If the New York Giants are licking their chops over the thought of facing yet another team whose offense is in a state of flux, they aren't saying so.
The Green Bay Packers, as everyone no doubt knows, will field their third starting quarterback in as many weeks, second-year player Scott Tolzien, a little-known NFL entity who played his college ball in Wisconsin.
”We’re not taking anyone lightly,” said safety Antrel Rolle. “I think he runs their system pretty effectively and we’re looking forward to the game on Sunday.
After stepping in for the injured Seneca Wallace in last week’s 27-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Tolzien, who will be the third different starting quarterback for the Packers in as many weeks, completed 24 of 39 passes for 280 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions.
“I think he played a pretty decent game,” Rolle said. “I think he came in and threw for over 200 yards, one touchdown, so he can definitely throw the ball.”
Tolzien’s numbers were apparently good enough for Packers head coach Mike McCarthy to announce this week that the youngster would get the start against the Giants, even after the club signed veteran Matt Flynn as a safety net.
Given Tolzien’s limited experience, why are the Giants still concerned about facing the Packers?
Because as head coach Tom Coughlin explained, other than the quarterback, it’s still going to be the same offense that Rodgers ran.
“It’s perhaps adjusted, but I would think after last week’s performance, they’re might be a few more ideas that would come forth that would identify with Mike McCarthy and what they've done in the past, but it’s still very noticeable as the Packer offense,” said Coughlin.
Likely to be at the center of that Packers attack is running back Eddie Lacy, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month for October who has recorded 669 yards on 158 carries (4.2 avg.) and four touchdowns.
“He’s an exceptional power runner,” Coughlin said. “You’re going to have to get a number of people to the ball in order to contain or control what he can do.”
With the Giants needing a win in order to pick up some more ground in the NFC East, the Packers are not a team that Coughlin and his players are going to take lightly.
Sunday will be the 52nd regular-season meeting between the Packers and Giants, with Green Bay leading the series, 27-22-2. The two teams last met on Nov. 25, 2012 in MetLife Stadium, a 38-10 Giants win.
|The Competitive Edge: Packers at Giants|
We know a lot about Eli Manning, who will make his 144th career start this Sunday, and who has enjoyed some recent success against Green Bay.
According to the data at Pro Football Reference, in his past three games (including playoffs) against the Packers, Manning has completed 60 of 103 (58.3 percent) for 926 yards, with nine touchdowns versus two interceptions (109.1 rating).
Packers quarterback Scott Tolzien, who was once with the 49ers, will become the team's fourth different starting quarterback since 1993, and the third in as many weeks, according to the Wall Street Journal.
So who is Scott Tolzien? Mike Fiammetta of Bucky’s 5th Quarter blog wrote this scouting report for Big Blue View, noting of Tolzien, "At 6-foot-2, 213 pounds, he's an average-sized quarterback well regarded for his accuracy and decision-making.”
The Giants welcomed back Andre Brown last week, and he didn't disappoint, running for 115 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries.
Even more impressive, though, is that according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), just 55 of Brown's rushing yards came after contact, meaning he was difficult to bring down.
The Packers have a stud running back of their own in rookie Eddie Lacy, who according to the weekly NFL media notes, leads all rookies with 669 rushing yards and 758 scrimmage yards.
Lacy, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month for October, will be looking for his seventh consecutive game with 70 or more rushing yards.
Green Bay’s Andrew Quarless has just 12 catches for 83 yards, which is seventh on the team. The Giants' Brandon Myers has 23 receptions for 265 yards and one touchdown.
The Giants would appear to have the edge in the run blocking. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Bear Pascoe has the fourth-highest run-blocking score of all tight ends while Quarless is ranked 13th.
Pascoe, however, might not play this weekend due to a sore ankle. If he doesn't, Adrien Robinson would probably replace him.
For whatever reason, Nicks hasn't been able to get open on a consistent basis, leaving opponents to double up on Cruz.
That's one of the reasons why the Giants' deep passing game has been missing in action most of this season.
Both offensive lines have had some struggles with pass protection, with Green Bay allowing 23 sacks and the Giants 22.
Where the Packers appear to have had the edge is in run blocking, as their running game is averaging 4.8 yards per carry to the Giants’ 3.2.
New York has been especially stout against the run, limiting opponents to an average of 3.7 yards per carry while the Packers are allowing an average of 4.2 yards up front.
Green Bay’s front has combined for one sack, the primary job to eat up space so that the linebackers can penetrate and disrupt things. They have been fairly successful in accomplishing that objective.
