3TFO: Packers @ Giants, Week 12
This Sunday night, all of America will get to revisit a rivalry that is quickly becoming one of the best in the NFL. The Green Bay Packers and New York Giants have been closely linked in NFL lore since the days of Vince Lombardi, and you can trace the most recent edition of this feud back to 2007. That season, the Giants were blown out at home by the Packers in Week 2, but then pulled off an upset in overtime at frigid Lambeau Field to snatch the NFC Championship in Brett Favre’s last game as a Packer. Green Bay had to wait three years for its revenge, routing the Giants at Lambeau Field in Week 16 of 2010 to grab a wild card spot and propel itself to a Super Bowl title of its own. A year later, after losing to Green Bay in a Week 13 shootout at the Meadowlands, the Giants swung the pendulum back in their direction by prematurely ending the 15-1 Packers’ repeat hopes in the Divisional Round.
With both teams currently holding a precarious lead in their respective divisions, it’s only fitting that the latest installment of this rivalry has a lot riding on it. Here are three matchups that could decide the outcome.
Giants Deep Passing vs. Packers Substitute Secondary
The New York back pages and WFAN airwaves have been flooded with talk of Eli Manning’s “dead arm”. I’m not a doctor and won’t entertain that discussion, although Manning looked fine to me on a potential 38-yard touchdown against the Bengals that Victor Cruz dropped. What I can speak to is the recent disappearance of the New York offense’s greatest weapon: the deep ball. Last year, Manning led the league with 103 attempts, 49 completions, and 1,490 yards on passes 20+ yards downfield. But after completing 15 of 33 deep balls for 627 yards in his first eight games this season, Manning has gone one of eight for 33 yards in two straight losses. Mistakes like Cruz’s three drops in the past three games haven’t helped.
Manning and co. will be facing a much-improved Packers secondary, on pace to surrender 3,940 passing yards this season after being torched for a league-worst 4,924 in 2011. Fueling this improvement is a trio of bench players who have replaced injured veterans like Charles Woodson and Sam Shields without a hitch. The most impressive one, who I highlighted in my first Next Man Up column, has been rookie Casey Hayward. Opposing QBs have a 28.5 passer rating when throwing at Hayward, the lowest mark for any CB in the NFL. Not to be outdone, safety M.D. Jennings has allowed just one reception for nine yards in three starts since Woodson went down. And when second-year corner Davon House was asked to play extended time last week, he allowed just 8 yards on five targets with a pass defended. Manning may feel rested after the bye, but these youngsters won’t make it easy for him to get his game back on track.
Giants Inside Running Game vs. Packers Interior Run Defense
Anyone that’s listened to a Tom Coughlin press conference can tell that it infuriated him to have the worst rushing attack in the NFL last season. But the Giants’ running game has significantly improved this year, most notably on its inside runs. While New York rushes for 4.4 yards per carry overall, its average jumps to 6.2 when attacking the A-gaps. Center David Baas, and guards Kevin Boothe and Chris Snee have had their issues in pass protection, but they’ve found some redemption in the running game. Baas’ +6.7 run block grade leads the team, and Snee and Boothe also grade positively there.
When the Giants do try to pound the rock inside, they’ll be met by an interior Packer defense that makes up for a pass rush deficiency with stout play against the run. Defensive linemen Ryan Pickett and Jerel Worthy have a +5.9 and +3.5 run defense grade, respectively. On the second level, the Packers’ inside linebackers make things even tougher. A.J Hawk’s 11.0 Run Stop Percentage is tied for the ninth-best mark among ILBs, and Brad Jones is equally effective with a 11.2 Run Stop. Starting ever since D.J. Smith went on injured reserve after Week 6, Jones is yet another bench player who is coming up big for the Packers’ defense.
Aaron Rodgers vs. Giants Defensive Ends
A major turning point in last year’s divisional playoff came with 10:40 left in the third quarter. With the Packers down 20-10, Aaron Rodgers badly fooled Giants corner Aaron Ross with a pump fake, leaving Greg Jennings wide open down the left sideline. As Rodgers re-cocked to launch the sure-TD, Osi Umenyiora hit his arm at the last second to knock the ball free. That was a microcosm of the game for Rodgers — often on the verge of a big play, but then derailed by an opportunistic Giants defense. Rodgers once again leads the league this season with a 107.3 quarterback rating, but he’s also been sacked a league-high 32 times. He’s been pressured on only 25.9% of his drop-backs, but his Sack Rate of 29.5% is second-highest in the league. Rodgers is mobile and has an impressive 77.4% Accuracy Rate when under pressure, so he’s encouraged to hold on to the ball longer. However, that patience may also explain why 30 of his 32 sacks have come when he has the ball for more than 2.5 seconds.
If Rodgers is apt to wait for his shots, that may give the New York defensive ends enough time to finally snap out of their funk. So far this season, the vaunted Giants pass rush has been rich in reputation only. Justin Tuck’s 6.0 Pass Rush Productivity ranks near the bottom of 4-3 DEs, and Umenyiora’s 8.2 PRP is down from his 11.3 mark of last season. Even the great Jason Pierre-Paul has been pedestrian at times. Against the Bengals, he recorded his second game this season with no QB pressures, after having no such games in 2011. The good sign for the ‘Haitian Sensation’ is that he earned a jaw-dropping nine pressures when he last faced Packers left tackle Marshall Newhouse. The Giants’ coaches may want to line JPP up on the right side if they hope to jump-start their sluggish pass rush.
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