13

January

2012 NFC Divisional Playoffs: Green Bay Packers vs. New York Giants Preview: Moving On

After a very difficult and emotional week, the Green Bay Packers have a playoff game to play.

With the passing this week of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin’s son Michael, the Packers had a tough go during the lead up to  a game they must win or see their outstanding 15-1 season come to an end.

Throw in the unfortunate trash talk thrown in the direction of Lambeau Field by their opponents, the New York Giants, and the Packers have had one of the most unusual weeks before a playoff game in franchise history.

Last week, the Giants defeated the Atlanta Falcons 24-2 at home in an NFC Wild Card matchup.  The Giants played their best defense of the season with the only points for the Falcons coming from an Eli Manning intentional grounding penalty while he was in his own end zone.  The Giants gained a lot of confidence from that performance and led some of their players to guarantee victory against the team that finished the regular season with the best record in the league.

Let’s take a look at New York.

Key Giants Players

QB Eli Manning Manning is a very streaky quarterback.  When he’s hot, he’s incredibly tough to beat and especially so for a struggling Packers defense.  When Manning is off, however, he’s a gift that keeps on giving to opposing defenses.

It’s definitely been more of the good Manning than the bad this season and with a powerful pass rush on defense, Manning can relax and not feel like the weight of the entire team is on his shoulders.  He’s developed a rapport with his receivers and this was on display in the Packers’ 38-35 squeaker of a victory in New York earlier in the regular season.

WR Victor Cruz Perhaps no one else has come out of nowhere this season like Cruz has.  After playing in only three games last season thanks to a hamstring injury, Cruz exploded on the scene this season catching nine touchdowns for 1,536 yards, a Giants franchise record.

Throw in the talents of Mario Manningham, and the Giants have a spectacular one-two punch at receiver.  While they’re not quite there with the Packers receiving corps yet, the Giants can give any struggling secondary a fit and the Packers do fit into that category unfortunately.

11

January

Three Dont’s for a Comfortable Packers Win over the Giants

Tramon WilliamsThe Green Bay Packers could have had an easy game against the New York Giants when they played in week 13. But their own mishaps turned what should have been a comfy win in enemy territory into a nail-biter requiring Aaron Rodgers to come to their rescue.

I happened to be at that game in person. There were three things that struck me about the Packers’ play that day. Ater watching the replay on NFL Network last night for the first time, It just reinforced what I had seen in the stadium.

The Packers hurt themselves in three main ways in that game. I’m confident that if they can “clean it up”, the Packers will be hosting the Saints or the 49ers in the NFC Championship game at Lambeau. Here are my THREE DONT’S:

 

1) Don’t give up the big play.

Officially, “big plays” are defined as plays of 25 yards or more.  The Packers secondary went the extra mile against the Giants, giving up 3 pass plays of over 40 yards in their first meeting. All three led to scores, a total of 17 points handed to the Giants.  This falls very nicely into something I read today in the Wall Street Journal’s sports pages (yes they cover sports – from a purely analytical view).

The Journal reports (according to Stats, LLC), since 2008, teams with at least three more big plays than their opponents have won 80.2% of those games. Teams with just one more big play than their opponent won 60.5% of those games. The Packers had 2 big plays (one less than the Giants) in that game, both passes down the sideline to Jordy Nelson.  So the Packers actually bucked the big play odds by winning that game.

My point here is make the Giants earn it. Force them to drive the field in smaller chunks, make them run more plays where something can go wrong. Which leads me into #2:

 

2) Don’t drop interceptions.

I watched the replay of the game last night. Without particularly looking for it, I saw at least 4 plays where the Packers dropped sure interceptions.  In three cases, the ball bounced off a player’s hands.

8

January

Packers To Face New York Giants Next Sunday in NFC Divisional Round

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will take on the New York Giants next Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will take on the New York Giants next Sunday at Lambeau Field.

With a 24-2 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Wild Card round Sunday, the New York Giants (10-7) ensured themselves a trip to Green Bay next weekend to take on the Packers in the NFC Divisional Round. The game will take place at 3:30 CST and be aired on FOX.

The New Orleans Saints, who defeated the Detroit Lions 45-28 on Saturday, will travel to San Francisco to play the 49ers in the other Divisional matchup.

New York left no doubt who should be the team advancing in the NFC playoffs Sunday. They worked through a slow first half with a 7-2 lead, then poured in on the Falcons in the second half with 17 points, including two Eli Manning touchdown passes.

The Giants rushing attack, which ranked 32 in the NFL during the regular season, rushed for 172 yards on 31 carries and was a driving force for the offense all afternoon. Brandon Jacobs had 92 of those yards, and Ahmad Bradshaw tacked on another 63.

