When these two teams match up on Sunday afternoon, this dependable script figures to change quite dramatically.
The Packers are without Aaron Rodgers, who is currently sidelined with a fractured left collarbone he suffered in Week 9 against the Chicago Bears. Their quarterback on Sunday will be Scott Tolzien, a third-year player who has thrown a grand total of 39 passes in the NFL and will make his first career start.
As for the Giants, they have their main signal-caller healthy, but Eli Manning is suffering through his worst season since he was a rookie, and there doesn’t seem to be a remedy coming anytime soon. Manning has thrown more touchdowns than interceptions in only two games this year. In addition, the 10-year veteran has a mere seven touchdown passes in his last eight games, after finding the end zone four times opening night against the Dallas Cowboys.
The team that cracks 20 points in this contest will likely grab the win. And the path to that victory will probably come via a successful ground attack and by limiting mistakes through the air.
Here are the individual matchups to watch with this winning formula in mind. They are listed in order of least-to-most crucial in determining the outcome of the game.
DE Jason Pierre-Paul and DE Mathias Kiwanuka vs. LT David Bakhtiari
The interior members of the Packers offensive line are all good pass-blockers. Both tackle spots, however, are where the Giants defensive ends can do some damage.
Right tackle appears to be the biggest weak spot, where starter Don Barclay has yet to practice this week due to a knee injury. If Barclay isn’t able to go, the spot will be filled by one of two players.
The first option is Marshall Newhouse, who was the worst tackle in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), in 2011 and gave up a sack and two quarterback hurries in part-time work at right tackle last week in the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The other option is Derek Sherrod, who hasn’t played in a game since breaking his right leg late in his rookie season two years ago.
Left defensive end Justin Tuck, despite only 1.5 sacks, has wreaked some havoc as a pass-rusher this season, with 27 hurries and seven quarterback hits. Given the Packers woes at right tackle, he should be able to get in Tolzien’s face enough to make him uncomfortable.
Now if the combination of Pierre-Paul and Kiwanuka can turn Bakhtiari into a turnstile, Tolzien may be in-line for a second consecutive multiple-interception game.
The rookie left tackle struggled as a pass-blocker early in the season, which is a big reason for his -4.1 PFF rating in that category. However, he has settled down over his last five games, as demonstrated in the chart below.
|David Bakhtiari's 2013 Pass-Blocking|
|Time Period||Games Played||PFF Rating||Sacks||Hits||Hurries|
|Weeks 1 - 5||4||-6.4||4||2||7|
|Weeks 6 - 10||5||2.3||0||0||11|
|Pro Football Focus|
Exploiting the improving rookie will become even harder if Pierre-Paul, who has not practiced this week due to an injured shoulder, doesn’t play.
Like Tuck, Pierre-Paul’s ability to bring down the quarterback has been lacking, with only two sacks on the season. He is still spending time in the opponent’s backfield, though, as witnessed by his 21 hurries and six quarterback hits.
If JPP sits, that will leave it up to Kiwanuka, who leads the Giants in sacks with 3.5, to provide most of the blind-side pressure. Also, rookie Damontre Moore should get some opportunities to face off against his fellow 2013 draft class member.
This matchup is the least crucial for a few reasons.
First, if Bakhtiari does prove formidable, the Giants will likely get pressure from the other end position. If they don’t, though, it is still unlikely that Tolzien will hurt them all that much. His ceiling for the game is probably efficient passing with one or no turnovers, even if the Giants consistently allow him to have a clean pocket.
This is the most you can expect from an inexperienced quarterback, with limited talent, making his first career start.
RB Andre Brown vs. ILB A.J. Hawk
Brown was the offensive catalyst for the Giants last week in their win over the Oakland Raiders, and he’ll likely have to be again for New York to secure a fourth consecutive victory. Tom Coughlin and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride won’t let the mistake-prone Manning air it out, especially with a rejuvenated defense facing Tolzien.
Getting the best of Hawk will certainly put Brown on the right path. The Packers eighth-year linebacker is not exactly a fan favorite, but he is on the field for virtually every defensive play and is not immune to the occasional big game.
However, Hawk is normally subpar for his position, especially against the run, where he sports a -6.1 PFF rating this season. One of the main reasons why is due to nine missed tackles, which is three more than he had all of last season.
Brown’s biggest strength is his ability to gain yards after contact. He was fourth in the NFL in 2012, among running backs that played in at least 25 percent of their team’s offensive snaps, with 3.4 yards per carry after contact. Last week, nearly half of his 115 yards rushing came after contact, according to Pro Football Focus.
Hawk leads the Packers, by a very wide margin, with 74 tackles. He and Brown will meet quite a bit on Sunday. If the former’s weakness plays into the latter’s strength, New York should be able to control the offensive tempo behind another 100-yard rushing performance from their bruising halfback.
MLB Jon Beason vs. RB Eddie Lacy
Outside of a Manning meltdown or multiple special teams blunders, the only other way that the Packers can win Sunday is if Lacy paces the Packers offense with a big rushing effort.
Therefore, this matchup is the most crucial.
Luckily for “Big Blue”, they have had a knack for slowing down top running backs this season. New York has held Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte and LeSean McCoy all under 70 yards rushing. In the case of McCoy, they did it twice.
Each of these running backs is in the top seven in the NFL in rushing yards. Lacy is eighth, despite missing one full game and most of another with a concussion.
A big reason for the Giants' success against Peterson, Forte and McCoy the second time is due to the presence of Beason. The 28-year-old linebacker was acquired in a trade from the Carolina Panthers in October and has paid immediate dividends for the run defense.
His 1.3 PFF run rating in four games tells the statistical story, but Beason’s impact goes beyond just numbers, as explained by Dan Graziano of ESPN.com on Oct. 22, following the Giants win over the Minnesota Vikings:
After two games in New York you can make a legitimate case that Beason is the best defensive player on the team. Justin Tuck called him a "godsend" and spoke of Beason's impressive football knowledge and ability to direct traffic and get guys positioned on defense before the snap. Beason also plays fast and finds his way to the ball quickly. He looks like a very good middle linebacker, and it may be that he needed to be in the middle instead of on the outside where Carolina was using him.
At 230 pounds, Lacy is a load to bring down, but, along with good instincts, Beason is aggressive and physical. He should be able to plug holes that the Packers offensive line opens up and help keep Lacy from getting beyond the second level.
If he doesn’t, Lacy could run the Giants right out of their winning streak and their bid for an improbable playoff push.