A week after the Ravens and Steelers battled each other in the AFC North, one of the burgeoning NFC rivalries, Giants-Packers, will have another installment at MetLife Stadium.
With two young, elite quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning leading each team, Giants-Packers is looking a lot like the successor to Colts-Patriots, Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning: two teams in different divisions who find a way to see each other often between the regular and postseason (sixth meeting since 2007 with Packers holding 3-2 edge).
Both Giants' wins against the Packers have come in January (2007 and ’11), in the postseason, as the Giants marched into Lambeau Field, left with a physical victory and went on to win the Super Bowl.
Last year’s 37-20 loss to the Giants ended a dream season for the Packers, who were 15-1 at the time. They lost because their execution was terrible — giving up a Hail Mary touchdown, dropping four passes, turning the ball over four times and a plethora of missed tackles.
It’s safe to say the Packers (7-3) haven’t forgotten their performance, and the beating the Giants (6-4) put on them. Not that Green Bay will acknowledge that. It is focused on this game, not the past.
A look at the keys for each team:
Rodgers can’t hold the ball: Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is an exceptional player with smarts, a terrific arm and very quick feet that allow him to keep plays alive or make them on his own. But sometimes Rodgers tries to do too much, tries to keep the play alive too long and that can lead to protection issues. Rodgers has been sacked 32 times this season, which is more than any other NFL quarterback. Some of those are on Rodgers for holding onto the ball too long. While the Giants rank just 13th with 25 sacks, they are capable of dominating a game with ends Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck. McCarthy needs to put in a quick-pass game plan, and Rodgers needs to stick to it outside of called shot plays.
Stop the run: The Giants have gotten a bit out of whack lately with their pass-run balance, but they’ll look to establish the run more against the Packers. The Giants need the run to make their passing game, which has struggled of late, really click. The Packers (11th in the league) have done a nice job against the run now that their personnel have settled down. The defensive line of Ryan Pickett, Jerel Worthy and B.J. Raji are very sturdy and have allowed inside linebackers A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones to fill nicely. The Packers want the Giants to stay pass heavy because they’re in a slump and could get some three-and-outs that could get the Packers going.
Do your job: When the Packers have struggled the past few years, it hasn’t been because of what the opponent has done, it’s because the Packers have killed themselves with poor execution. If the Packers execute their blocks, catch the ball and tackle well, they’re a tough matchup for anyone. But they haven’t done that consistently. This also includes kicker Mason Crosby, who has been in a terrible slump. He has to make his kicks early because if he’s an issue, it could change the way the Packers play in Giants' territory for the rest of the game.
Protect up front: Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers will probably look to bring pressure against the Giants because his front seven has a tough time winning with standout outside linebacker Clay Matthews out. Capers also knows he can’t let Eli Manning have clean reads, and his line is ripe for the taking. The Giants have had a rough time of late protecting Manning — they were destroyed by the Bengals. Expect the Packers to throw a ton of overload blitzes at the right side of the Giants’ line, where guard Kevin Boothe and David Diehl have been the weak spots. The Giants chip a lot with the running backs out of the backfield, and they might have to think about keeping a tight end in to help with protection. The Packers will be coming.
Get after Rodgers: With excellent right tackle Bryan Bulaga out for the season, the Packers have had to do a line dance with left guard T.J. Lang moving to right tackle, and backup Evan Dietrich-Smith in at left guard. Both compete really hard but are limited in their ability at those spots. Left tackle Marshall Newhouse has had problems on occasion this season, and center Jeff Saturday is not the player he once was. The Giants’ defensive line should be able to dominate this game up front against the run and the pass. And that should give the Giants a really good chance of winning the game.
Get physical with the Packers’ receivers: The Packers have talented targets for Rodgers in Greg Jennings (questionable after abdominal surgery), Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb and tight end Jermichael Finley. But the book on them is that they don’t like contact and can be thrown off their game if defensive backs are physical with them. It also throws off the timing of the passing offense and causes Rodgers to hold the ball longer. The Giants should try to be physical with the Packers’ receivers, but they should be careful with Cobb. The speedy slot receiver is lining up in different spots every week, including running back. He could be a big problem if the Giants don’t get their hands on him. That means everyone — ends, outside linebackers and defensive backs — needs to make sure they hit Cobb on his releases. If he runs free, he might go all the way to the end zone.
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