The New York Giants have been anything but consistent this season. In a win against the New England Patriots, the Giants looked like a team that could contend for a Super Bowl. In a loss against the New Orleans Saints on Monday night, they looked completely devoid of an identity and undeserving of a playoff spot.
However, you can never quite count the Giants out.
The Giants face their toughest task of the season on Sunday in a showdown with the undefeated Green Bay Packers. The Packers have looked vulnerable at times this season, and the Giants will look to take advantage wherever they can.
Here are five keys to a Giants victory on Sunday.
It is no secret that Aaron Rodgers is having one of the best years in NFL history. Therefore, it’s unrealistic to expect the Giants defense to stop this high-octane offense, seeing as though they haven’t been stopped all year. However, the Giants have the ability to disrupt the timing between Rodgers and his receivers.
The secondary must make a concerted effort to jam the Packers wide receivers at the line of scrimmage. Overall, the defensive backs for the Giants need to be more physical. This will force Rodgers to hold onto the ball for a bit longer in order for the routes to develop. This will give the Giants pass rush more time to attack an offensive line that has struggled for much of 2011.
Eli Manning has been playing the best football of his career in 2011. No top quarterback in the NFL has done more with less.
Through Week 12, Manning has completed 63 percent of his passes for 3,358 yards. He has thrown for 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His QB rating is a 95.5 (sixth best in the NFL).
With the running game completely ineffective throughout the year (the Giants are dead last in the league with 82.3 rushing yards per game), Manning has had a big burden on his shoulders.
Eli must continue his great play in order for the Giants to win. On paper, this seems doable against a Packers pass defense that has been suspect all season long. In fact, Green Bay is 25th in total defense, and 31st in total pass defense. They do lead the league in interceptions with 22, but they are allowing 288 passing yards per game and a completion percentage of 61 percent.
Jake Ballard proved to be a pleasant surprise for the New York Giants during the first half of the season. His solid play even made Giants fans forget about the departure of Kevin Boss during the offseason. However, Ballard has seen his performance slip in recent weeks, marred with numerous dropped balls and missed blocking assignments.
Ballard must return to early season form in order for the Giants to win this game. When he’s at his best, Ballard is a threat in the middle of the field and will keep the linebackers honest. At 6’6” and 275 lbs, he must block more effectively to help jump-start the Giants' stagnant running game.
The Packers have given up 721 yards and five touchdowns to TEs this season. If Ballard plays like he did earlier this year, a big game from him is certainly on the horizon.
The Giants offensive line has been an area of major concern for Tom Coughlin all year long. They are last in the NFL in rushing yards per game. This can be attributed by poor running from Bradshaw and Jacobs, poor blocking from the offensive line and poor play-calling by Kevin Gilbride.
The O-line has got to do a better job in creating holes for Bradshaw and Jacobs. When the Giants won the Super Bowl, they were first in the league in rushing. They must go back to playing Giants football, and it starts with running the ball effectively.
Green Bay has not been great against the run this year. They are allowing 4.9 yards per carry (28th in the NFL) and 105.5 yards per game.
There is a possibility that Ahmad Bradshaw could return on Sunday. If the offensive line can step up, the Giants run game could get back on track.
The front four of the Giants must put pressure on Aaron Rodgers. The combination of Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora needs to take advantage of a struggling Green Bay offensive line.
Tuck has been battling injuries all season long, and has not looked like himself. This could be his week to have a breakout game. Pierre-Paul has been a monster, and should continue to wreak havoc in the backfield. Umenyiora sprained his ankle against the Saints on Monday night, but hopefully he will be ready to go on Sunday.
Of late, these elite pass-rushers have not been able to get to the opposing quarterback. They cannot afford to have this trend continue.
If the Giants are not putting enough pressure on Rodgers with a four-man rush, they will know soon enough. Rodgers will pick them apart easier than Drew Brees did on Monday night. Perry Fewell will need to dial up some blitz packages, or else the Giants defense will be in for another long day. Look for Fewell to call for some safety blitzes and to send linebackers in order to try and confuse Rodgers.