Will the New York Giants defeat the Green Bay Packers in their wild-card weekend playoff matchup Sunday at Lambeau Field? I really don’t know. Oddsmakers don’t think so. After two playoff losses to the Giants at Lambeau (2007 and 2011) history would say the Packers are due to win one of those games.
Still, the Giants have a chance. I won’t, at this point, says that they will win. What I will do is use today’s “Five things I think I think” post to give you five reasons why I think they can win.
Giants’ coach Ben McAdoo said Monday that he has no “Kryptonite” for Green Bay star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Well, it might not qualify as Kryptonite, but he does have one of the league’s best secondaries.
Safety Landon Collins is in the discussion for Defensive Player of the Year after a historic statistical season.
That included plays like this.
Landon Collins with one of the best defensive plays I've ever seen.— Jonathan Kinsley (@Brickwallblitz) January 2, 2017
Watch the bottom, right of the GIF at the beginning. pic.twitter.com/nEPupCrdta
Collins, of course, is not alone. Janoris Jenkins earned a trip to his first Pro Bowl with an outstanding season, emerging as a shutdown corner after signing with the Giants as a free agent after four seasons with the St. Louis Rams. Jenkins figures to draw Green Bay’s No. 1 receiver, Jordy Nelson, who caught 97 passes this season.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has four interceptions the past three weeks and is playing the best football of his three seasons with the Giants. Rookie first-round pick Eli Apple has had a good first season. Andrew Adams and Leon Hall are fill-ins at safety for Darian Thompson and Nat Berhe, but both have held their own. Adams, an undrafted free agent rookie from UConn, has been an especially pleasant surprise.
Rodgers threw for 40 touchdowns to just seven interceptions this season while passing for 4,428 yards. During Green Bay’s six-game winning streak, he had a quarterback rating of 108.9 or better in five of those games. During that time, he has 15 touchdown passes without an interception.
“Aaron is playing out of his mind right now. He’s on fire,” McAdoo said on Monday.
The Giants, third in the league in completion percentage against at 58.6 percent, are are positioned as well as any team heading to the playoffs, to make life difficult for Rodgers’ receivers.
The pass rush
When the Packers and Giants played in Week 5, the Giants’ pass rush was little more than a myth. The Giants entered that game with only four sacks and left with the same total. Giants’ rushers got only three hits on Rodgers while, at times, it looked as if Rodgers could survey the field as long as he wished.
In the “Kudos & Wet Willies” review of that Giants’ loss, I made two comments about the pass rush.
Defensively, they couldn’t rush the passer. Alleged Giants’ pass rushers needed binoculars to find Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers as he surveyed the field for receivers. ... Yes, Rodgers is one of the best in the league at moving around, avoiding sacks and buying time for his receivers to get open. He did that at times Sunday night. For most of the night, though, Rodgers was able to stand unperturbed in the pocket and wait for someone to get open.
Since that time, however, the Giants have found their pass rush. They have 31 sacks, nearly three per game, over their final 11 games. Even without Jason Pierre-Paul, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has been able to generate a pass rush using a combination of defensive linemen that has included linebacker Devon Kennard and with creative blitz packages that often see someone from the secondary used as a pass rusher.
Rodgers’ ability to move in the pocket and create while under pressure is second to none, but the Giants have a better chance of making his life difficult.
Improvements in the running game
The common belief is that the Giants simply can’t run the ball. The fact that they finished the regular season 29th in the league in yards per game at 88.2 and 30th in yards per rushing attempt at 3.5 would back that up.
The reality is, though, that while not dynamic or dominating the Giants’ rushing attack has been much better in recent weeks. Here are some of the numbers:
- The Giants ran for more than 100 yards only twice in their first eight games. In their final eight games, they ran for more than 100 yards six times
- The Giants gained 546 yards on 171 attempts (3.1 per attempt) rushing in their first eight games. In the last eight, they gained 866 yards on 227 attempts (3.8 per attempt).
- The Giants won the time of possession five times in their final eight games, including their last four. In the first eight games, they won time of possession only once.
There are a number of factors. The emergence of/increased reliance on rookie Paul Perkins, the use of Jerell Adams instead of Larry Donnell as the second tight end, and improved offensive line play among them.
The ability to run the ball against Green Bay would allow the Giants to keep the ball out of Rodgers’ hands and take some off the pressure off the shoulders of Eli Manning.
Lots of ink will be spilled and Internet bandwidth chewed up talking about Playoff Eli vs. the Pedestrian Eli of the regular season. I’m pretty sure I will chew up a good bit of that bandwidth myself.
Reality is, though, that Manning has had two glorious postseason runs and is 2-0 in playoff games at Lambeau Field. That doesn’t mean he will have that kind of postseason again, or that he should be expected to, but it means he has been there, done that and it is possible he could do it again.
Manning isn’t Rodgers. Far from it. On a game-in and game-out basis, he isn’t nearly as accurate, as consistent, as careful with the ball, or as able to create plays with his feet. What he is, though, is fearless. Experienced. Smart. Capable of rising to the big games and the big moments.
Twice in the past three games, Manning has demonstrated that he can still make the great throw at the big moment. He did that for a 25-yard completion to Odell Beckham Jr. in the fourth quarter of a Week 15 victory over the Detroit Lions, and he did it again Sunday with a 44-yard strike to Tavarres King to set up the game-winning field goal.
It is Manning’s history, and those moments when, for all of his inconsistencies, he reminds us that he can still make the big throw when it matters most, that makes opponents fear him in the postseason.
Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham is the best player not named Rodgers who will be playing at Lambeau Sunday, and maybe the best player, period.
The Giants are always one play away from something special, one play away from six points, when Beckham is on the field. No one turns an ordinary-looking 5-yard slant into a long touchdown catch-and-run better than Beckham. Go ahead and make your arguments that Julio Jones and Antonio Brown are better wide receivers. No receiver, though, is more electrifying once the ball is in his hands.