Since returning from the bye week, the Giants replaced Spencer Paysinger, previously the starting weak-side linebacker, with Jacquian Williams, who’s quicker and more athletic in coverage.
Williams and middle linebacker Jon Beason rarely come off the field and have provided speed in coverage.
Green Bay’s top two tacklers are the inside linebackers, A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones. Both have combined for 141 tackles and 4.0 sacks. They've also broken up three passes and have forced two fumbles.
The Packers starting defensive backfield has combined for just one interception and 30 pass breakups, while allowing 11 touchdowns, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The starting defensive backfield has only allowed five touchdowns and has been solid in coverage on covering deep passes.
The Giants special teams is a mess, as every week it seems that it is committing some sort of blunder that either gives the opponent excellent starting field position or, even worse, points.
Head coach Tom Coughlin was non-committal when asked if he might be contemplating replacing kickoff returner Jerrel Jernigan, whose fumble of the opening kickoff last week gave the Raiders an all-too-easy scoring drive.
Packers kicker Mason Crosby, who historically has been Mr. Automatic, missed two field goals last week against the Philadelphia Eagles.
While Crosby is no stranger to the wintry-like conditions expected on Sunday, the unpredictable winds of the Meadowlands showed last week that even the home team doesn't always have the competitive edge.
The Packers will enter Sunday’s game with a two-game losing streak that has dropped them into third place in the NFC North.
The Giants, meanwhile, have a three-game winning streak that has moved them ahead of Washington and into third place in the NFC East.
As far as the Giants are concerned, they don't have any kind of streak going.
Coughlin has them focused squarely on the Packers and has warned his team to not look past them even though it’s tempting because of the injury to quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“I really don’t think that will be an issue,” Coughlin said when asked if he was worried that his team might be looking past Green Bay. “Green Bay is a good football team.”
Instead, Coughlin wants his team to keep its focus on fixing some of the issues that continue to pop up.
“I think we have to be very much concerned about our team,” he said. “We've got enough things that have to improve on our team than to worry about that right now.”
Giants Offense vs. Packers Defense
According to Team Rankings, the Packers defense is allowing opponents an average of 5.7 yards per play, which would seem to play into the current strength of the Giants offense, the running game.
However, opponents have yet to try bringing extra defenders into the box, a strategy that could happen this week if the Packers want to key in on shutting down running back Andre Brown.
If the Packers do stack up against the run, this should open things up in the passing game, as it would be difficult for Green Bay to double up Hakeem Nicks and/or Victor Cruz if it is bringing a safety into the box.
The problem, though, is that the Giants offensive line isn't equipped to hold its blocks for very long, which means the Giants might have to stick with a series of slants, hitches and crossing patterns in order to move the chains, or to try throwing some checkdowns to the running backs out of the backfield.
Lastly, the Giants will also want to try to keep third downs manageable, as the ninth-ranked Packers are allowing opponents to convert just 36.67 percent of their third downs.
Giants Defense vs. Packers Offense
This week, the Giants will face another challenge in rookie Eddie Lacy, who figured to touch the ball a lot not just as a runner, but also as a receiver out of the backfield.
With Tolzien under center, keeping Lacy under control will go a long way toward ensuring the Giants defense gets off the field quickly.
In the passing game, Packers receivers Nelson and Jones provide two nice targets with good hands.
The Giants pass rush has seemingly come alive in the last three games, recording nine sacks after posting just five during the team’s six-game losing streak.
It goes without saying that if the Giants are able to pressure the pocket, they should be able to force Tolzien into hurrying some of his passes, which might hopefully mean a third consecutive game for the Giants with at least one interception.
What They're Saying
"Over the nine years, I've had a few close calls, but most were the ones that were pretty public. I think we've done a good job of keeping everything on the injury report, I guess."
—Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who has started 144 consecutive games since 2004, on if he's ever come close to having his streak snapped due to injury.
"I think everybody in the building feels really good about Scott prior to the game. This young man’s work ethic is second to none. He puts a lot of time in and really our whole practice squad group as a whole has really bonded and they do a lot of extra work and you can definitely see the promise in Scott."
—Packers head coach Mike McCarthy on quarterback Scott Tolzien, who will make his first career start this weekend.
"Anytime you get flexed out of prime time, it’s a bad thing. Everybody wants to play prime-time games, but at the same time you look at who they’re taking you off for, what is it, Broncos and Chiefs, undefeated, division game. So you understand, but we’re hoping to do that later on this season and get that game back."
—Giants linebacker Jon Beason on the television network's decision to move the Giants-Packers game out of the Sunday night prime-time slot.
