Packers vs. Giants: 5 Things to Watch in This Weekend's Divisional Matchup
This series is designed to give fans an idea of what to watch during the weekend's game.
This weekend, the Packers host the Giants in the first playoff game at Lambeau Field in four years. This divisional-round matchup is a rematch from Week 13 of the regular season, where the Packers needed a Mason Crosby field goal to get the 38-35 victory over the Giants.
Tragedy fell on the Packers this past week as offensive coordinator Joe Philbin lost his son, Michael T. Philbin, 21, to an apparent accidental drowning in the Fox River. Coach McCarthy said that Philbin has taken an indefinite leave from the team and most likely won't be with the team this weekend.
During his weekly press conference, McCarthy noted that the death was having an adverse effect on the team. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who had never attended a funeral said, "There’s immediate family and then there’s your football family, and we’re all affected when your football family deals with tragedy.”
There's no doubting that this tragedy is taking a toll on the locker room and everyone inside. The organization hasn't dealt with anything of this manner since 2003 when then quarterback Brett Favre lost his father in a car accident.
That year, the team rallied around their leader and charged into the playoffs. It will be interesting to see how the 2011 Packers deal with this tragedy. This will be worth watching as the Packers take the field on Sunday.
Stopping the Run
Defensively, the Packers have the 14th-ranked rush defense in the league. However, that is a misleading number, as the Packers finished the season looking like the 32nd overall rush defense.
In their only defeat the Packers couldn't stop the Chiefs' Jackie Battle from running out the clock. The next week against the injury ravaged Chicago Bears, the team gave up 199 yards rushing, and 121 of those yards were turned in by third-string running back Khalil Bell.
The Giants keep the misleading trend going as they finished the season ranked 32nd in rush offense. They have two running backs, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, who could both be starters for any other team in the league.
Last week against the Falcons, the Giants had a combined 172 yards on the ground. Jacobs rushed for 92, while Bradshaw accounted for 63 yards rushing. These numbers would suggest that the Giants aren't the worst rushing team in the league. In fact, they used this balanced attack to defeat the Falcons, 24-2, at home.
It will be interesting to see which 32nd-ranked unit can step up in this big game. Look for the Packers to fully commit to stopping the run.
January Is the Time to Run
Last year, the Packers run game came on strong during the playoffs. Rookie James Starks shouldered the load and was a pleasant surprise for the Packers, who finished the season ranked 32nd in rushing offense. Starks did just enough on the ground to open up the passing game for Aaron Rodgers. Now in his second year, Starks looks to pick up where he left off.
This year, the Packers finished the season ranked 27th in rush offense, but they rarely needed to run as Rodgers dissected almost every defense they faced. The playoffs in Lambeau mean one thing: cold weather. When the weather dips, so do the passing numbers of many offenses.
If the run game is established, it will also slow down the Giants' vaunted front four. The Packers have two healthy running backs in Ryan Grant and James Starks. Look for them to establish the run early.
Waking the Sleeping Giant
Since Aaron Rodgers became the starter in 2008, he has quieted most of his doubters. Many players who try to get into Rodgers' head before the game by saying they are going to stop him usually end up on the wrong side of a Rodgers thrashing. This week, the Giants added fuel to the Packers fire.
Stud defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (JPP) was noted last Sunday saying, "We gonna win, we gonna win....80 percent positive we're going to beat them." Pierre-Paul and the Giants seem very confident coming into Lambeau this weekend, but Rodgers and company are waiting to give them a much-needed reality check.
Look for Rodgers to play like a madman and show the Giants why he is called "The Champ."
The Packers have watched as their defense has sunk to 32nd in the league this season. That is a far cry from the second-ranked squad of last year. Although, the team hasn't needed a high-powered defense this season with the offense carrying the team for 16 games.
It's a whole new season in the playoffs, where the defense will need to be the stronger unit. The Packers' defense has been able to survive due to the league-high 38 takeaways, which is tied with San Francisco for second in the league.
The only game the Packers didn't record a turnover was their only loss against the Kansas City Chiefs. That speaks volumes about how this defense depends on turnovers to save the day.
Dom Capers will have to dial up some exotic blitzes to get to quarterback Eli Manning, or this could be a long day for the Packers' sluggish defense. Look for the Packers' defense to come out and surprise the Giants with new formations and confusing blitzes.