With the passing this week of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin’s son Michael, the Packers had a tough go during the lead up to a game they must win or see their outstanding 15-1 season come to an end.
Throw in the unfortunate trash talk thrown in the direction of Lambeau Field by their opponents, the New York Giants, and the Packers have had one of the most unusual weeks before a playoff game in franchise history.
Last week, the Giants defeated the Atlanta Falcons 24-2 at home in an NFC Wild Card matchup. The Giants played their best defense of the season with the only points for the Falcons coming from an Eli Manning intentional grounding penalty while he was in his own end zone. The Giants gained a lot of confidence from that performance and led some of their players to guarantee victory against the team that finished the regular season with the best record in the league.
Let’s take a look at New York.
Key Giants Players
QB Eli Manning Manning is a very streaky quarterback. When he’s hot, he’s incredibly tough to beat and especially so for a struggling Packers defense. When Manning is off, however, he’s a gift that keeps on giving to opposing defenses.
It’s definitely been more of the good Manning than the bad this season and with a powerful pass rush on defense, Manning can relax and not feel like the weight of the entire team is on his shoulders. He’s developed a rapport with his receivers and this was on display in the Packers’ 38-35 squeaker of a victory in New York earlier in the regular season.
WR Victor Cruz Perhaps no one else has come out of nowhere this season like Cruz has. After playing in only three games last season thanks to a hamstring injury, Cruz exploded on the scene this season catching nine touchdowns for 1,536 yards, a Giants franchise record.
Throw in the talents of Mario Manningham, and the Giants have a spectacular one-two punch at receiver. While they’re not quite there with the Packers receiving corps yet, the Giants can give any struggling secondary a fit and the Packers do fit into that category unfortunately.
DE Jason Pierre-Paul Remember where I mentioned the Giants guaranteeing a win? This guy was the first one to do it. He’s since backed off a bit on the statement (no doubt Tom Coughlin said something), but he still presents a challenge to the Packers offensive line, in particular Chad Clifton.
Clifton last week saw his first action in a long time and played solid but still showed some rust. He had the luxury of allowing that during a meaningless regular season finale, but with very game now win or go home, Clifton has to be at the top of his game.
Pierre-Paul is part of a vicious Giants pass rush. He recorded 16.5 sacks and two forced fumbles on the season. Even if the Packers contain Justin Tuck, they still have to keep Pierre-Paul in check as well.
DE Justin Tuck The Batman to Pierre-Paul’s Robin. As someone who soaked up everything he could while playing with Michael Strahan (except forcing a quarterback flop), Tuck is one of the best pass rushers in the league.
Even though Tuck only recorded five sacks in 12 games thanks to injury, all the attention paid to him has opened things up for players like Pierre-Paul to make plays. The Packers offensive line faces its toughest task of the season trying to hold back the Giants pass rush.
Three Matchups to Watch
The Packers vs their emotions It’s the same question that is asked every single time a team is trying to overcome a tragedy: what will their mindset be like?
It’s become a cliché of sorts to say “Oh, they’ll go out there and play for Joe.” Of course the Packers will use this tragedy for motivation. But winning this game won’t take the pain away for Philbin or his family.
Instead, the Packers can go out there and honor their coach by the way they carry themselves on the field against an arrogant opponent that doesn’t think twice about talking some smack. The Packer locker room is made up of high-quality individuals, Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy would not have it any other way. They will handle this like they handle everything else.
With class and dignity.
Playing aggressive vs risking the big play The Packers secondary all week has said their focus is where it always is: forcing turnovers and being aggressive.
Well, that’s all well and good but there is a fine line between being aggressive and risking a big play. The Packers must pick and choose their chances otherwise the Giants will be making big plays down the field all game long.
Rodgers’ mobility vs the Giants pass rush No offense against the Packers offensive line, but I don’t think they’ll be able to keep Tuck and Pierre-Paul at bay for a full 60 minutes.
Therefore, it’s up to Rodgers and his talent for throwing on the run to keep the Packers’ high octane offense running. Rodgers will have to keep plays alive like he always does. His quick release could be the difference in the game.
Packers 31, Giants 17 I don’t think this game will be as close as many think. The Packers are too tight-knit of a group to let the tragedy of this past week distract them for the task at hand. McCarthy has too strong a finger on the pulse of his football team to let that happen.
Throw in the fact that many in the media think this game will be the upset of the weekend and that Rodgers can’t withstand the Giants blitzes and you have a very motivated Packers team on your hands.
Just what the Giants want. An even more motivated Rodgers. Could that be why they’ve been firing their mouths off? Are they actually terrified of facing this offense?
Let’s hope. It says here the Packers move on to the NFC Championship Game against the New Orleans Saints in the encore game everyone has been waiting for since Week 1.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke