina.
The Giants’ punting has been a weakness early this season. Already the Giants have surrendered four returns of 14 yards or more. Moreover, they allowed an 81-yard fourth-quarter punt return touchdown to the Broncos’ Trindon Holliday on Sunday. The score, which came on Holliday’s last return of the game, gave Denver a 38-16 lead with 10:13 left in a 41-23 Giants loss.
In Week Three, the Giants face another formidable returner: Carolina’s Ted Ginn, who’s scored six career return touchdowns, with three on punts. Like Holliday, Ginn has exceptional speed, and he returns both punts and kickoffs.
Ginn has the speed to get away with returning even the deepest of kickoffs and making something out of it; on Sunday, he caught a kickoff near the back of his endzone and returned it 36 yards, using his speed to turn the corner.
That said, kickoffs have a strength for the Giants in 2013, with kicker Josh Brown forcing touchbacks on 8-of-10 attempts. Holliday returned just two kickoffs in Week Two and was held to 34 combined yards.
By contrast, six of Giants punter Steve Weatherford’s eight 2013 attempts have been returned, with opponents racking up 140 punt return yards in two games.
After the Denver loss, Tom Coughlin indicated the punting game didn’t execute as hoped.
“I thought our punting game was not up to standards tonight,” Coughlin said. “We had talked all week about not punting the ball down the middle of the field to this guy [Holliday] and that’s pretty much all it was, was down the middle of the field. The last one, which was a poorly punted ball, really rose up to bite us in the tail.”
For his part, Weatherford indicated his performance wasn’t up to his standards, either.
“I punted poorly today,” Weatherford tweeted after the loss. “I apologize to my team and the fans. I will work hard and stay positive to improve next week.”
Restricting Ginn’s quality of opportunities will be key on Sunday. Should Weatherford hit it down the middle, hang time will be especially key. If he hits off to the side, pinning Ginn on the sideline would be ideal.
That said, a successful punting game has numerous elements. The punt itself, of course, is important, but there are 10 other players covering the punt, too.
In two games, the Panthers have scored a combined 30 points, and they have tallied just three touchdowns. One of those scores, as it turns out, was a 40-yard TD pass to Ginn in Sunday’s loss at Buffalo.
Ginn has flashed that sort of playmaking ability throughout his career. His speed is his game. The Giants have to limit the space he needs operate.
On kickoffs, the strategy is simple: Brown needs to force touchbacks. The punting game is trickier. Weatherford does not force many fair catches, and he generally keeps the ball in play. Ginn will probably get a return shot or two.
Covering those kicks without incident is a must. The Giants need to make the Panthers’ offense beat them with sustained drives. Any missteps on special teams game would give struggling Carolina a boost — and could well put the Giants on the path to 0-3.