Trench Warfare: Giants' Dominance

The Packers were busy praising the Giants' front lines on Wednesday. It is easy to see why. Because on paper, this battle in the trenches looks like a mismatch. Matt Tevsh takes a unique statistical look at what the Packers face to extend their playoff hopes for another week.

If the prospect of playing in an elimination game is not pressure enough, the Green Bay Packers will be facing their biggest challenge this season along the line of scrimmage on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

The New York Giants (9-5), who can clinch a playoff spot by beating the Packers (8-6), possess seasoned offensive and defensive lines that rate among the best in the NFL.

"It starts up front," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said on Wednesday. "I think you can really take both sides of the ball. I think they do a very good job (with) personnel and what they do with their big guys."

The Packers are no strangers to dealing with top challenges on both sides of the line of scrimmage. They have faced the NFC's top running offense (Falcons) and top run defense (Bears), and have faced the NFL' sack leader in Cameron Wake of the Dolphins.

The difference between going up against those superior forces and going up against the Giants, however, is that the Giants do all of those things well. In fact, they are the best in the league when everything is added up.

Using four league statistics — rush offense, sacks allowed, rush defense and total sacks — as the barometers of judging play along the line of scrimmage, the Giants have the league's best combined ranking. They are fifth in rush offense (144.9 yards per game), tied for first in sacks allowed (15), 10th in rush defense (102.4 per game) and second in total sacks (44).

By comparison, the Packers are weak in three of the four categories. They rank 24th in rush offense (101.9 per game), 21st in sacks allowed (34) and tied for 19th in rush defense (117.0 per game). Only in the sacks department, where they are tied for third with 40, can the Packers match up.


Snee is one of the Giants' Pro Bowl blockers.
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Offensively for the Giants, running backs Ahmad Bradshaw (1,182 yards) and Brandon Jacobs (5.8 yards per carry) get most of the ink. But the offensive line is the engine that powers the diverse tandem led by Pro Bowlers Shaun O'Hara, Chris Snee and David Diehl.

"Their running game is excellent," said McCarthy. "They have a great one-two punch and we anticipate them coming in here trying to run the ball on us."

That could be an issue for the Packers, who have been decent against the run this season but below average of late. They gave up 6.1 yards per carry on Sunday to the Patriots and 190 yards a week before against the Lions.

With defensive end Cullen Jenkins (calf) listed as out for the second straight game, nose tackle B.J. Raji and defensive end Ryan Pickett will lead the effort to shake off those disappointing performances so that the Packers have a better chance to get to Eli Manning, who has thrown a league-leading 20 interceptions.

"We all know for a fact if we win up front, we'll win the game," summed up Pickett.

Defensively, the Giants have a solid mix among their front four. Rookie Jason Pierre-Paul (4.5 sacks) and interior lineman Barry Cofield (four sacks) are factors, but the charge is led by respected veteran ends Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, who have 10 sacks each.

"They're a talented front," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "As talented as we're going to face. It starts with their front four. So, for us, it's all about protection. We have to find ways to block it up and try to get the ball to our playmakers. It's important we change up the looks for those guys and don't give them a consistent rush lane, move the pocket occasionally, run some … get me on the edge, on the perimeter and don't let them continue to tee off because they're very effective when they can take a consistent rush lane every play."

Rodgers is expected to return to the starting lineup after suffering a concussion on Dec. 12 at Detroit and missing Sunday's game at New England. The Packers' offensive line wants to make sure he avoids any unnecessary hits, no matter how big the challenge might be. That motivation, along with a couple of breakdowns in pass protection against the Patriots, heightens the awareness this week.

"We need to be really detailed on fundamentals and spot on with protection," said rookie right tackle Bryan Bulaga.

Helping the protection cause will be the running game. The Packers had a breakthrough of sorts on Sunday by putting together their best combined effort between the offensive line, fullbacks and running backs.

"We need to build on that," said guard Josh Sitton. "Really, I think the confidence in the run game comes from the week of practice and how we do during the week."

Despite losing to the Patriots, the Packers ran for 143 yards on a season-high 38 carries to dominate time of possession. This came after probably their worst performance of the season against the Lions (just 66 yards on 20 carries, including five negative runs).

"I think with the game two weeks ago, we kind of took it upon ourselves to go out and have our best week of practice and I think we probably had our best week of preparation leading into the game as an offensive line," said Sitton. "I think that's why we were able to do what we were able to do with the running game."

If the Packers cannot overcome their comparative deficiencies against the Giants at the line of scrimmage, perhaps the running game will provide a solution. Of the four aforementioned barometers, stopping the run is the Giants' weakest spot.

In any case, the Packers will need to put forth their best effort up front on both sides of the ball. This week, unlike any other, their season depends on it.


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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com


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