Packers vs. Giants: 5 Observations from Green Bay’s 38-35 Win over New York

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The Green Bay Packers ran their unbeaten streak to 12 games this season and 18 overall as quarterback Aaron Rodgers led the Packers on a game-winning drive during the final minute to help Green Bay secure a 38-35 win over the New York Giants Sunday from MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Here are five observations from the game:

1. Cross it off

What hasn’t Aaron Rodgers done in 2011? He can officially cross a game-winning drive off the list. After Eli Manning’s short touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks (and ensuing two-point conversion) tied the game at 35, Rodgers took over at his own 20-yard-line with 58 seconds left and one timeouts. Rodgers hasn’t been in that situation yet this season, but he was calm and razor sharp as he completed all four of his passes—including three of 18 yards or more—to set the Packers up for a 30-yard field goal try. Mason Crosby banged home the kick as the fourth quarter clock expired to push the Packers to 12-0.

In a season full of important drives, Rodgers’ last minute masterpiece was far-and-away the most impressive and important. If they hadn’t already, the engravers for the NFL MVP trophy can begin putting in Rodgers’ name with confidence.

2. Charles…Matthews?

Packers linebacker Clay Matthews did his best Charles Woodson impression in the first half on what turned out to be one of the game’s most important plays. While up just 10-7 to start the second quarter, you got the feeling that the Giants had a pretty good hold of the game’s first 15 minutes. Matthews’ impressive break on Manning’s pass to the flats gave him an easy pick-6, suddenly giving Green Bay a 14-10 lead.

Matthews was a force for most of Sunday’s game, recording a sack, forced fumble and two quarterback hits. By my count, Matthews also had four quarterback hurries. That’s the kind of production in the pass rush that we’ve come to expect from Matthews. His interception return for a touchdown was simply icing on the cake for what was a fantastic performance all-around.

3. Up-and-down up front

The Packers offensive line didn’t play their best game of 2011, but the unit held up as well as you could have asked for against a talented Giants’ front-four. Left tackle Marshall Newhouse had problems at times with Jason Pierre-Paul and Dave Tollefson beat him clean for a sack in the fourth quarter. The Packers gave the left tackle plenty of help throughout.

Where the Packers really struggled up front was in the run game. Josh Sitton’s absence was really felt when the Packers handed it off. With Evan Dietrich-Smith replacing Sitton, the Packers running backs carried the ball 24 times for just 57 yards. All four of the Packers running backs—Ryan Grant, James Starks, Brandon Saine and John Kuhn—had yards per carry averages under three. Running to the right side—the bread-and-butter for the Packers’ run game in 2011—didn’t produce the same effective results without Sitton.

But even with a makeshift offensive line, the Packers kept Rodgers mostly upright (two sacks) and not having an effective run game was again negated by another big day from the passing game. It wasn’t a flawless performance by any means by the offensive line, but they played well enough for the Packers to consistently move the football.

4. Hands down

By my count, the Packers dropped six passes on Sunday. Jermichael Finley had two, Greg Jennings one, Randall Cobb one, Tom Crabtree one and Saine one. The drops will be a disappointing mark on what was a productive day for the Packers’ passing game. Finley’s drops were the most disheartening, as both were on balls that an elite tight end should haul in each and every time. At this point, the drops have to be a mental issue for Finley. We’ve seen him make those same plays too many times in the past for it to be anything but.

However, the Packers receiving corps also made some eye-opening catches—especially near the sidelines—that helped make up for some of the drops. Jordy Nelson was an acrobat near the boundaries, and Donald Driver made two catches—one for a first down and the other for a fourth quarter touchdown—while straddling the sidelines like only the veteran can. Greg Jennings also had a controversial second half touchdown that will surely warrant further discussion, but this wasn’t a “Calvin Johnson rule” play. Because Jennings stayed on his feet, completing the process wasn’t in play. Referee Jeff Triplette concluded that Jennings had control of the ball with two feet down in the end zone, giving him the touchdown. The fact that Prince Amukamara knocked the ball out of Jennings’ hands after that became a moot point.

5. Why not?

A lot of the post-game talk in the Packers locker room centered around the possibility of 16-0, and you got a “why not?” sense from several players when answering questions on the topic. All things considered, “why not?” may be a question worth asking. While any NFL team can win on a given Sunday, the Packers should be strong favorites in all four of their remaining games. Two of the games should be near locks (Chicago, Kansas City) and the two others (Oakland, Detroit) feature teams that are currently struggling. Anyone that watched the Chiefs-Bears game on Sunday knows what I mean about near-locks. The Bears will also likely be without both their two best offensive players in Jay Cutler and Matt Forte on Christmas night. I get the Packers-Bears rivalry, but those are two huge losses to overcome.

