Brandon Jacobs (27) and Ahmad Bradshaw (44) of the New York Giants celebrates after the GIants won 24-2 against the Atlanta Falcons during their NFC Wild Card Playoff game at MetLife Stadium on January 8, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
In 2007, the Green Bay Packers came into the Meadowlands and defeated the New York Giants, 35-13. It was the second game of the regular season. For all intents and purposes, the game was meaningless. Yet, it did turn out to be one of the most important games that the Giants played that year. It turned out to be a design for defeating the Packers the second time around, in the NFC Championship game.
Fast forward to December 4, 2011. The Green Bay Packers, once again, come into the Meadowlands and defeat the New York Giants, for the third consecutive time in the regular season. Prior to the Kansas City Chiefs unforeseeable victory over the Pack, the Giants came closer than anyone to deflating the Green Bay-fairy tale season bubble. The G-Men will face the Packers again this Sunday, in a frigid Lambeau Field. This time, they are not playing to spoil a pristine record. They are playing to keep their journey towards Indianapolis alive.
Who are the Green Bay Packers?
They are, arguably, the best team in football. Aaron Rodgers has pulled off one of the most electrifying seasons in the history of the NFL. However, there is only one area in which they register in the NFL's top-five. I am pretty sure you can guess what that is. Is Aaron Rodgers going to be enough to overcome a completely different team Giants team who are red hot in every area of play?
Who are the New York Giants?
They are, quite possibly, the most dangerous team in the playoffs. They have certainly proved to be the most cohesive in the postseason. Every facet of this New York team is playing on all four cylinders. This Sunday they will have to go into Green Bay and win a crucial game on the road. The Giants are 5-3 on the road this year and have lost to the Packers once already. Do the Giants have enough left in their tank to put together a winning performance against an extremely determined Green Bay team, who have had an extra week of preparation?
Aaron Rodgers has had a tremendous season, no question. But is he more hype than hero? The fact that the Packers went thirteen straight weeks without a loss certainly added to the Rodgers phenomenon this season. With all of the media attention on the Green Bay quarterback, Drew Brees and Tom Brady, both, had record breaking seasons. Rodgers only lead eight of the Packers' sixteen regular season games in passing yards. Rodgers is great. But he has proved that he can be contained.
ATT - 502
Comp - 343
YDS - 4,643
Comp % - 68.3
Yds/CMP - 9.2
TDs - 45
INT - 6
Sack - 36
QB Rating - 122.5
Aaron Rodgers is ranked No. 5 in the league.
Eli Manning put on a near-flawless performance last week. His QB Rating for last week, which was 129.3, was his third-best of the season. Armed with an elite group of receivers, Manning has no shortage of targets to throw to. Many have introduced the possibility that Ei's receiving corps only look as good as they do because of Manning's performance this season. Whatever the case may be, Eli Manning has certainly distinguished himself, this season, as the franchise's best quarterback as well as one of the best in the NFL today.
ATT - 589
Comp - 359
YDS - 4,933
Comp % - 61.0
Yds/CMP - 8.4
TDs - 29
INT - 16
Sack - 28
QB Rating - 92.9
Eli Manning is ranked No. 4 in the league.
Who needs a rushing game when you have Aaron Rodgers? That seems to be the case with Green Bay this season. Michael Vick, quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, has more rushing yards than James Starks and Ryan Grant. The running game for the Packers this season has been uneventful, to say the least.
Green Bay's running game is ranked 27th in regular season play.
Yes, the Giants have been equally ineffective in the running game this season. But that has not been the case over the last few weeks. Brandon Jacobs has been bowling defenders over, showing signs of his earlier years. Ahmad Bradshaw seems to have found his groove as well. Whether Bradshaw has found a way to fight through his broken foot issue, from earlier in the season, or he is just feeling a whole lot better, his game has improved at the right time. The running game for Big Blue has redefined itself over the last few weeks and is going full steam ahead. In the postseason, Jacobs is ranked 3rd. Bradshaw is ranked 5th.
New York's running game is ranked 32nd in regular season play.
They are ranked 2nd in the postseason.
Pick a weapon - Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, James Jones, Donald Driver - there is no lack of talented targets for Aaron Rodgers to throw to. These guys make it extremely difficult for an opposing defensive coordinator to put together a game plan. If a team is successful enough to take away the long ball from the Pack, they will get you underneath. The Giants' secondary, who have struggled most of the season, will need to lay down another solid performance. This will be the key ingredient to a New York victory.
The Packers are ranked 3rd in receiving.
The G-Men are no slouches in this area, themselves. Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks each went over the 1,000 yard mark this season. Jake Ballard, another big target, is averaging 15.9 yards per reception. Mario Manningham hasn't been used as frequently as he was last season. Yet, the Giants know that he is there and use him effectively as needed. Eli Manning has his pick of the litter. If a team takes away Cruz or Nicks, he will find his other go-to guys, as we discovered last week.
The Giants are ranked 5th in receiving.
They are ranked 5th in the postseason.
