The New York Giants already have a formula for how to beat the Green Bay Packers. Other than the Kansas City Chiefs, who actually beat them, nobody came closer to doing it than the Giants did on Dec. 4.
That game was the perfect example for them of both what to do and what not to do against the defending Super Bowl champions as they head into their much-anticipated rematch in the divisional playoffs at Lambeau Field on Sunday afternoon. The Giants’ offense exposed the Packers’ defense. Meanwhile the Giants’ defense learned a tough lesson about how good Aaron Rodgers really is.
Still, the Giants pushed the Packers right to the end, losing 38-35 on Mason Crosby’s 30-yard field goal as time expired.
It left the Giants feeling like the Packers got lucky, because the Giants didn’t give them their best shot.
“We didn’t play our best game,” said Giants defensive end Justin Tuck. “I think that’s encouraging to know that we hung in with the best team in the country and didn’t come close to playing our best game. Our motto is to just go out there and play our best game and see what happens.”
It will help the Giants that they’ll have defensive end Osi Umenyiora and receiver Mario Manningham, both of whom didn’t play the first time around. Linebacker Michael Boley and Tuck will also both be seemingly at full strength, too.
So the pieces are in place for a Giants upset. Here are five things they have to do, lessons they need to learn, knock off a Packers team that has won 21 of its last 22:
1. Hammer Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers is very likely the MVP of the NFL and since late last season – starting with a 45-17 hammering of the Giants the day after Christmas, 2010 – he’s played quarterback better than almost anyone in football. He also has a deep array of receivers and can throw to as many as a dozen people in any single game.
Against the Giants he threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns. The biggest reason is because the Giants’ defense gave him plenty of time to pick them apart.
“You can’t let (Rodgers) get a breath of air,” said Giants defensive end Dave Tollefson. “You’ve just got to stay on him and keep that pressure, because as soon as you give him that ability to come up from under and catch his breath he bangs you for a 45 yard gain.”
2. Hit the Packers' receivers
Just as important as the fact that the Giants gave Rodgers time is the fact that they gave his receivers’ room. In that game, the Giants spent way too much time in a soft zone and they gave the Packers’ receivers and tight ends a cushion at the line of scrimmage.
They took advantage of that, and they will if they’re given the cushion again.
“Basically you get your hands on the receivers, disrupt those routes, disrupt the timing of the rhythm of their offense, get to the quarterback, rattle him a little bit, and get him thinking about where the next sack might come from,” said linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka. “It changes the dynamic of the game.”
3. Think deep thoughts
The third play of that first game for the Giants was a 67-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to tight end Travis Beckum. They knew going in they could take advantage of a porous Packers secondary. This game should be no different considering the Green Bay defense ranks 32nd overall, 32nd against the pass and has given up 71 pass plays of 20 yards or more.
The Giants are a big-play passing team and they seem to think that’s a matchup they can exploit.
“In the secondary they like to gamble a lot,” said Giants receiver Victor Cruz. “They like to take a lot of chances or risks, which means they either win or lose big, which explains why they lead the league in interceptions and lead the league in giving up the big play. We’ve seen that on film and we’ve seen the different areas we can take advantage of.
“And if it doesn’t work the first time, but we see the opening we’re going to call that play to take advantage of it. Whether it worked the first time, we’re going to come right back to it.”
4. Keep a tight grip on the tight end
Jermichael Finley had six catches for 87 yards and a touchdown against the Giants the last time, and he could’ve had a few more. He also drew a key, late illegal contact penalty on Giants linebacker Jaquian Williams who was trying to defend him. The Giants have a history of struggling against tight ends, though in their last three games they’ve shut down the Jets’ Dustin Keller, the Cowboys’ Jason Witten and the Falcons’ Tony Gonzalez.
The difference? Boley is back, and not only can he cover tight ends but he makes this defense whole.
“We can do what we do,” said safety Deon Grant. “(In the first game), guys were just out there guessing, switching around. Some guys were getting more playing time than they expected. With Boley, we’re able to play man to man with the tight ends.”
5. Don’t do anything stupid
The flip side to the Packers’ porous secondary? Green Bay led the NFL with 31 interceptions. It’s a high-risk, high-reward team, but considering how good their offense is the rewards are extremely high. The Packers average more than 40 points per game at home and have averaged 35 points per game over their entire season.
The worst thing the Giants can do is shoot themselves in the foot with bad penalties, or give the Packers a gift with a turnover in a key spot. Because no team in the NFL is better equipped than the Packers to make a mistake-prone opponent pay.
By RALPH VACCHIANO