Jan 112012
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By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Green Bay Packers, January 15, 2012: One down; three more to go.

The Green Bay Packers are heavily favored to win this game.  They’ve earned that right by their dominating play and their 15-1 record – the best in the NFL.  They’ve also earned that right as the defending Super Bowl champions.

But the 2011 season is no longer a marathon; it is a sprint.  And it is not only who you play but when you play them.  Everyone knows the Giants are peaking right now and peaking at the right time.  The big question is will it be enough to upset the Packers?

The Giants themselves are not scared of Green Bay.  They know they came close to beating them in early December.  Yes, Green Bay is almost 100 percent healthy now.  And they are playing at home.  But the Giants are also far healthier, and most importantly, far more sure of themselves.  They believe in their hearts they can do this.

So the Giants return to the scene of the crime.  Green Bay says they haven’t forgotten about 2007.  They shouldn’t.  History has a tendency to repeat itself.

Go Giants!

Giants on Offense: I don’t agree with those who say the Giants need to play it more conservatively by running the ball more and hopefully controlling the clock and limiting Green Bay’s offensive possessions.  That sounds like a rational argument.  After all, the Packers had 12 offensive possessions against the Giants in the last game and out-gained the Giants in time of possession (33 minutes to 27).

But despite the Giants’ improved rushing game in the last few weeks, the Giants are still not a strong, and more importantly, CONSISTENT running team.  Moreover, for once the NFL analysts do have it right – points come out of the passing game.  The conventional wisdom is that the Giants can’t beat the Packers at their own game.  I say bullshit.  The Giants almost did it in December and that was with a patchwork offensive line and a crappy defense.  The Giants need to do what they do best and that is throw the football.  Put the ball in Eli Manning’s hands and the hands of his receivers.  If they are not good enough, so be it.  But don’t play afraid.  Be aggressive and ride the horse that brought you to the dance.

Make no mistake about it – the Giants need to score a lot of points.  While the game may not be as crazy as the earlier 38-35 game, there is a good chance it could be.  The Giants can’t pitter-patter around in the first half like they’ve done much of the season and like they did against the Falcons last week.  If the Giants score 10 points or less in the first half of this game, they probably are not going to win.  They have to score early like they did against the Packers and Cowboys (second game).

The Packers were without both inside linebackers in the last game, but both will face the Giants this time around.  The big key for me up front is left outside linebacker Clay Matthews versus Kareem McKenzie.  Matthews gave McKenzie fits in the last game.  It was only Eli’s pocket presence that often bailed out McKenzie.

The Packers’ pass defense is not good.  As long as Eli is given decent protection and his receivers do their job, the Giants can move the ball and score.  Most importantly, do not turn the ball over.  The Packers thrive on the turnover.  They have a +24 turnover differential.

There will be a lot of pressure on Eli to perform in this game.  But he wouldn’t want it any other way.  May the best man win.

Giants on Defense: This will be herculean task for the defense.  The Packers are averaging 40 points per game at home – THE reason why they have not lost a home game all season.  But aside from the Saints and the Lions, the Packers haven’t played much quality competition at home either.

The bigger red flag for the Giants was the 449 yards of offense and 38 points they gave up to the Packers last month.  The exclamation point was the final 68-yard drive in 58 seconds to set up the game-winning field goal.

But even though that was just over a month ago, in some ways it feels like an eternity.  The Giants’ defense is a different creature now then it was that day.  All three levels of the Giants’ defense are playing better.  It’s obvious that the defensive line is playing better, but so are the linebackers and defensive backs.  It’s not a one way street – the tighter coverage has helped the pass rush too.

On the flip side, the Packers will have two starting offensive linemen back in the line-up who they were missing in the last game.  So the Packers anticipate they will be able to run the ball better and pass protect better.

Aaron Rodgers is amazing.  He sees the whole field, reads defenses well, and makes the right decisions on where to throw the ball.  His accuracy is incredible.  He’s completing over 68 percent of his passes and he often places the ball where only his receiver can catch it.  And as the Giants’ unfortunately found out in the last game, he is very mobile and can kill you with his ability not only to scramble out of trouble, but also run the football.  Rodgers actually led the Packers in rushing in the last Giants-Packers game and those rushing attempts really hurt the Giants.  That’s why it can be very dangerous to play a lot of man coverage against the Packers.  In man coverage, the defensive backs will have their backs turned to Rodgers and won’t know he is scrambling.

The Giants may have one thing going for them.  It’s a prayer, but it could be a factor.  Rodgers did not play in the regular-season finale against the Lions.  So Rodgers hasn’t played in a game in three weeks.  He won’t be overly rusty, but a missed throw here or there could mean one or two less scoring possessions.

Assuming Rodgers is on his game, the Giants simply need to play lights out on every level of the defense.  The defensive line obviously needs to not only get heat on Rodgers and hit him, but they must prevent Rodgers from moving around with his feet and prolonging plays.  The undercoverage will have its hands full with TE Jermichael Finley and the backs out of the backfield (James Starks, Ryan Grant, and John Kuhn).  Finley can be mismatch problem for any defense, and don’t fall asleep on those backs, especially in the screen game.  The Packers are a VERY good screen team and they will want to slow down that pass rush.

When the Packers throw the football farther down the field, they will benefit from the return of Greg Jennings (67 catches, 949 yards, 9 touchdowns).  Combine him with Jordy Nelson (68 catches, 1,263 yards, 15 touchdowns), James Jones (38 catches, 635 yards, 7 touchdowns), and Donald Driver (37 catches, 445 yards, 6 touchdowns) and that is a lot of firepower to defend.  While the Packers can surprise teams on the ground by running the football, you have to also think they will go with what brought them to the dance and that is throwing the football all over the field.

Can the Giants’ secondary hold up?  You’ve got to think the Packers are really going to try to exploit someone like Antrel Rolle if he continues to cover the slot receiver.  The Giants will have to mix up their coverage without mixing up themselves.  Please no mental errors!!!  One thing is clear – the defensive backs need to play out of their minds.  They have to play smart, aggressive, physical football and play with great technique.  They will have to have a short memory and remain positive when the Packers do make big plays.  This is the chance for the secondary to shine.  They’ve taken a lot of criticism this year, but they can erase much of that with a strong game against the Packers.  Want to win a game?  Get a turnover and take it to the house!

Giants on Special Teams: Special teams for the Giants have been much, much better this year and even have significantly contributed to saving the season (see JPP’s block in the first Dallas game).  For the past few weeks, the Giants have come dangerous close to blocking a punt.  Now would be as advantageous a time as ever.

Lawrence Tynes returns to the scene of his greatest kick.  He’s had a very strong season, but he has not kicked well lately.  Every field goal and extra point is huge.  The Giants need Tynes back on track.

The big weapon for the Packers on special teams is Randall Cobb who returns both kickoffs (27.7 yards per return, 1 touchdown) and punts (11.3 yards per return, 1 touchdown).  It is absolutely critical that the Giants keep him under control and that is on Tynes, Steve Weatherford, and the coverage units.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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