1. Scott Thompson | The Giants Beat: Let’s get right into it. The Packers secondary has been shaky, and now with Sam Shields out, it may only get worse. How do you see them handling the Giants’ threats on the outside?
Th Bill Huber | Packer Report: That's going to be a big challenge. Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt called the Giants’ receivers among the best in the NFL. All eyes in New York are on Odell Beckham Jr. All eyes in Green Bay are on Damarious Randall, last year’s top pick.
Randall had a good rookie season and played really well in the opener against the Jaguars’ Pro Bowl tandem of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. But he didn’t play well vs. Minnesota or Detroit, playing a role in Stefon Diggs and Marvin Jones combining for almost 400 yards. Randall blamed those big games on himself and said he needed to improve his preparation. I’d expect Randall to bounce back — he’s a good player who isn’t lacking for confidence — but that doesn’t mean he’s capable of doing what Xavier Rhodes did last week.
2. ST: Which cornerback do you see matching up with Odell Beckham Jr. for the duration of the game?
BH: The Packers will either have Randall follow Beckham — Randall can play outside or in the slot — or keep Randall and LaDarius Gunter on their sides and have Quinten Rollins in the slot. All three are second-year players. Rollins, who played point guard at Miami (Ohio) for four years before playing one season of football, has bounced back well after being benched in Jacksonville. Gunter’s probably been their best corner but he’s got speed issues. He wins by pressing at the line of scrimmage and using his length. If I’m defensive coordinator Dom Capers, I’d worry about having Rollins and Gunter matched in space against the Giants’ threats. Of their safeties, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is their best cover guy. Clearly, he’s going to have a role in trying to keep Beckham in check.
ST: The Giants secondary hasn’t been the best either with their injuries bringing in bench players. How do you see Aaron Rodgers attacking this Giants defense Sunday night?
BH: I expect both quarterbacks to have big days. Jordy Nelson, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL, had a big game against Detroit before the bye. He showed signs of being “Jordy Nelson” again with a couple of explosive plays. To me, the big play was Nelson beating Detroit cornerback Darius Slay for a 17-yard touchdown. Slay is a really good young corner with speed to burn, but Nelson got behind him for the score.
It will be interesting to see how the Giants treat Nelson, especially with an undrafted free agent having to start at safety. If they truly fear the deep ball, they’ll have to play accordingly, which will open up the underneath game for slot receiver Randall Cobb, who’s been sort of quiet with 12 catches for 132 yards and no touchdowns. Without explosive tight end Jared Cook, who famously received a chicken head with his chicken wings at Buffalo Wild Wingson Thursday, the Packers will go back to their usual three-receiver sets. Davante Adams has been that guy, even with up and down production. Receiver Ty Montgomery and tight end Richard Rodgers also will be factors. Like Cobb, Montgomery does a bit of everything. Rodgers can’t run but he knows how to get open and has great hands. He scored eight touchdowns last year, including the Hail Mary at Detroit.
4. ST: Staying with Rodgers, his highest attempts in a game this year was 36. Do you see him passing that total in this game especially with the Giants having the ninth-best run defense at the moment?
BBH: The Packers’ problem, whether it’s Rodgers’ passing attempts or No. 2 back James Starks’ rushing attempts, is simply not getting enough plays. They’d like to get 70 or 75 per game. Through three games, they’re averaging 58. Their first-down offense has been horrible and yet their third-down production is among the best in the league. It’s an interesting deal. When the Packers get a first down, they usually string together a bunch of first downs and score. Otherwise, it’s been a lot of three-and-out punts, which leads to the low play count.
As for Rodgers, yeah, this game is all about the quarterbacks. The Giants are allowing 3.18 yards per carry. Eddie Lacy is averaging 5.0 yards per carry. But if I’m coach Mike McCarthy and I’m creating a game plan, I’d rather throw at a wounded secondary than run against a stout Giants defense. The Packers’ pass protection has been fine. Left tackle David Bakhtiari is tremendous. His battle against Olivier Vernon should be fun.
ST: Giants’ Head Coach Ben McAdoo obviously has some history with the Packers spending time as a tight end and quarterbacks coach from ’06-’13 before heading to the Giants. Would you say that Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy is preparing a little extra for this one against his former protégé?
H: Well, yeah, I would say that’s accurate. But that has nothing to do with the McAdoo angle. Green Bay had its bye last week, so it was able to sneak in aMonday practice. So, the team’s had four practices this week rather than the usual three. The Packers need to win this game, regardless of whether it’s Ben McAdoo, Tom Coughlin or Steve Owen on the other sideline. Both McCarthy and McAdoo have downplayed the “insider knowledge” angle, but there has to be a little something to it. But the line-of-scrimmage communication changes every week, anyway, thanks to the on-the-field mics picking up everything that’s said and passing it along to the viewers at home. So, it’s probably business as usual from that perspective.
6. ST: What player or playing matchup should the fans watch in this one?
BH: The matchup has to be the Giants’ receivers. the Packers’ cornerbacks. Quarterbacks have thrown for 991 yards and a 105.3 passer rating against Green Bay. That’s horrible. Can Randall prevent Beckham from going for 150 yards and two touchdowns? Does Rollins have the quickness to combat Shepard in the slot? Can Gunter match wits with veteran Victor Cruz?
As part of that, can the Packers force Manning into a mistake or two? The Giants are minus-8 in turnovers. The Packers have intercepted only one pass but dropped three against Detroit last week. The Packers typically have made those plays in the secondary — they lead the NFL by a mile in interceptions since 2009. In what could be a shootout, a couple of turnovers could decide the outcome.
7. ST: What is your prediction for the Sunday Night matchup?
BH: It’s hard to see anything but a shootout. It’s going to be chilly tonight but it is sunny and beautiful and the conditions won’t be a factor. In my pregame video, I took the Packers 34-27. I worry if I am being a bit conservative with the point total. To me, the difference is the schedule with Green Bay having the bye and New York having the short week.