The Giants are all about defense this season, holding teams to 17.8 points per game, second only to the New England Patriots (15.6) in that category. They face the ultimate challenge this week in the NFC Wild Card round when they travel to Green Bay to play MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers and the Packers this Sunday.
Green Bay has been averaging 27 points per game this year to the Giants’ 19.4. On the surface, this game will come down to how well the Giants’ defense can hold Rodgers under that number, but it also will be determined by how successful their passing game is against Green Bay’s 31st ranked passing defense.
In the first meeting between these two teams, the Packers won, 23-16, but the Giants’ defense held Rodgers to 23 0f 45 for 259 yards with 2 TDs and 2 INTs for a QB rating of 65.0. That was before both units hit their groove this season, however.
Since that game, the Giants’ defense has been one of the NFL’s stingiest, especially in the red zone, where they have held teams out a league-high 60.47% of the time. The Packers have been on a roll, winning their final six games of the season. During that span, Rodgers threw 15 touchdown passes, no interceptions and registered a 121.0 passer rating.
But what about the Giants’ offense? They will need to post up some points this Sunday if they have any designs on pulling off an upset. Their best chance to do that might be by throwing the ball in the frigid temperatures of Lambeau Field. That is nothing new to QB Eli Manning, who has two playoff victories at the legendary home of the Packers under his belt.
Green Bay has some injuries in their secondary at the moment and are coming off three consecutive games in which they’ve surrendered 300 or more yards passing. That fact was not on the forefront of the mind of Giants’ offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan when he was asked about it this week.
“The first thing that we see, and the first thing we think of with that defense, is the fact that they’ve got 40 sacks,” said Sullivan. “They’re sixth in the league with 40 sacks and in the past four games, all important games for them, that put them in position, they have 13 takeaways. So they’re doing a lot of good things that whoever is in whatever role they decide, we know that they’re going to be ready to play. I think it really all starts with what they have upfront, their ability to get to the quarterback, and they’ve been doing a great job taking the ball away from the offense.”
Yes, they do have the sacks, but that is beside the point. They are getting lit up on tieback end of the defense and this presents a golden opportunity for the Giants to match them blow-for-blow if the Rodgers somehow is able to exploit their defense.
The Giants are coming off a week where their receivers were criticized for attending a party in South Beach after their victory over the Washington Redskins in the season finale last Sunday. The photos taken from the event and the rumors of possible drug use have dominated the news this week.
The Giants have not let it be a distraction that I can see. They are ready to attack the Pack. At least, they say they are. WR Odell Beckham, Jr. told reporters to hold questions regarding the trip until after the playoffs. Instead, he talked about the big play potential of the offense and the opportunity they have against the Packers this week.
“We all have to make plays and whatever it is, whenever your number is called, if it’s a slant, you take it to the house; if it’s a deep ball, you take it to the house,” said Beckham. “We need those big time plays and we’re going to need them from everybody, so I pride myself on making plays, I pride myself on being the very best that I can be, so these plays, they all have to be made. Each ball has to be caught, each route has to be ran precisely and you need to be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there. It’s all about the timing. The big plays are definitely going to help. If we come out and execute and do things the right way, we out-execute a team, I don’t know if the big play’s an x factor, so to say, but they definitely can’t hurt you.”
As for the Packers being banged up at the moment, Beckham was elusive in his answer.
“That’s obviously the plan,” said Beckham when asked about possible mismatches. “They’re, like I said, a red hot team. They’ve won six in a row, they had to win each and every game to get in. It’s about finding the best matchup that you think you have and going at it. Like I said, we have to make plays everywhere, all across the board, offense, defense, special teams, all three groups have to come together and truly execute. One special teams play can be the difference in the game. We could’ve had a great offensive game, great defensive game and the special teams is what sets it apart. So, all three phases have to be clean.”
The key will obviously be Manning, who has to rise above his mediocre performances of late and become “Playoff Eli” again.
“Eli is a model of consistency and steadiness,” Sullivan said of Manning. “He prepares like a true pro and puts the time in. There’s no one that’s going to be more focused, no one that’s going to be more prepared to be at his best. He’s been able to have success in those postseason games in terms of it all coming together. It’s been brought up a few times, postseason Eli, regular season Eli; he’s just a great competitor, he’s a leader to this offense and he’s working very hard.”
The Giants are hoping he can outdoes Rodgers on Sunday, something that hasn’t been done very often this season.