How did the Green Bay Packers, so shorthanded in the secondary, stymie Eli Manning, Odell Beckham and the New York Giants’ passing attack on Sunday night?
We turned to the NFL’s All-22 to provide a series of plays.
The Packers didn’t blitz much — just seven times in Manning’s 39 dropbacks, by our count. One of those came in the second quarter. The Packers had taken a 14-3 lead but Dwayne Harris returned the kickoff to the 41. On third-and-4 from the 47, the Packers sent five rushers and Manning appeared panicked. Beckham was breaking free from LaDarius Gunter on a crossing route but Manning threw it somewhere in the vicinity of rookie Sterling Shepard and veteran Victor Cruz. In reality, the only player truly in position to make a play was Quinten Rollins, who couldn’t quite make a diving interception.
Manning might go to the Hall of Fame but he simply wasn’t very good on this night. That was evident early in the second quarter. The Giants had picked up two first downs after the through-Jordy Nelson’s-hands interception. Beckham ran a tremendous post-corner route to lose Gunter and put safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in a trailing position. However, Manning badly overthrew Beckham on a play that would have gained 25 yards and pushed the ball past midfield. On third down, Manning quickly took the checkdown, even though the four-man rush hadn’t gotten in the ZIP code. If he had waited just a split-second longer, Beckham was breaking free from Gunter on a stutter-and-go crossing route.
Manning’s lack of accuracy also was evident early in the fourth quarter. On second-and-10 with the Giants trailing 20-9, Beckham shoved Gunter to the turf and was breaking wide open on a crossing route. Other than defensive tackles Kenny Clark and Letroy Guion being in the passing lane, this should have been an easy 9-yard throw and a potential big gain. Instead, Manning’s pass was so far behind Beckham that he barely got a finger on the ball — or maybe didn’t get a finger on it at all.
On third down, inside linebacker Joe Thomas continued his sensational play and personified the it-takes-a-team approach. The Packers sent five rushers, with Clinton-Dix coming off the offense’s right side. Manning had Shepard two steps clear of Micah Hyde on a crossing route but Thomas was in the way and made a leaping deflection. That was one of four passes deflected at the line of scrimmage.
None of this is meant to totally discount the play of Green Bay’s secondary. Take this play after the second of Rodgers’ interceptions, which set up New York at the Packers’ 40. On first down from the 27, Cruz couldn’t shake Gunter and Gunter broke up the pass at the 18. On third-and-6, the Packers sent five rushers and the Giants kept in the back, meaning it was three receivers and the tight end vs. six defenders. All four targets are smothered (see below). Manning took a shot for Shepard but Hyde was all over it for the deflection.
“We knew going into the game last night that we were going to have to put a lot of attention on their receivers and play with fewer people down in the box (to stop the run),” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said on Monday night. “The other area was pressure on Manning. We knew going in that he doesn’t take many sacks and we ended up with four sacks and I think they had six coming in for the season. Our guys up front continue to give us pretty consistent pressure and that certainly helps the coverage element of your defense. All in all, I thought our guys battled.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.