How Giants' secondary can limit Jordy Nelson's impact
Undoubtedly the game of the first weekend of playoff football is the NFC clash between the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants.
This meeting is fascinating on a number of levels, but perhaps the biggest question for the Giants is how they can slow Packers QB Aaron Rogers and WR Jordy Nelson—a combination that was once arguably the league’s best QB-WR connection, and a hookup that has shined once again in recent weeks.
Nelson’s return from his 2015 injury wasn’t seamless, and for much of the first half of the season, he was relying on veteran savvy and smarts to get open; against pure man coverage, he was struggling to separate. Nelson scored nine touchdowns over the first 11 weeks of the season, but only two of them came against man coverage. Rodgers had a passer rating of 84.6 when throwing to Nelson in man coverage.
Since Week 12, however, Nelson has been looking more like his old self, and has matched that touchdown total against man coverage. What’s more, Rodgers recorded a passer rating of 151.8 when throwing Nelson’s way over that span—just two points off a perfect rating.
The bottom line is that Nelson has actually been getting open against man coverage lately; earlier in the season, he wasn’t, and was relying on contested catches or red-zone adjustments on the scramble drill to get open and make plays.
With that in mind, we now turn to this weekend’s meeting with New York. The Giants have one of the league’s best defenses and one of the top stables of cornerbacks, making it tough for the Packers to simply move Nelson away from a top corner and exploit weaker matchups the way they have at times this season.
Minnesota’s defensive backs created a mini media storm in Week 16 when, for the first series, they abandoned the game plan head coach Mike Zimmer gave them for Xavier Rhodes to shadow Nelson because CB Terence Newman felt he could hold up fine against him. The bigger story, though, was that the plan called for Rhodes to only follow Nelson left to right, but not to the slot; all Green Bay did was move Nelson to the slot and tear the Vikings’ defense to ribbons. Nelson ran 38.6 percent of his routes from the slot in that game, up from 26.0 percent in all other outings this season, and caught three passes for 81 yards and a touchdown when lined up inside.
The Giants have a stable of corners that can all cover, and will have a solution if Nelson is moved to the slot. Janoris Jenkins has shadowed receivers this season, but doesn’t move to the slot—similar to Rhodes in Minnesota. However, the Giants have a combination of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Leon Hall to man the slot in nickel and dime packages—a significant upgrade over the Vikings this season.
New York Giants’ 2016 pass coverage
|Coverage||Percentage||Pass plays||Attempts||Completions||Yards||Yds./Att.||TDs||First downs||INTs||Pass breakups|
The Giants run pure man coverage on 30 percent of their coverage snaps (Cover-0, Cover-1, and Cover-2 man), and incorporate elements of it into many more snaps than that. Both Jenkins and DRC made the PFF All-Pro second team this season, earning overall grades of 88.3 and 91.3, respectively. Targeting either player this season is yielding a passer rating under 65.0, more than 20 points below average and almost 40 points under the 104.2 passer rating Rodgers has posted overall this season.
Without DE Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants likely don’t have the pass-rush necessary to affect Aaron Rodgers any more than most teams; Rodgers’ passer rating under pressure this season is 93.8, so doing so might not matter anyway. New York is going to have to work on the big plays from the back end with their coverage.
The Giants have only allowed two touchdowns when deploying man coverage this season. Earlier in the season, the way to shut down the Green Bay offense was to play aggressive man coverage and force their receivers to get open—something they have usually been unable to do, especially without Nelson. Nelson at his best, however, has the ability to get open against man coverage, and in recent weeks, has been looking like that guy again. The Giants, though, have the personnel to test his recent production.
Whether the Giants have the confidence to deploy their most aggressive coverages—and the ability to follow through and execute—will go a long way towards deciding this game, as well as determining the impact Rodgers and Nelson have. If New York sits back and plays more conservatively, though, they Giants will be playing right into Green Bay’s hands.