Well, here we go. The Giants travel to Green Bay to take on the 15-1 Packers. Where do things stand? For one, the Packers have had a great run over the past 13 months. They started their winning streak with a 45-17 pasting of the Giants in Green Bay, and rode that to the Super Bowl. Last year, Green Bay had a large number of injuries but outplayed opponents with better records all the way through. If this sounds like the Giants back in ’07, you’re right. The pertinent details follow.The last time these two teams met in week 13, it was a tight game. Both teams had players that were injured, and the statistics were remarkable similar. Both Manning and Rodgers played lights out football, and defnse was optional. This time, both teams look to be at full strength, with Clifton and Bulaga back on offense, and Hawk and Bishop back on D. The G-Men are pretty much at full strength, as Manningham is back (did not play the first time) and David Baas, a last minute scratch, will also play.
The Giants will need to control the clock. The running game has come back to life, and the Giants are playing with confidence. Both Jacobs and Bradshaw are running with confidence, and the line is blocking well. The variety of weapons that Manning has should give the Packers’ pass defense fits. It has been noted that Green bay gives up alot of yardage, but teams are often playing from behind, and are forced to pass to catch up. In addition to controlling the clock, the Giants must hold onto the ball. The Packers are an opportunistic team, and make opponents pay for their mistakes. Eli Manning has the ability to throw the ball to receivers who have a small window of opening, and Rod Woodson likes to gamble. While the Giants’ receivers make us salivate with glee, I would look for the running game to assume prominence given the potential for the wintry conditions typical in Green Bay. If the Giants fall behind by a large margin early on, the Packers will have the ability to pin their ears back and go after Eli. Bottom line for the offense: I would look for Eli to try to work Manningham into the game more this time. Everyone focuses on the big three (Nicks, Cruz, Ballard), but Beckum was effective in the last meeting, and the Giants aren’t bashful about using the backs as receivers.
Defensively, the Giants are playing with fire. It appears as if the schemes were simplified, and Coach Fewell is letting the schemes get tailored to the players’ strengths. Aaron Rodgers is playing at a hall of fame level. In order to have a chance, the Giants’ pass rushers must get in his face and disrupt his rhythm. The Giants didn’t have full strength with their defense the last time, and they will send waves of players after Rodgers. While sacks would be nice, pressures, hits, and hurries are enough. The Packers have an awesome array of offensive weapons. While their rushing game is lacking, they don’t need it with the receivers that they have. Jermichael Finlay is a beast, and detsroyed the Giants when they played in NJ. His stats would have been even better than they were, but he dropped three passes that would have gone for big yardage. The Giants had no answer for him. The Packers can put a tremendous variety of offensive packages on the field, which makes personnel adjustments critical for the Giants. If the Pack uses a hurry up or no huddle offense, it could cause problems.
A last word about intangibles. Greg Jennings said that the Giants victory in the NFC Championship would serve as a motivating factor. Possible, but not likely. While there are vets still playing, both sides have truned over their roster. Better motivations would be the last two games against each other. The game last month has given the G-Men confidence, much like the game against the Patriots four years ago. The Giants are motivated, and are eager for a rematch. They are also eager to prove that they belong. From the standpoint of the Packers, they are grieving. The loss of Coach Philbin’s son is a terrible blow to the family, and the team has dedicated the game to the Philbin family. To my mind, at least, that is more of a motivator than a game four years ago.
Bottom line: The Giants need to control the clock, avoid turnovers and don’t get penalized. On defense, they need to disrupt Rodgers and play a physical defense, rather than the soft zone they used the last time. Just the same, I think Green Bay might be too strong. I hope I’m wrong about this. Packers 31, G-Men 23.