The Raiders will come to Lambeau next week fresh off a 34-14 drubbing at the hands of the Miami Dolphins. The Week 17 game with the Lions might be the toughest test left, as the Packers will likely have home-field advantage wrapped up and Detroit will be scratching and clawing for a playoff spot. It’ll also be interesting to see how coach Mike McCarthy manages playing time for the key guys if the Packers have the No. 1 seed locked up. Either way, the Packers have given themselves the opportunity to finish the final quarter of the season and obtain just the second 16-0 regular season in NFL history. With 18 straight wins and those four teams remaining, “why not?”

Other observations

Quick injury report: James Starks left on a cart with an ankle injury. Charles Woodson had his bell rung in the second half and left with a concussion. He’ll have to pass tests from an independent neurologist to get back to practice or play next week. Andrew Quarless suffered a horrific knee injury and will likely be done for the rest of the season…With two touchdown catches on Sunday, Donald Driver now has 57 in his NFL career and four this season. He still offers something to a Packers offense full of playmakers…A week after hauling in three passes for 94 yards and a score against the Lions, James Jones caught zero passes on zero targets…D.J. Smith made his first professional start for an injured Desmond Bishop and registered eight total tackles. Robert Francois, also making his first NFL start, had four, including one for a loss…The Packers defense again gave up 400 or more yards on Sunday as the Giants gained 447. New York’s No. 32 ranked rush offense had 100 yards on 20 carries…University of Wisconsin alum Travis Beckum caught just his second pass of the season, going 67 yards for the game’s first points. He beat Charlie Peprah on the play, who had another tough day in pass coverage…Mike Neal saw his most extensive action of the season but generated zero pass rush. He was a non-factor…The Packers ran 16 more plays than the Giants (77 to 61) and held the ball for 33:03 of the clock.

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Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.

You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.

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  • john driscoll austin texas

    Brandon Saine looked good

    • Zach Kruse

      I agree. I’d say he earned himself some playing time down the stretch, regardless of James Starks’ injury

  • wim

    I had Finley for three drops. And would not have counted Crabtree’s against him. It was a bad throw. Finley is fast moving himself down to a James Jones type contract. He is nowhere near the quality of the two TE’s in New England or the one in New Orleans.

    But I wonder Zach how you can expect a team to keep winning with a defense as bad, and bad is the word as ours is. Just bad, no other word for it. How is that both of our safeties are always sucked in by even the most average play fake? It seems it is always the poor guy on the corner who also has to play safety and be the last line of the defense. Is it bad safety play or does Dom wanting them charging forward because our tackling up front is so bad? Except for Rodgers magic and Nelson and Driver making superb plays that game left me with a sick feeling.

    • Zach Kruse

      It has to be in Finley’s head. Too talented of player to continually let these things happen. Probably could have had him for three drops, too. Didn’t count the last one.

      RE: GB defense. They’ve been this poor all season. But they still put 7 points on the board on Sunday, and more importantly, the Packers haven’t lost yet. They are a liability, but the Packers have played well enough on offense to compensate.

  • Ron LC

    Finley needs to keep his mouth shut. Unless, he actually contributes. Still has 7 more games to prove himself. Yes, I said 7.

    • Zach Kruse

      Still caught a touchdown pass and had 87 yards receiving…that’s contributing. Understand what you mean though.

      • Ron LC

        Three drops at crucial times has a way of revoking “speaking” rights. Plenty of time to corect the erorrs of his way.

  • FireMMNow

    defense is horrific. safeties are undisciplined, front seven cannot generate a pass rush unless it is CM3. raji looked like a top 3 NT in the run last season, now teams are running right at him. raji you are a run stuffer first and foremost. stop spinning out of your gap. you are not dwight freeney, you are still a 350 pound man that should hold his gap and push the pocket.

    rodgers is a freak, jordy is the best bargain in the NFL. driver has done well in the last 3 weeks. echo the sentiments above about j-mike. if j-mike thinks he is going to get top 5 TE money he can walk all day long. he is a great target, but this team has much more important contracts to worry about in 2013-2015.

    • Zach Kruse

      Agree with everything you said here.

    • Oppy

      The way I see it, the Packers should not let Jermichael walk- even if they don’t feel like signing him long term, even if they don’t feel like he’s worth the 5+ million dollar franchise tag.

      If they can’t come to mutually agreeable terms, the Packers should place the franchise tag of Finley. Why? Because if they don’t, he walks. Oh, sure, they’ll get some paltry compensatory pick. Why settle for that? We all know Finley is such a threat at the TE position that he bends defenses like a black hole bends light. We all know there’s more than a handful of teams that would be willing to give Finley a gigantic contract because he’s that rare of an athlete at his position.

      If the Packers don’t want to pay what Finley wants, get that tag on him and throw him on the block. More than one team will make a good to great offer for his contract, more than willing to absorb his contract (and then some). If no one wants to deal, we get Finley for one last season and the Packers offense gets to enjoy reading the coverages pre-snap more often than not and our WR’s get more single man opportunities whenever Finley is on the field.

      If you ask me, this contract year is in Finley’s head and is messing him up. He has proven over the years to have some of the best hands on the team. He’s got to get his focus right.