Given the success of Aaron Rodgers this season, one might think that Green Bay's offensive line is among the best in the league. This is positively not the case. This O-line have given up seventy-two quarterback hits and forty-one sacks. They are not exactly helping their running game much either. With the way the Giants defensive line has been playing, they won't have to bring too many blitz packages. The Big Blue D-line should be more than enough to get through this line and in Rodgers' face.
Green Bay's Offensive Line is ranked NO. 27.
New York's offensive line has been continually improving as the season moves on. They had some injuries early on in the year, which caused them to piece this line together a time or two. Now, some of the injured are back in the active lineup, David Baas in particular. They put together a decent showing last week, punching plenty of holes to get the running game going. They should be able to turn in another solid performance this Sunday.
New York's Offensive Line is ranked NO. 7.
They are ranked 3rd in the postseason.
This is a very proficient lot of backs here. Clay Matthews had the second-most amount of pass deflections of all the linebackers in the league. Aside from being able to defend against the pass and run, he is also a solid pass rusher, with six-sacks on the year. Desmond Bishop finished the regular season with 115 combined tackles and five-sacks. Erik Walden - another linebacker capable of getting to the quarterback. He finished with three-sacks. A very proficient lot, indeed.
The Packers have the 14th ranked rush defense.
One of the wisest decisions the Giants made, in recent weeks, was to re-sign Chase Blackburn. Out of necessity, the front office had to fill a void in the position. Blackburn was first on the list. The Giants did have some some struggles in this position during the regular season. However, in the last month or so, this group has been pulling themselves together and it shows in the postseason records. Blackburn is the third-ranked linebacker in the playoffs. Michael Boley is ranked eighth. They have been playing with heart in these latest must-win games.
The Giants have the 19th ranked rush defense.
They have the 2nd ranked rush defense in the postseason.
This is, without a doubt, the weakest area of the entire Green Bay team. Yet, Charles Woodson is in a three-way tie, leading the league in interceptions. Morgan Burnett has the third-most combined tackles of all the defensive backs in the NFL. Tramon Williams has the second-most pass deflections of the D-backs, with Woodson just two behind him. Even though this secondary has, individually, recorded some impressive stats, as a unit they fall flat. Look for the Giants to exploit this group.
Green Bay's pass defense is ranked 32nd, dead last.
Many teams, throughout the course of the season, pinpointed this area of weakness for the Giants. Their secondary performed outright awful at times and have the stats to prove it. And just like every other unit on this Giants team, they have been playing sound football these last few weeks. Last week, they were able to completely shut down the passing game of a very talented Atlanta Falcons. This is no small task. The Packers are the Packers. Aaron Rodgers is too accurate not to find his receivers down the field a few times in Sunday's game. The key for this secondary will be to limit those big plays and take away their top-two guys, Nelson and Jennings.
New York's pass defense is ranked 29th.
They are ranked 2nd in the postseason.
The Pack isn't much for kicking field goals. In fact, they have attempted the fourth-least in the NFL largely due to the fact that the team has a combined seventy touchdowns. Mason Crosby, their field goal kicker, is ranked 17th. Their punter, Tim Masthay, has the third-longest punt of the year, seventy-one yards. He has a pretty strong leg and does a decent job of getting the ball inside the twenty-yard line. Randall Cobb is one of the better punt returners in the league, when he is not fumbling. He returned a punt, earlier in the season, for an eighty-yard touchdown. But his three fumbles on the year make him somewhat of a liability. Perhaps it is just rookie nerves. On kick returns, yep…Randall Cobb. He returned one for a one-hundred and eight yard touchdown this season. Liability or not, this kid has talent.
Lawrence Tynes is not having his best year. His field goal percentage (79) is the fifth-worst in the league. He has had two of his field goals blocked this season, which makes him the third-most blocked field goal kicker in the NFL. With Eli Manning finding the end zone himself, the Giants have not had to rely on Tynes' leg for most of the year. However, there may come a game where they do need him to pull through. He missed a thirty-two yarder in the fourth-quarter last week. Steve Weatherford has continually improved his play this season. He is ranked fourth in angling his punts out of bounds, a vicious problem the G-Men had last season. The return game has been average. While the special teams tackling has been very good.
The Atlanta Falcons total defense is ranked 32nd, dead last.
The New York Giants total defense is ranked 27th.
They are ranked 1st in the postseason.
Lambeau Field in January. Frigid. Bone chilling. Who can forget Tom Coughlin's red, frost-bitten face? It still looks red and frost-bitten. These are vivid memories of a Super Bowl season not long ago.
The Green Bay Packers are in no way infallible. The Chiefs proved that earlier in the season. The Giants exposed the Pack's weaknesses as well. The problem was that the New York secondary could not maintain the hard fought lead that Eli Manning put together. They could not hold it together for the last fifty-eight seconds. The game might come down to a similar situation this coming Sunday. We know that Eli and Rodgers are going to find the end zone. That goes without saying. This game is going to come down to the battle up front and which team's secondary outperforms the other. Will history repeat itself for the Boys In Blue?