It is always good to see your team in that playoff bracket once January rolls along, and the New York Giants are penciled in at the fifth seed in the NFC. Finishing at 11-5 and obtaining a wild card position isn’t always the best of luck as now the Giants will have to play all of their playoff games on the road. Their first opponent: The Green Bay Packers and their high-potent offense led by QB Aaron Rodgers.
The Giants have had good luck in recent years at Green Bay, but can they stop Rodgers who has been on a tear to finish off the regular season? The Giants Beat’s, Scott Thompson went Behind Enemy Lines with Packer Report’s, Bill Huber, to see how this one will go down in the frozen tundra that is Lambeau Field this Sunday.
ST: Aaron Rodgers has been playing out of his mind in these past seven games with 18 TD to zero interceptions. What can you attribute to his success right now?
BH: This is the offense I was expecting at the start of the season. Heading into training camp, I predicted this team would threaten the 560 points it scored in 2011. That was the second-most points in NFL history. That didn’t happen at the start of the season. It took Jordy Nelson a while to round into form after missing all of 2015 with a torn ACL. Nelson sat out the offseason practices, most of training camp and the entire preseason. Tight end Jared Cook missed six games with an ankle injury. Running back Eddie Lacy sustained a season-ending ankle injury in Week 6. All of those things conspired to a slow start.
But Nelson has been exceptional down the stretch, leading the league in touchdown receptions and flirting with 100 catches. Fellow receiver Davante Adams met the lofty expectations thrust upon him before the 2015 season and tied for second in the NFL in touchdown receptions. Cook got healthy. And the Packers finally figured out a running game with the conversion of receiver Ty Montgomery.
As for Rodgers, he’s playing faster and consistently taking what’s there rather than dancing around and looking for big plays. His decision-making, rarely an issue anyway, has been impeccable. Not only has he gone 245 consecutive passes without an interception, he might have gone 245 consecutive passes without being close to an interception.
Add it together and the Packers averaged 34.3 points in their final four games. That 2011 team I mentioned? It averaged 35.0 for the season.
ST: The Giants have had some history in the past few years at Lambeau in the playoffs. Is this year’s team aware of this? Are they using it has fuel to come out fiery Sunday?
BH: Yeah, of course they’re aware of it. Now, would they be aware of it had the TV reporters in the locker room not brought it up? Perhaps not. Only two players were here for the 2007 game. Rodgers was the backup quarterback to Brett Favre and Mason Crosby was the kicker. Only eight others were here for the 2011 game: receivers Nelson and Cobb, linebacker Clay Matthews, guard T.J. Lang, right tackle Bryan Bulaga, safety Morgan Burnett, running back James Starks and snapper Brett Goode.
So, are they aware of the history? Yes. Does it add any fuel? No. It’s the playoffs. That’s fuel enough.
ST: Much like the Giants’ run game being at the bottom of the pack all season, so has the Packers secondary. How do you see them stacking up in this matchup with Giants wide receivers who have been slowly getting better to finish off the regular season?
BH: The cornerback group is a disaster. Heading into the season, their top three were ballhawking veteran Sam Shields and promising second-year players Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins. They’ve played in 24 of a possible 48 games, with Shields suffering a concussion in Week 1 that ended his season. Randall and Rollins, who have had disappointing seasons anyway, dropped out of last week’s game at Detroit with injuries. Randall will play, but he’s been out with groin, shoulder and knee injuries, so who knows how long he’ll play or how well he’ll play. Rollins won’t play after getting carted off the field against Detroit with a concussion.
So, where do they turn? LaDarius Gunter, an undrafted free agent last year, has been their No. 1 guy most of the season. He’s got speed issues but generally has won, anyway, because he’s a physical technician. He had a great game against the Giants in Week 5. Randall will be the other cornerback. Backup safety Micah Hyde, a real jack-of-all-trades type of player, will be in the slot. He’s a pretty good player but he’s not the fleetest of foot, either. If something were to happen to one of them, the next man up is starting safety Morgan Burnett, who wound up in the slot against Detroit. The other options are two undrafted rookie corners — Josh Hawkins, who has played eight snaps all year, and Herb Waters, who was a wide receiver under early September.
ST: Is there one matchup, in particular, that you are most looking forward to on Sunday?
BH: Definitely the Rodgers-led passing attack against the Giants secondary. I don’t have much doubt the Packers will give Rodgers the protection he needs. Green Bay’s offensive line has been terrific all season. Left tackle David Bakhtiari is a stud and probably one of the best four or five players on the team.
But can the Packers’ receivers get open? One school of thought is Rodgers is so hot that it doesn’t matter who he faces. He destroyed Seattle and Minnesota in this winning streak, and they have two of the best secondaries in the NFL. But the Giants might have the best secondary in, at least, the NFC. Seattle was without safety Earl Thomas; Minnesota decided to not listen to coach Mike Zimmer. The Giants are full-strength — unlike Week 5. Can they hold Rodgers and Co. in check enough for Eli Manning to pick apart that Packers secondary?
ST: Do you think the Packers can change the script and beat the Giants on their home turf in the playoffs? Why?
BH: Yeah, of course they can. This team is hot and confident. Rodgers is on top of his game. The Packers are plus-13 in turnovers the past four weeks — 13 takeaways, no giveaways. That’s a winning formula. The special teams are darned good.
Turnovers and situational football will be the key. Can the Packers pressure Manning into an interception or two? He’s certainly prone to them and doesn’t seem to have any interest in standing in the pocket against a strong rush. Can the Packers score touchdowns against the league’s top-ranked red-zone defense?
I’m leaning toward the Giants but, really, no outcome would surprise me. The Packers, because of Rodgers and turnovers, could win by 20. The Packers, because of their secondary, could lose by 20. It should be a great game.