The Giants’ defense also had a standout day, limiting the Falcons to just 247 total yards and zero points. Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked just twice but was generally under heavy pressure for most of the game, and Michael Turner ran for just 2.7 yards a carry. They did lose Deon Grant (groin) and Aaron Ross (concussion), two key players in their secondary, to injuries. That could be a big factor next Sunday if both are forced to miss.

Even so, New York will ride a three-game winning streak into Lambeau Field. This will be a confident bunch, and for good reason. The Giants are playing as well right now as they have all season.

Sunday’s meeting will mark the first playoff game between the Giants and Packers since New York knocked off Green Bay in the 2007 NFC Championship game. However, the Packers have beaten the Giants in two regular season games since then, winning 45-17 in December of 2010 and 38-35 earlier this season.

——————

Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.

5

January

Who Do We Want? Ranking The Green Bay Packers’ Potential Playoff Opponents

As the wise philosopher Homer Simpson once declared, “The waiting game sucks! Let’s play Hungry Hungry Hippos!”

That’s the dilemma facing the Green Bay Packers this week as they wait out their first round bye and for their opponent in the divisional round to be determined.  While it’s doubtful the Packers are playing children’s board games in the locker room (well, maybe), we fans can play the wishing game and debate for hours on end who we want to see the Packers play in their first home playoff game since the 2007-2008 season.

(Be sure to cast your vote in the Poll at the end of this post)

The Packers can face one of three teams: the New York Giants, the Detroit Lions or the Atlanta Falcons.  Should Detroit upset the New Orleans Saints the Lions come to Lambeau.  Should the Saints hold on, the winner of Falcons/Giants would get the defending champions next.

So who would be the best matchup for the Packers? Honestly, an argument could be made for all three.  The Packers played (and beat) all three during the regular season, and defeated the Lions twice.  So familiarity with the opponent will be an advantage regardless.

I’ve decided to rank the three from the best matchup to the worst.  This is by no means a rock solid list.  I tossed all sorts of different variations in my head but I finally settled on the order below.

1.       Atlanta Falcons They’re number one for a couple reasons.  First, they are a dome team.  So are the Lions, yes, but at least Detroit’s climate is very similar to Green Bay’s.  Atlanta’s meanwhile, despite the occasional snow storm, is a much warmer climate. Even though they play indoors, they still don’t commute to work and live in this weather like the Packers, Lions and Giants do.

 A second reason is that for whatever reason, the Packers seem to have the Falcons’ number.  After beating the Packers at home during the 2010 regular season, the Falcons got spanked by the same team in the divisional round last year.  This year, again at the Georgia Dome, the Packers beat Atlanta again 25-14 after the Falcons blew a 14-3 lead.

7

December

Green Bay Packers Again Struggling With Elite Quarterbacks

If a team is going to knock the Green Bay Packers from the ranks of unbeaten in 2011, there’s one thing we know: That team better have an elite quarterback.

While it’s not quite a flashback to 2009, the Packers defense is again struggling mightily with elite level quarterbacks.

Two years ago, the Packers were consistently burned by quarterbacks Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger and Kurt Warner. The Packers lost all four of those games, including a playoff defeat to the Cardinals in which Warner threw for 379 yards and 5 touchdowns. Roethlisberger went over 500 and Favre had a combined seven touchdowns.

While Green Bay has won every game this season, a similar trend is forming for the 2011 defense.

In my estimation, the Packers have played three elite level quarterbacks this season: Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Eli Manning. Not only were the Packers torched in the passing game by these three quarterbacks, but each of the three games were among the closest the Packers have played this season.

Let’s take a look at some of the stats from these three games.

QUARTERBACK CMP ATT YDS TD INT RATING FINAL
DREW BREES 32 49 416 3 0 112.5 42-34
PHILIP RIVERS 26 46 385 4 3 85.9 45-38
ELI MANNING 23 40 347 3 1 100.7 38-35
TOTALS 81 135 1,148 10 4 99.9

The table is pretty self-explanatory.

The top level of quarterbacks are not only going to be able to move the football—something many have done on the Packers this season—but they’ll also be able to put points on the board by scoring touchdowns. The last part of that is the most important. While we’ve talked all season about the Packers’ “bend-but-don’t-break” defense, allowing touchdowns has been the only way opposing teams have stuck in games. Other quarterbacks—Cam Newton, Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford—have piled up the yards on the Packers defense, but only the three elite quarterbacks listed were able to throw three or more touchdown passes in a single game.

What does this tell me?

