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Giants vs. Packers: What to expect when Green Bay has the ball

Dealing with Aaron Rodgers will test Wink Martindale’s defense

New England Patriots v Green Bay Packers Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The New York Giants travel across the Atlantic Ocean for a London duel against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Both teams have a record of 3-1, and this will be the first time Green Bay plays in front of an English crowd.

Big Blue has yet to face a quarterback with a Hall of Fame pedigree like Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay also has a dynamic duo at running back that features the quick and instinctive Aaron Jones alongside the thick, bruising A.J. Dillon.

A game that features Saquon Barkley and Dillon should be deemed ‘the battle of the thighs.’

Aaron Rodgers

Containing Rodgers is never a fun task for defensive coordinators. He has a quick release and he’s very accurate; he currently completes 69 percent of his passes. Much like the Giants, the Packers have operated with more quick game concepts. Daniel Jones has one of the lowest intended air yards per pass attempt in the league (6.3 YPA), but Rodgers is only slightly ahead of him with an average of 6.7 YPA.

Rodgers has 935 passing yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions. Small sample size through four games, but his interception percentage of 2.3 percent is the highest since 2017 when he played seven games and suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.

Rodgers has the highest sack percentage since 2018; the future Hall of Famer was sacked on 6.5 percent of his drop backs. The adjustment without Davante Adams, along with some offensive line issues, are some reasons why Rodgers has found the deck a bit more often early in 2022.

I’m excited to see how defensive coordinator Wink Martindale chooses to attack Rodgers. The two met in 2021 when the Packers edged out the Ravens, 31-30, after Baltimore went for two at the end of the game and failed. There are obviously different personnel and situations, but here are the statistics from that game:

Aaron Rodgers
23/31, 268 yards, three touchdowns

Rodgers was sacked three times and pressured on 19.4 percent of his drop backs. Martindale’s defense was decimated by injuries; he went to DoorDash for backup cornerback help, and it did not work out.

Against Green Bay, Martindale ran the fourth-most Cover-6 for his defense that season. He ran Cover-3 the second least, and he still ran Cover-1 at a hefty rate. Rogers was pressured on 16.7 percent of his drop backs. Martindale only blitzed Rodgers 19.4 percent of the time - the third lowest of 2021; the quarterbacks blitzed less: Patrick Mahomes and Matt Stafford.

Martindale has predominantly run Cover-3 as a zone base coverage in 2022 with the Giants. I expect more two-high looks and Cover-6 against Green Bay. The Vikings predominantly played Cover-6 (33.3 percent of the time) and Quarters (23.1 percent) against the Packers in Week 1 when Green Bay only scored a touchdown.

Rodgers is going to test the Giants deep, especially when they’re in middle of the field closed looks that offer one-on-one matchups to the outside. Fabian Moreau might get tested by Rodgers early. Hopefully, Moreau can come away with two more passes defended as he did against Chicago, as he transitions into a presumably more permanent role due to the injures suffered by Cor’Dale Flott and Aaron Robinson.

Passing weapons

Having Rodgers hurl the ball around for more than a decade is a treat, but his weapons are less experienced than ever. Both running backs are threats out of the backfield, and Jones will align in the slot a handful of times every game.

The Davante Adams departure to Las Vegas opened up opportunities for two rookies: 4th-round pick Romeo Doubs and second-round pick Christian Watson.

Doubs leads the Packers with 24 targets and 19 receptions. He’s also the yardage leader with 184 yards, with two touchdowns. Doubs' snap share and routes run have drastically increased, and his trust with Rodgers has improved.

Watson dropped an early deep would-be touchdown in Week 1 and missed then missed the following game with a hamstring injury. Watson is explosive yet raw; the Packers attempt to get the football in his hands through easy methods such as jet-sweeps, touch-passes, and quick bubble screens (we will see quick bubble screens when the Giants align in off-coverage).

Allen Lazard and tight end Robert Tonyan are the two trusted receiving threats. Both players are coming back from injury; Lazard rolled his ankle badly in training camp and Tonyan is back from a 2021 torn ACL.

Lazard missed Week 1, but his snap share has increased each week, and he played 97 percent of the snaps against New England in Week 4. He is the dangerous wide receiving threat that Adoree’ Jackson should see, although Lazard is about a biscuit with some gravy away from being a tight end at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds.

