3TFO: Packers @ Giants, Week 11
There was a time when a game between the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants determined who would be the NFL’s champion, and I’m not talking about the Vince Lombardi era. Whether it was the Giants’ 2008 NFC Championship victory, Aaron Rodgers’ dominant Week 16 performance in 2010, or New York’s Divisional Round upset in 2011, this inter-division rivalry has had a huge impact on the NFL landscape in recent seasons. But the bar has been set lower this time around.
The Rodgers-less Packers just suffered consecutive losses for the first time since 2010, but a win would put them at 6-4 and still squarely in the wild card race. The 3-6 Giants are just halfway out of the early-season hole they dug, but a victory and a Washington Redskins win would have New York playing for an improbable share of the NFC East lead in Week 12. This game may not be the national draw that we envisioned in September, but the desperation will be just as much of a factor as it has always been between these two teams. Will one of these matchups be the deciding factor?
Scott Tolzien vs. the World
The Packers’ quarterback situation seemingly went from bad to worse when Seneca Wallace went down early against the Philadelphia Eagles, but Scott Tolzien came in and looked better than a third-string quarterback taking his first career snaps. (If you’d read last week’s Next Man Up, you would’ve known that I wasn’t high on Wallace to begin with.) The good news is that Tolzien pushed the ball downfield and completed two deep passes (Wallace had none in his two games). His sideline ball to Jordy Nelson with 26 seconds left in the first half was particularly well-placed. The bad news is that Tolzien killed his offense with bad decisions and poor accuracy. His two interceptions came on a pass too far in front of James Jones and a floater too short of Nelson. He also overthrew a wide open Nelson with 12:35 left in the third quarter, and was fortunate that linebacker Najee Goode couldn’t bring in a sure pick-six with 13:12 left in the second.
The Giants’ secondary has shined lately, albeit against questionable competition. New York hasn’t allowed a passing touchdown since Week 6 and has been particularly solid against the deep pass, allowing just three completions on 21 attempts in its past five games. Terrell Thomas is coming off two good performances, with a game-changing interception against Oakland last week. Veteran journeyman Trumaine McBride has done a solid job filling in for the injured Corey Webster, as the 43.3% catch rate he’s allowed on targets into his coverage is the fifth-lowest of any cornerback with 100 snaps this season. Prince Amukamara is still plagued by inconsistency in his third season, but is capable of shut-down performances. New York’s defense has made a habit of dismissing backup quarterbacks, and it’s hard to see them having a letdown now against Tolzien.
Bulldozing Brown vs. Packers ‘Backers
The injury-riddled Packers will find little sympathy from a Giants team whose running back corps has been decimated this season. New York had five different halfbacks start in their first eight games, including two who weren’t even on an NFL roster in Week 1. But Big Blue finally got some reinforcements last week when Andre Brown returned from a broken leg, and it didn’t take long for the team to show how much it missed him. The Giants made him just the third NFL running back this season to receive 30 carries in a game, and he rewarded them with a Game Ball performance. His 55 yards after contact were the highest total by a Giants player since Week 8 of last season. On multiple occasions, a Raiders tackler nearly had Brown down, only to slide off and watch him dive forward for an extra 3 yards. He gave New York an offensive dimension that it was sorely lacking during its 0-6 start.
To say that the Packers front seven is a favorable matchup for Brown is being kind. Much was made of the cool-looking club that Clay Matthews wore last week to protect his injured thumb. But like most clubs I’ve experienced, it was loud, obnoxious, and ultimately disappointing. The Packers’ best defender clearly wasn’t himself, as he was held without a quarterback pressure for the first time since his rookie season. But as ineffective as he was against the pass, he was even worse in run support. With 9:07 left in the third, Brent Celek easily tossed him to the ground to make way for an 18-yard gain. And Matthews didn’t receive much help from A.J. Hawk or Mike Neal, who are both among our lowest-graded linebackers in run defense this season. In perhaps the most helpless moment of the Packers’ season, Matthews and company couldn’t stop a 15-play Eagles drive that killed the last 9:32 of the game. Make no mistake, the Giants will want to run early and often in this game, and Tolzien’s performance will become a moot point if Matthews and the Packers defense can’t slow down Brown.
Guarding Against Daniels
Even in their three straight wins, the Giants haven’t been able to stop shooting themselves in the foot, and there’s been no bigger culprit this season than Eli Manning. Last week he quickly turned a potential halftime lead into a deficit with a foolish pick-six, just his latest bad throw under pressure. He has struggled on many fronts this season, but has a particularly dreadful -10.8 grade when under duress. With Matthews still not 100-percent, the best candidate to force Manning into a mistake is defensive end Mike Daniels. Continuing his breakout sophomore campaign, he generated four quarterback pressures last week and leads the Pack with five sacks this season . The Giants’ offensive line will need a better performance against Daniels than what they just had against Pat Sims. Left guard Kevin Boothe did well in the run game versus Oakland, but surrendered a sack and quarterback hit. Right guard David Diehl has yet to post a clean sheet in pass protection this season, but it’s worth noting that his best game last season was against Green Bay. It’s not often that a pair of guards could figure so prominently in the turnover battle, but New York will need a good effort from this duo to limit Daniels’ disruption.
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