"To be honest with you, we’re not worried about the playoffs right now. It’s something that is obviously the goal down the road, but we need to play football. We have enough problems going on."
—Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, when asked if there was concern about making the playoffs.
"One, we looked each other in the eyes and everybody held each other accountable. Lastly, it was Jon Beason. He’s definitely been a voice that has given us confidence in our defense with his leadership."
—Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas on what's been the biggest difference for the defense during the team's three-game winning streak.
|Giants - Packers Wednesday Injury Report|
|RB Brandon Jacobs||Hamstring/Knee||T/G Don Barclay||Knee|
|TE Bear Pascoe||Ankle||CB Casey Hayward||Hamstring|
|DE Jason Pierre-Paul||Shoulder||DT Johnny Jolly||Groin|
|CB Terrell Thomas||Knee||DE/LB Mike Neal||Abdomen|
|CB Corey Webster||Groin/Ankle||LB Nick Perry||Foot/Ankle|
|QB Aaron Rodgers||Collarbone|
|C/G Evan Dietrich-Smith||Knee|
|LB Andy Mulumba||Ankle|
|DT Ryan Pickett||Knee|
|LB Clay Matthews||Thumb|
|Source: NY Giants|
Giants Injury Analysis
The injury status of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is a concern.
Pierre-Paul, who was injured in last week’s game, was able to return after X-rays on his neck came back negative. However, he continues to experience soreness three days after that game and was held out of practice on Wednesday.
While head coach Tom Coughlin expressed optimism that Pierre-Paul would be ready to go as soon as Thursday and that there was optimism of having the defensive end for Sunday, Pierre-Paul didn't agree.
“I don’t know if I’m going to play Sunday,” he said. “At this point, I’m just taking it day by day, and (will) see how I feel on Sunday.”
The situation with tight end Bear Pascoe is interesting. Pascoe rarely appears on the injury report, so to see him listed and also to see him not practicing means that he has a significant injury.
If Pascoe can't go, look for Adrien Robinson, who’s been slowed down by a sprained foot suffered in the preseason finale, to finally be make his 2013 debut on Sunday.
The last injury worth discussing is that to running back Brandon Jacobs, who is listed with hamstring and knee injuries.
On Tuesday, Jacobs sent out an ominous tweet:
It’s not known exactly what he was referencing, and it's not fair fair to speculate what he meant. What we do know is that head coach Tom Coughlin said, via Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger, that Jacobs is “scheduled to work (Thursday).”
This Week’s Game Stats and Facts
(Courtesy of the NFL's Communications Office, unless otherwise noted.)
- Packers running back Eddie Lacy leads the NFL with 618 rushing yards since Oct. 1.
- The Giants are the second team in NFL history to start 0-6 and then win the next three games. The first was the Tennessee Titans, who did it in 2009.
- Packers receiver Jordy Nelson has 10 catches for 289 yards (96.3 per game) and two touchdowns in three games against the Giants.
- Giants running back Andre Brown will be aiming for his seventh rushing touchdown in as many games, dating back to last season. Brown has nine rushing touchdowns in his last 10 games.
- Packers receiver James Jones is tied for sixth in the NFL with 16 receiving touchdowns since 2012.
- Giants defensive end Justin Tuck has a sack in three of the last four regular-season meetings against the Packers.
- The Packers are 8-0 in games in which linebacker A.J. Hawk has an interception.
- Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks has 23 catches for 423 yards (105.8 per game) and six touchdown catches in four games (including postseason) against Green Bay. If he records a touchdown this weekend, it will be his fifth game in a row (including playoffs) vs. the Packers in which he’s scored, and his first touchdown reception of the 2013 season.
- Packers defensive end Mike Daniels has 3.5 sacks in his last four games.
- Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka had two sacks in his last game against Green Bay, the last regular game in which he posted multiple sacks.
- Packers rookie defensive end Datone Jones has 3.0 sacks in his last two games.
Realistically speaking, the Giants’ current three-game winning streak has come against teams with unstable quarterback situations, and certainly the Packers would fit that mold.
However, facing a team with a backup quarterback doesn't mean anything if you take into consideration how inconsistent Eli Manning of the Giants, a two-time Super Bowl MVP, has played this season.
The Giants defense has played well and should be able to hold up against the Packers, but the inconsistencies on offense and special teams remain a concern.
A win would sure be nice for Giants fans, but it’s not going to be an easy game considering this game has all the makings of a big-time trap.
Although the Giants appear to have the competitive edge, I think this could very well be the week that they stub their toe and lose a game that they are supposed to win.
Patricia Traina is the senior editor for Inside Football. All quotes and information obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.