Tonyan is 6-5, 236 pounds and both of his week four targets were in the red zone; when it matters most, Rodgers looks towards Lazard and Tonyan, albeit he gave Doubs a huge opportunity to end week four in regulation with a deep touchdown pass, but the rookie couldn’t secure the ball as he hit the ground.

Sammy Watkins is currently injured, but Randall Cobb is another veteran on the team who plays 40 percent of the snaps. Cobb is 32 years old and expects to align in the slot when the Packers are in 11 personnel.

Dynamic RB duo

Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon are different in style, yet effective and difficult to defend. Jones is a dangerous duel threat, and Dillon isn’t a slouch when catching the football. Jones has rushed for 327 yards (6.8 YPC) with a touchdown. He also has 12 catches on 16 targets for 81 yards and a score.

Dillon is the bruising short-yardage back, but he does have nine catches on 12 targets for 51 yards. Dillon has more rushing attempts than Jones; the bigger back only averages 3.7 yards per carry with 211 yards and one touchdown.

The combination of the two behind a solid offensive front poses issues to defenses. Both can run up the middle and take it outside, albeit Jones is more dynamic on the edge and in space. I expect the Packers to use deep over routes behind the linebackers who will be in conflict with Jones or Dillon leaking out of the backfield when the Packers are in five-man protection.

New York has struggled to defend the intermediate part of the field because the linebackers tend to play more aggressively when the running back enters a route past the line of scrimmage. We saw the Giants struggle against Tennessee and Chicago in this area.

Giants’ pressure

The Giants generated a season-high 26 pressures on Justin Fields and the Bears on Sunday. Eight of those pressures were earned by Dexter Lawrence, and rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux had four. New York sacked an opposing quarterback six times - the most since Carolina in 2021, and the final Dallas game in 2020.

The Giants' primary blitz on Justin Fields was a cross-dog (double A-Gap LB twist) with Dexter Lawrence containing the outside and Azeez Ojulari dropping off the line to spy Fields. The play was run three times, and it resulted in two sacks, and a quarterback hit on third down that forced a punt.

Martindale has also used safety rotation with an overhang blitz by Darnay Holmes and two defenders on the backside dropping off into underneath coverage. This play was used five times this season, and it was diagnosed twice by Mayfield and Rush. Mayfield converted hot to two tight ends, and Rush hit CeeDee Lamb on a fourth-and-4; the other Rush play was a pass defended by Thibodeaux on third-and-ten. Mayfield did not diagnose it once late in the fourth quarter, resulting in an incomplete pass.

Defending Aaron Rodgers is a different story. It’s hard to fool Rodgers with rolled coverage - he’s a quick processor who has seen a lot in his 18th season. However, he’s been sacked nine times through four games; for reference, he was only sacked 30 times last year, and 20 times in 2020.

Left tackle David Bakhtiari is now healthy and played in the last two games; this allows stud versatile Elgton Jenkins to play on the right side, giving the Packers two solid choices. The interior part of the line is also solid with Jon Runyan, Josh Myers, and Royce Newman.

Most of the nine sacks were Rodgers attempting to scan the entire field, and the end result was a coverage sack. There were a few when Rodgers attempted to evade and step away from pressure where he was caught and brought down. The pocket isn’t a huge issue, but power rushers seemed to have some success restricting the operating space (looks at Dexter Lawrence).

It’s possible we see a more conservative approach from Martindale. An approach that will have more two-high looks, more Cover-6, and less blitzing. Still, let us not kid ourselves, Martindale will bring the pressure in key situations. Let’s see if it’s a new type of blitz that he hasn’t put on film yet in 2022.

Final thoughts

Playing a quarterback like Rodgers is a daunting task, but it’s better to play him now than when he had Adams. Martindale and Rodgers only saw each other one time, and Rodgers put up 31 points against a heavily injured defense.

The game is luckily not in Lambeau Field, but in London, and the Giants have a slew of injuries they’re dealing with on both sides of the football. If the Giants can find a way to win this football game, it would put massive respect on the name of a 3-1 team that many are chalking up to luck, due to an unconventional and possibly unsustainable offensive approach.

However, the Patriots, with Bailey Zappe - a third-string rookie quarterback - took the Packers to overtime in Lambeau. Any given Sunday is a mantra for a reason, and the Giants will be prepared and well-coached. Anything can happen, but this would be a gigantic victory for the Giants against a legitimate playoff-contending opponent.