We are counting down the hours now until the New York Giants face the Green Bay Packers Sunday at Lambeau Field in the Wild-Card round of the NFC playoffs. Let’s check in with our friends at SB Nation’s Packers web site, Acme Packing Company, for some insight as the game approaches.
Jason Hirschhorn answers our questions.
Ed: Last year and at the beginning of this year Aaron Rodgers looked like he had slipped a bit in terms of his accuracy. Obviously, we've seen what he has done lately. What caused the change?
Jason: During that stretch you referenced, Aaron Rodgers struggled with some routine aspects of the position. I detailed those issues back in October, but in short he missed far too often on throws into the flat and over the middle while too frequently breaking the play design necessarily. Further complicating the matter, Mike McCarthy had yet to adjust his play-calling to fit the personnel around Rodgers. While Jordy Nelson and the receiving corps remained a capable unit, they collectively could not win play-in, play-out the way they had in the past. Those factors combined to produce an offense that ranked in the bottom half of the league in per-play efficiency and scoring.
Since then, both aspects have changed. Rodgers' top-shelf ball placement and accuracy has returned while McCarthy now incorporates more pre-snap motion and formation variance to scheme his receivers open. That version of the Packers offense has helped the team win its last six games.
Ed: When you look at the Giants, what concerns you the most?
Jason: The front seven. While the Packers defending the Giants' pass rush effectively in their first meeting, it appears that Olivier Vernon and the defensive line have greatly picked up their play in the time since. If New York can find a way to generate pressure without blitzing, the Packers could find it significantly harder to move the ball as they've grown accustomed
Ed: When you look at the Giants, what matchup or matchups do you really think the Packers can take advantage of?
Jason: The edges of New York's offensive line look shaky, especially if former Packer Marshall Newhouse has to line up at right tackle. Green Bay's pass rush hasn't performed well in recent weeks, but they could see an uptick in productivity if a healthier Nick Perry and Clay Matthews can line up against those tackles.
Ed: How do you look at the whole "Giants vs. Packers in Lambeau again in the playoffs" thing? This is how it went in 2007 & 2011 when the Giants won titles. Is it kind of eerie that it's going this way again?
Jason: Both teams have changed so much since those seasons that I have a hard time buying into that narrative. Obviously, if the Giants pull off the upset those games will draw comparisons, but neither team possesses the offensive firepower of those earlier incarnations.
At the same time, those games came on a bigger stage. 2007's matchup decided the NFC title, and the 2011 version came in the divisional round. The stakes this time around, while high, don't quite stack up.
Ed: Your prediction?
Jason: I think the Packers survive and advance. The conditions at Lambeau shouldn't tilt the game as much as they might versus a team from a warmer local, but the Packers should have some built-in advantages with the single-digit temperatures.
More importantly, I see the way Rodgers and Eli Manning have played over the last month, and the discrepancy greatly favors Green Bay. Manning has pulled inexplicable performances out of his rear before, so I wouldn't rule it out. Still, I see Rodgers and company taking care of business.