Only the teams with elite quarterbacks are going to have the chance to beat the Packers down the stretch. The Packers have faced good defenses and running games, but neither have been consistently effective in keeping teams competitive against the Packers this season. You have to score touchdowns in the passing game to keep up.

5

December

Packers vs. Giants: 5 Observations from Green Bay’s 38-35 Win over New York

The Green Bay Packers ran their unbeaten streak to 12 games this season and 18 overall as quarterback Aaron Rodgers led the Packers on a game-winning drive during the final minute to help Green Bay secure a 38-35 win over the New York Giants Sunday from MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Here are five observations from the game:

1. Cross it off

What hasn’t Aaron Rodgers done in 2011? He can officially cross a game-winning drive off the list. After Eli Manning’s short touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks (and ensuing two-point conversion) tied the game at 35, Rodgers took over at his own 20-yard-line with 58 seconds left and one timeouts. Rodgers hasn’t been in that situation yet this season, but he was calm and razor sharp as he completed all four of his passes—including three of 18 yards or more—to set the Packers up for a 30-yard field goal try. Mason Crosby banged home the kick as the fourth quarter clock expired to push the Packers to 12-0.

In a season full of important drives, Rodgers’ last minute masterpiece was far-and-away the most impressive and important. If they hadn’t already, the engravers for the NFL MVP trophy can begin putting in Rodgers’ name with confidence.

2. Charles…Matthews?

Packers linebacker Clay Matthews did his best Charles Woodson impression in the first half on what turned out to be one of the game’s most important plays. While up just 10-7 to start the second quarter, you got the feeling that the Giants had a pretty good hold of the game’s first 15 minutes. Matthews’ impressive break on Manning’s pass to the flats gave him an easy pick-6, suddenly giving Green Bay a 14-10 lead.

Matthews was a force for most of Sunday’s game, recording a sack, forced fumble and two quarterback hits. By my count, Matthews also had four quarterback hurries. That’s the kind of production in the pass rush that we’ve come to expect from Matthews. His interception return for a touchdown was simply icing on the cake for what was a fantastic performance all-around.

3. Up-and-down up front

The Packers offensive line didn’t play their best game of 2011, but the unit held up as well as you could have asked for against a talented Giants’ front-four. Left tackle Marshall Newhouse had problems at times with Jason Pierre-Paul and Dave Tollefson beat him clean for a sack in the fourth quarter. The Packers gave the left tackle plenty of help throughout.

3

December

Packers vs. Giants Preview: 5 Things to Watch

The Green Bay Packers (11-0) will take their undefeated record into New York on Sunday, as the Giants (6-5) welcome the Packers in a Week 13 showdown at MetLife Stadium.

The basics 

When: 3:15 CDT; Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011

Where: MetLife Stadium; East Rutherford, NJ

TV: FOX; Joe Buck and Troy Aikman with the call, Pam Oliver on the sidelines.

Radio: 620 AM WTMJ (Milwaukee), Packers Radio Network, Westwood One, NFL Sunday Drive (Sirius Radio).

Series: Packers lead, 30-23-2 (Packers won the last regular season game, 45-17, in Green Bay on Dec. 26, 2010).

5 things to watch

1. Protecting against pressure

Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said this week that the Giants were “going to get after Rodgers’ ass.” Take that for what you will, but a deciding factor in this game will be how the Packers offensive line—without Josh Sitton and Chad Clifton–control the Giants pass rush up front. Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka can all get home in one-on-one situations. The Packers may have to give left tackle Marshall Newhouse some help to keep the Giants’ struggling but talented ends off Rodgers. If he has time, Rodgers will pick apart the Giants secondary like he did last season.

2. Strike early

Losers of three straight games, the 6-5 Giants are a team in desperate need of a win. Last week’s defensive meltdown in New Orleans did very little to raise the confidence of this team, and the best way to put these guys on edge might be a quick lead, much like the Packers accomplished last December at Lambeau when Green Bay raced out to a 14-0 advantage in the first quarter. If the Packers march up and down the field on their first two possessions, the Giants defense might fold.

3. Contain the run

The Giants currently rank dead last in the NFL in yards per game and yards per carry, but when they’ve won big games over the likes of New England, Buffalo and Philadelphia, New York found success on the ground. The Giants are likely to get back Ahmad Bradshaw in some capacity, and bigger backs like Brandon Jacobs have given the Packers trouble at times this season. Add in the fact that the Packers are without their top two tacklers—Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk—and you get the feeling that the Giants will attempt to control the game with their two running backs. The Packers need to keep a lid on the Giants running game and force Eli Manning to beat them singlehandedly.