In this, the year of our lord, two thousand and twelve, we have before us, some totally badass playoff ball. This Packers/Giants divisional round contest is most certainly sure to entertain, if not delight, because watching grown men who train year round for the chance to compete in this glorious, physical and unpredictable battle is great for gambling, drinking, and irrationally voicing displeasure.
With all the same crap coverage constantly spewed out by our generally abrasive and trite sports media, everybody and their mother’s uncle knows about the Giants dominant defensive line, their explosive collection of receivers and their coach who’s a bit bananas; that Aaron Rodgers and Charles Woodson are the epitome of human grit and that Lambeau Field will be somewhat chilly. No doubt. But the factors that will end up determining the outcome on Sunday will be peripheral matchups.
Here are a few things that may prove crucial to Sunday’s game:
1.) Much has been made of the Giants defensive line, and reasonably so, but it’s the Packers front may well end up deciding the game. Not that Green Bay is very close to the collective talent level of New York’s lineman, but they do have two proven playmakers in Raji and Pickett. It’s not so much about pressuring the passer for Packers lineman as it is about playing stout against the run and taking on blockers. The Packers have continued to win because they force turnovers, with a lot of those turnovers coming on third and long situations, circumstances in which Dom Capers can utilize his pressure packages and ideally force opposing quarterbacks to make hurried plays. If the Packers can force the Giants into these situations, Eli Manning is usually good for one or two interception balls.
2.) The matchup between the New York wide receivers and the Green Bay secondary should be pretty fascinating to watch for the big play potential on both sides of the ball. The Giants have one of the best receiving corps in the league, especially at pushing the ball down the field quickly. Cruz and Nicks are super dynamic, and Manningham, especially down the stretch, has been causing a lot of problems as the number three option. If the Packers can limit the explosive plays of the receivers and force the Giants to extend drives, they can give themselves more opportunities to force turnovers with their gambling secondary.
3.) The Giants defensive front will make plays in this game. They’re too good not to. But one of the biggest factors of the Packers recent success has been their ability to overcome negative plays and convert third and long situations. Aaron Rodgers averaged over nine yards per pass attempt this year, and there were countless times when he bailed out a bad run or a sack with a conversion of ten or more yards on third down. Rodgers will have to continue to make long conversions if Green Bay hopes to marginalize the Giants defensive front.
Don’t be surprised if these players make a difference, and if they play poorly, their efforts may spell doom for the Packers:
Brad Jones: It looks like he’s going to be starting this week, and he’s got to be able to distinguish himself opposite of Clay Matthews. He has some pressuring ability, and if he can make some disruptive plays in the backfield and force New York to account for him a little more than they planned, it’ll make life that much easier for the other pass rushers.
Sam Shields: He hasn’t been much more than average this year, but he’s still young, fast and a ball hawk. He’s going to be lining up against explosive receivers, and while he’s definitely got the athletic ability to compete with them, he can’t allow himself to get beat by a mental mistake. He has a knack for making the big play, and Manning will certainly be looking to throw a number of targets in his direction.
James Starks and Ryan Grant: To slow down the Giants pass rush the Packers will probably look to do some misdirection and delay plays out of the backfield. If Grant or Starks can get an explosive play, you’d almost have to consider it gravy. The Giants linebackers can be had, and if the running backs can make some plays in space, it gives the Packers a huge advantage.
Randall Cobb: Don’t be surprised if Cobb gets more plays from the slot. It would seem to reason that the Packers held back Cobb a little bit in the regular season for just these circumstances, where they can introduce some packages that allow him to get the ball in space and create some mismatches in the open field.