Packers Offensive Line vs. Giants Defensive Line
This is probably THE key to this game for the Packers. Their offensive line has struggled when all of their regular starters were healthy and in position. Now add to that a shuffled line to account for the loss of right tackle Bryan Bulaga against one of the best front four in the game.
While the Giants defensive front hasn’t had the mind-blowing season like they had a year ago, they are still very formidable. After the success they had in getting to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in last season’s divisional playoff game, they will be looking to duplicate that output. Jason Pierre-Paul, Chris Canty, Linval Joseph and Justin Tuck have accounted for 14.5 of the team’s 25 sacks this season. Throw in four more by veteran end Osi Umenyiora and the Giants have a very deep and talented pass rush.
Dubbed the “NASCAR” package, New York’s front line will be looking to simply overpower and out-maneuver the Packers. They want to collapse the pocket back into Rodgers and try to force a bad throw or get the sack. They were able to wreak havoc on the Packers offense in that playoff game and it led to some turnovers. Rodgers typically fares well against the blitz but the Giants may not have to bring extra bodies if their front four can get a push on their own.
The Packers are clearly aware of what is headed their way and have to be diligent in game-planning for it. Any extra protection will go a long way to keep Green Bay’s chances of driving and moving the ball alive. Of course, so would a productive running game, but there is no reason to think the Packers will suddenly get it going on the ground. A better alternative would be the short pass (quick slant to Jordy Nelson or James Jones) and putting the backs in place to be a safety valve if all else fails. The screen just hasn’t been there all season long so the check down could become a good friend of Rodgers’ before the day is up.
I’m stating the obvious here, but the Packers can ill-afford to lose Aaron Rodgers. More important than winning this game is getting everyone out of it healthy, especially #12. Hopefully offensive line coach James Campen’s message this week has been protect, protect and protect some more. Rodgers will have to help the line out by knowing he cannot hang onto the ball any longer than needed to avoid a takedown.
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers vs. Giants Secondary
The Giants have 17 interceptions on the season led by safety Stevie Brown, who has five. New York’s secondary has been opportunistic overall during the past few seasons and is capable of making life miserable for even the best of quarterbacks. That said, they have been up and down this season.
Rodgers is hoping the “down” version of the Giants defensive backfield shows up Sunday night. Few quarterbacks, if any, are as good as Rodgers at exposing a secondary on an off day. While Rodgers’ interceptions totals are up over last year, he is still taking very good care of the football. Avoiding the interception in this game is going to be crucial. New York does a good job of baiting opposing quarterbacks into throwing one into coverage.
While the onus falls on Rodgers to put the Packers in position to execute offensively, the Green Bay receivers will absolutely have to be on the same page as the MVP quarterback in terms of route running and adjustments. In last year’s game, Jermichael Finley posed a matchup problem and was able to make some key catches late that put the Packers in position to win. With a much-improved performance last week versus Detroit, Finley will hopefully be riding his confidence into New York to do more of the same in this contest.
Rodgers’ best bet is going to be to spread the ball around and keep the Giants defense guessing. If at the end of this one, there are more than seven offensive players with a catch, the Packers have a good shot at coming away with a win.
Packers Secondary vs. Giants Wide Receivers
I debated whether to feature Giants quarterback Eli Manning or the wide receivers in this segment. In the end, I chose the receivers. Manning is a great quarterback who plays average at times. The Giants’ talent level at wide receiver is a huge reason why Manning has been able to do those “great” things.
Packers fans can surely relate when they look at New York’s receiving corps: Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Martellus Bennett and Domenik Hixon. All four of these players are capable of making big plays much like how Green Bay’s wide receiver group can. Cruz is clearly the standout of the bunch. He has 60 catches and seven touchdowns on the season. The next highest totals are 36 and three by Bennett. Contain Cruz and you likely stifle the Giants offense.
But not so fast. Many Packer fans are likely still twitching from seeing Nicks’ name mentioned above. It was he who caught the Hail Mary pass at the end of the first half in last year’s playoff game that sucked the life out of the Packers and most of Packer nation to boot. Nicks has had a modest season thus far but has been looking to break out. He’s healthy now and with Green Bay needing to appropriately tend to Cruz, Nicks could benefit from some favorable matchups on Sunday.
Hixon didn’t face the Packers last year as he missed most of the season recovering from an ACL tear. He’s tall and moves around well in space. If unaccounted for, he’s the guy who will sneak in behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties for eight yards every time.
The Packers finally had their first interception return for a score last week and overall, they played well against a solid Lions passing attack. In fact, they were a missed interception and a late catch (against their prevent defense) away from holding All Pro wideout Calvin Johnson under five catches for less than 100 yards and no touchdowns. The Green Bay secondary should come into this game confident that they can make some key plays and give their team a chance to win.
Packers PK Mason Crosby vs. His Psyche
While every team wants to get into the end zone on every possession, it’s just not feasible. It’s inevitable that a team’s drive will stall and they will have to attempt the field goal. Enter Mason Crosby, who has become the bane of Packer fans’ existence of late.
In last year’s matchup, it was a Crosby field goal at the end of regulation that won the game for the Packers. As these late-season games move along and with more postseason implications, Crosby’s production is going to play a role.
Many of you have already likely said “just shoot me now” and are just waiting for one of his missed kicks to cost the Packers a game or worse, this season. Not many would blame you.
It’s tough to really say what’s wrong with a kicker but in Crosby’s case, it’s clearly a mental block. He simply has to start tricking himself into believing he’s the best placekicker in the league when he goes out there. It has to be “One step, two steps, drive and follow through. Repeat”.
Against a good Giants defense, points are going to come at a premium unless the Packers get up a few scores early on like they did against the Houston Texans. When called upon, Crosby has to make good. Easy for me to say, but hey, it’s his job and he’s paid handsomely to do one thing: kick it between the uprights. A miss in this game likely costs the Packers a win. Just a hunch.
Head coach Mike McCarthy has squashed any idea that Crosby’s job is in jeopardy and is sticking with the plagued kicker until the end. He made his last attempt last week that added some insurance to a slim one-point lead. Hopefully Crosby can tack on a few more and start to dig himself out of this nasty slump.
I called a Packers win 24-23 in the prediction thread. With the Giants slumping a bit lately and the Packers banged up, it’s likely to come down to a few key plays in this game. Hopefully Green Bay’s confidence can make up for some of the missing starters (Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, Sam Shields, Greg Jennings) and they can eek one out to keep their winning streak and trek towards January alive.——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: