Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Green Bay Packers, October 3, 2004: The Giants have never really had a lot of success against the Green Bay Packers. The Giants did win the 1938 NFL Championship Game against the Packers, but the following year in 1939 Green Bay beat the Giants in the Championship Game and did so again in 1944. Vince Lombardi had been an offensive assistant coach under Giants’ Head Coach Jim Lee Howell from 1954-1958, but in 1959 Lomardi left to become the Packers’ new head coach. Defensive Coordinator Tom Landry left the next offseason to become the new head man in Dallas. The Giants got stuck with Allie Sherman in 1961.

Lomardi’s Packers beat Sherman’s Giants in the 1961 and 1962 NFL Championship Games. So if you’re keeping score at home, the Giants were 1-4 in NFL Championship Games against Green Bay. The Packers only lead the regular season series 24-20-2, but the teams have only met four times since 1992. The Ray Handley-coached Giants beat the Packers in ’92, but the Giants lost in 1995, 1998, and 2001. And the last time the Giants won an away game in Green Bay was 1971.

Why the history lesson? Well, I don’t give the Giants much of a chance in this game. It’s not that the Packers are that much better than the Giants. It has more to do with the fact that the Packers are a good football team, playing at home in a difficult place to win, and more importantly, a desperate football team. If the Packers fall to 1-3, they will be in deep, deep trouble. When two teams are pretty evenly matched, I always take the more desperate team, especially if it is a home game.

And let’s keep things in perspective. After the Eagles’ game, most BBI‘ers were about to write-off the season. After wins against two not very good football teams, there are some BBI‘ers talking playoffs. If the Giants do fall to 2-2, I’m sure the bitching will start again about the coaching staff, the play-calling, the players, management, etc. These ups-and-downs are a little ridiculous, especially from BBI‘ers who are older and have been through many NFL seasons.

But back to the game. If the Giants do find a way to match Green Bay’s intensity/desperation and come away with a win, I will be truly impressed. It would be a giant step forward for this team (pun intended). This game is winnable. Counting playoffs, the Packers are only 6-5 at Lambeau Field in their last 11 games. There is nothing to be scared of here IF the Giants match Green Bay’s level of hunger for victory.

Giants on Defense: Everyone in the media is talking about Brett Favre, but the key to this game is stopping the running game and HB Ahman Green. The Giants have been too soft against the run at certain points of all three games. Green works behind one of the very best offensive lines in the NFL. It is a group who has played together for a long time and have developed enviable cohesion and chemistry. The game will be largely determined by the ability or inability of the Giants’ front seven on defense to stand its ground and minimize the amount of damage Green does. The linebackers really have to pick up their run defense this week as do the Giants’ defensive ends.

Green Bay is also a very good screen team. They are well-aware of the fact that Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis loves to blitz, so look for Green Bay to counter with some well-timed screens. Obviously, the best way to defeat a screen is to recognize that it is coming as soon as the ball is snapped. The Packers run a version of the West Coast Offense so linebacker coverage on the fullback (William Henderson) and tight end (Bubba Franks) is also important. And not only can Ahman Green catch the ball out of the backfield, but so can his back-up, Tony Fisher. The Packers will look to exploit the blitz with quick passes to these targets…

Plus, they may count on their excellent offensive line to pick up some of these blitzes (like Philadelphia did in the opener) and take some shots down the field with their wide receivers. We all know that Brett Favre is a gunslinger who likes to take shots (and gambles) down the field. He has a very solid corps of wide receivers in Javon Walker, Donald Driver, and Robert Ferguson. Walker is the best of the bunch even though the Packers don’t list him as a starter on their depth chart. He makes big plays down the field and isn’t afraid to go over the middle. Ferguson is an athlete with excellent hands. Driver was Favre’s go-to guy in 2002 and Pro Bowl player, before a neck injury slowed his progress in 2003. Obviously, this will be a tough test for the secondary, not only dealing with these three, but also a quarterback the caliber of Favre.

If I’m the Giants, I don’t get too aggressive with my blitzes. And a huge key will be how well New York disguises their blitzes. If the Packers see the blitz coming, pick it up or have a screen play called, big plays will result. I am not saying don’t be aggressive, but just be smart. There is a risk to the blitz – just ask the Packers’ defense. The problem is that the Giants are unlikely to mount a significant pass rush with just their down four against the Packers’ experienced offensive line. (And the last thing I want to see is Strahan yucking it up with Favre – just play the damn game Michael).

Stop the run, look out for the screen passes, and find a way to mount a pass rush without bringing the house on every down.

Giants on Offense: The Packer defense is struggling and the best thing the Giants can do is to demoralize them further from the get-go. As I stated above, I don’t think the Giants are likely to win this game unless they play extremely well so I would be very aggressive offensively from the opening drive. I would eschew the ground game in the first quarter and take my shots down the field against a banged-up and oft-confused secondary. The Packers have issues at left corner with Michael Hawthorne, who will be lining up over Ike Hilliard. This is Hilliard’s time to shine. I would also try to get Tim Carter matched up on Hawthorne at certain times in the game. It will also be interesting to see if this is a contest where Jamaar Taylor gets activated and plays a few snaps. The right corner, Al Harris, is someone who the Giants are familiar with from his Philadelphia days. The Giants’ and WR Amani Toomer have had good success against him in the past. Rookie CB Jason Horton and FS Darren Sharper have struggled as of late as well. If the Giants’ offensive line, backs, and tight ends can give QB Kurt Warner some time, I think the Giants can make some big plays down the field in the passing game. But the pass protection is the key. Green Bay likes to blitz, blitz, blitz. But they were so aggressive last week, that it killed them. It will be interesting to see if their new defensive coordinator pulls in the reins this week as he is under a lot of criticism right now. Is it better if he does or doesn’t?

Trying to run the ball against a blitzing defense is usually hit or miss. With so many players crowding the line of scrimmage, it is often difficult to find an opening to run through. However, if HB Tiki Barber can get past the initial trash, there should be some open fields to do some damage. Screens and draws might be productive.

Right end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila will face LT Luke Petitgout. “KGB” hasn’t played particularly well as a pass rusher or run defender since he became a full-time starter. The Giants should be able to run at him. The Packers are hurting at tackle with Grady Jackson and James Lee out. Cletidus Hunt is an up-and-down player who sometimes causes problems, sometimes coasts. Left end Aaron Kampman is a technically-sound, blue-collar type who plays the run better than the pass.

The linebackers are solid and all good athletes: SLB Hannibal Navies, MLB Nick Barnett, and WLB Na’il Diggs. The Packers will bring them so blitz pick-ups by Barber, Visanthe Shiancoe, Jeremy Shockey, and Jim Finn will be key.

Take a chance on the offensive line. Be aggressive and try to make some big plays down the field early for touchdowns. Try to take the crowd out of it by having them get on their defense. Then come back to the running game, running at KGB with those left side sweeps and off-tackle runs the Giants like to run.

Giants on Special Teams: C’mon Willie Ponder and Mark Jones…I can feel one coming.