Giants D faces first test under coordinator Fewell
For the past nine months, the New York Giants have talked about playing defense like the Giants of old.
The style was simple, brute force. No one outmuscled the Giants. No one ran on them.
New defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and his unit will see how far they have come on Sunday when the Carolina Panthers open the season against the Giants in the $1.6 billion New Meadowlands Stadium.
The Panthers are the perfect opponent.
They have two 1,100-yards rushers in Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, and they ripped the Giants 41-9 on Dec. 27. With Williams sidelined, Stewart ran for a career-best 206 yards and the Panthers shredded New York's defense for 416 yards, scoring on six of their first seven possessions.
The fact that New York was playing for a playoff spot and was hosting its final game at Giants Stadium just added to the embarrassment.
''This game is going to tell us a lot about our team,'' defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. ''We are facing a team that makes a living running the ball. We have been preaching all offseason we want to be physical and stop the run, so this is the perfect team to prove it against.''
Cofield said the defense has seen the tape of last year's game countless times since the end of last season, especially in cutups of things they did wrong.
''It's ugly,'' he said. ''It gets uglier every time you see it. It's definitely not the way we want to play, but we have a new scheme. We're a new team. We have new faces and we definitely need a different result.''
Cornerback Terrell Thomas said every defensive player remembers that game.
''They just beat us down to the ground,'' Thomas said. ''They took the physicalness out of us and that's what we were known for. That's why we're going to come out and show the league what we're about this year - being physical. If you're going to beat us, you're going to have to outphysical us.''
Backup defensive end Dave Tollefson got his defensive game plan for this weekend and wrote ''41-9'' at the top of it as a constant reminder.
''That's embarrassing, especially getting the ball run on you like that,'' he said. ''Then you put everything on top of that, the closing of the stadium, yeah, it's embarrassing. You don't want anyone to run the ball on you like that since you play little league football. So we have to stop the run.''
Tollefson said the Panthers offensive line wasn't blowing the Giants off the ball. New York made some of the most fundamental errors and got gashed several times when players got out of their gaps or missed tackles.
''This game has been on our minds for a long time,'' Tollefson said.
As opposed to last year, the Giants are now healthy. Defensive end Justin Tuck has had his shoulder surgically repaired. Cofield has had more than a year to recover from knee surgery. The safeties are a lot better with the addition of free agents Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant, and Kenny Phillips is back from microfracture surgery on his knee.
Keith Bulluck gives the Giants a veteran outside linebacker and Jonathan Goff is more comfortable in the middle.
''There's absolutely no doubt that we can stop these guys if we play our best,'' defensive tackle Chris Canty said. ''We've demonstrated in training camp and preseason that we can stop the run. We can stop the run. Confidence comes from demonstrated performances and so far we have shown ourselves that we can do it.''
Panthers coach John Fox downplayed last year's game, saying it's a new year.
''I don't know about jamming it down their throats,'' he said of last year. ''I think it's fair to say that the run will be part of our game plan.''