14

January

Packers vs. Giants: Home Field and The X-Factor

Aaron Rodgers will use the hard count this weekend to help keep the Giants' pass rush at bay.

All week, the discussion surrounding the Green Bay Packers’ Divisional Round game has been primarily about their matchup with the New York Giants’ defensive line. It seems to be the biggest focal point of the whole game, especially with the young talents of Jason Pierre-Paul matching up against veteran Chad Clifton.

But there is an X-factor to this “battle in the trenches” that hasn’t been mentioned much: Aaron Rodgers’ use of the hard count.

It’s no surprise that the Green Bay Packers are looking forward to having the home field advantage. For one, they don’t have to travel, but most importantly, they don’t have to deal with a hostile crowd. As someone who witnessed the last Packers-Giants matchup at MetLife Stadium, I can attest to the impact of crowd noise.

The “twelfth man” can create a lot of stress for opposing offenses. Sometimes they will revert to a silent snap count, which affords the defense an edge in getting off the line as quickly as the offense. Other times it can create communication problems which lead to pre-snap penalties and clock management issues.

Let’s not forget, though, what advantages are provided to the home offense.

Finding ways to slow down the Giants’ pass rush will be important for a Packers victory. Common tactics include establishing a solid ground attack, utilizing screen passes and draw plays, and chip blocking the outside rushers with tight ends.

The hard count, though, can be just as useful as any of these strategies, and sometimes more deadly.

Aaron Rodgers has made it public knowledge that he works on vocal techniques as part of his quarterback training. Though he won’t share his secrets, it’s clear that whatever he does is working. His ability to work the snap count has proven extremely advantageous in getting defenders to jump offsides. And after securing a “free play,” he makes sure to take his shot down the field.

Unfortunately, I don’t have access to any statistics that could be presented in support of this statement; however, I think we have all witnessed this in action on more than one occasion this year. On the weekly Aaron Rodgers Show with ESPN Milwaukee reporter Jason Wilde, he has even admitted his frustration to referees blowing these plays dead, eliminating the chance for a big passing opportunity.

10

January

Five Reflections from Wild Card Weekend

The strength of the Giants' defensive line is just one observation from the 2011 NFL Wild Card weekend.

With four teams out of the playoff race and the New York Giants scheduled to take on the Green Bay Packers next week, I thought it might be prudent to take a look back at the weekend and reflect on the results. The games mostly went as expected, minus the Pittsburgh Steelers getting “Tebowed” in Denver.

Let’s get right down to it, then. Here are some observations from the four Wild Card games and how they might relate to the Packers going forward:

1. Regular season records don’t mean anything. This weekend, we saw two division champions take down Wild Card teams who held a better record in the regular season. The New York Giants (9-7) practically shut out the Atlanta Falcons (10-6), and the Denver Broncos (8-8) stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) with an overtime bullseye strike.

Yes, the Packers made an impressive run this season going 15-1, but don’t let that alone give you any sense of false hope. It won’t afford Green Bay any advantage on the field, because the only thing that matters is how well they are playing right now.

2. Opportunities must be seized when they are presented. Anyone who watched the New Orleans Saints take on the Detroit Lions knows how much that game could have changed if the Lions would have simply taken advantage of their opportunities. I counted three passes by Drew Brees that could have easily been interceptions if the defender would have simply held onto the ball. Turnovers can be huge game-changers is the playoffs, mostly because the games are usually so close to begin with. Not only can they swing the scoreboard, but they can redirect the momentum and quiet a noisy crowd.

The Green Bay Packers have made turnovers their mantra this season. Not only is protecting the ball of utmost importance, but taking it away has become the keystone of their defense. The Packers lead the league this season in interceptions (31) and were second only to the San Francisco 49ers in turnover differential (+24). They will need to continue taking advantage of these opportunities, because they will get fewer and farther between against playoff-caliber opponents.