  • Dan

    Great win, exciting! Unfortunately, it was exciting because because once again the D was terrible and made it a close game. Someone compared this years Pack to the 89 cardiac Pack. I compare them to the Bart Starr coached team of the 80s when they had Lynn Dickey and a high scoring O and a horribley pathetic D. The 2011 is a liability. It was sickening watching the big 3 run stuffers, Picket, Raji and Green being BLOWN off the line of scrimage by an average O-line. The tackling is also horrible. could you imagine what Lombardi yelling on the sidelines watching this soft, confused bunch of non-hackers. And forget about Neal, he’s a statue. I feel bad for CM3 and Woodson to have to play with these clowns…..can you tell I’m upset about the defense? Lol

    • http://www.wcoffensive.blogspot.com Tom Freeman

      Dan – except that the Starr-coached Packers were 8-8 virtually every year, despite a powerhouse offense. So logically the Starr-coached defense must have been MUCH worse than our current defense.

  • Dan

    I apologize about my poorly constructed posts, I generate them for a small screen cell phone by one finger pecking. It’s hard to proff read and edit on this thing, lol

  • Dan

    FireMM, your right on with your post…..its amazing how much this D unit has regressed from last year. Thankfully, the offense seams better then last year.

  • ELo

    I was left with the same sentiment as the rest of the posters. Overwhelmed by Rodgers, Drivers, and Nelson’s play. Underwhelmed by our total defensive play (line, backers, and secondary) and whelmed by our offensive line and tight ends.

  • Bubbaloo

    Zach, you’re so spot-on about Mike Neal being a “non-factor” that I didn’t even realize that he had played in the game! I actually asked about him on another site this morning. I’m guessing next year’s draft will be “D” heavy as this year’s was mostly offense, we certainly need some help, maybe even a free agent.

    • CSS

      He’s played 69 total snaps since returning, all in sub-packages, without having any real camp prior to that. Also, how many times did Capers call for Neal to ‘jet’ rush, or get vertical after the QB? We don’t know, do we. Good god, let the kid get some reps and a full-game before being so quick to call him a ‘non-factor’.

      • Zach Kruse

        Not saying he won’t contribute, but Neal played plenty of snaps on Sundat, even in the base defense, without any tangible impact. Agree he needs reps but Sunday wasn’t a good showing.

  • http://www.kewtrav.com Mpls Packer Backer

    A couple weeks back I floated out the idea of moving Woodson to Safety because Bush has come a long way as a cornerback. I repent. Bush is a good SP role player, but filling in for the concussed Woodson was a bit scary. Let’s hope Wood can pass his tests this week. Shield’s looks lost, Williams looks slow, and Bush can’t get home on a blitz.

    • Zach Kruse

      The play of the cornerbacks this season has probably been the most disappointing part of the defensive collapse.

  • Ron LC

    Sorry to see Quarles out for the year. He dedicated himself to becoming a total TE and was well on the way. His blocking will be sorely missed. Hope we’ll be back for next year.

    • Wagszilla

      Agreed. He was working for everything he got.
      Really respected his work ethic and way he cleaned up those drops.

      Hope he is back next year.

  • Tarynfor 12

    Hurry back…Hawk and Bishop.

    • Zach Kruse

      Sounds like at least Bishop will be back against the Raiders. Haven’t heard much on A.J.

  • Dan

    Tom Freeman, good point, I guess im just disappointed in the regression of the defence this year, Damn, they can really look bad in some of these games.

  • Jonny

    I read that Finley wanted WR $ if he is tagged. This would mean an automatic release in my book. There will have to be a ruling on this. I think Suggs challenged his position label and wanted DL $ and got it.

    • Tarynfor 12

      Simple solution,Finley is lined up at TE nearly 60- 70% of his plays…he gets TE money if tagged and based on his play over all…it’s too much.

      • Jonny

        I wasn’t positing a problem. All I am saying is he certainly ain’t worth WR tag $. You are saying he isn’t worth TE tag $. I think for a year more of driving it is worth it.

  • Pete Kliman

    There where signs of this all last year,inability to put teams away. Teams studied and figured our D out,especially now that we don’t have our pro bowl safety prowling our flank. I certainly missed him this Sun. Every team out there has bigger problems.

  • Shavager

    Hoped TThompson would take a shot at signing Tommie Harris for D-line before Chargers got him. This D-line needs help, Neal hasn’t really show up since returning, Wynn and Wilson are MIA when on the field. Raji had great season on end last year, maybe it’s time to put him back, alternate nose tackles with Green, Wynn, Wilson–if that hasn’t improved by playoffs maybe the FA route needs exploration. Secondary holes are exposed by lack of D-line pressure, players are out of position (Sam Shields lost contain on Nicks last TD pass, had Nicks blocked out from ball but let him step in front)or fail to wrap up tackles when defending the run. Defense just doesn’t resemble last year’s and only one player’s missing, Nick Collins–last year it was Bigby, Harris and Burnett missing–secondary dominated playoffs.

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