GAME PLAN: New York's banged-up secondary creates all kinds of mismatches that the Packers typically would be quick to exploit with their myriad multiple-receiver sets. However, with Lambeau Field disguised as an icebox with temperatures sinking below 0 when the game starts in darkness, Green Bay's plan of attacking the Giants defense may not be much different than its approach against Seattle in the divisional round.
The coaches never lost faith in Ryan Grant after he had two costly fumbles in the first three plays, and they pounded away with him 27 times on the ground and realized an unbelievable return of 201 yards and three touchdowns. The Packers like to get Grant on track with stretch runs in their zone-blocking scheme, which would be advantageous to get New York's aggressive front flowing to the outside and allow the onetime Giant to do what he does best and turn the run back inside to vacant real estate.
Green Bay also can counterattack the Giants' assortment of blitz and pressure packages by spreading them out with periodic four- and five-receiver looks and handing off to Grant and Brandon Jackson on delay draws.
The Packers defense, meanwhile, has identified stopping the run as its top priority. The unit's effectiveness at the outset of last week's game made things easy by turning Seattle into a one-dimensional offense. Much will fall on the tackles, particularly veteran run-stuffer Ryan Pickett, to take on and take down the hefty Brandon Jacobs so he can't get to the second level and steamroll the lighter linebackers and defensive backs.
Hard-hitting safety Atari Bigby probably will play up in the box more than usual. The Packers are confident with their one-on-one matchups in the secondary against the Giants receivers, so bringing a good deal of pressure beyond rushing just the front four on Eli Manning seems logical to keep the young quarterback from settling in and having the time to manage a third straight mistake-free game
A tight game just might be decided by special-teams play. The Packers have been opportunistic in that regard this season, counting a forced fumble on a kickoff return and a long punt return as catalysts in their Week 2 win over the Giants.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Packers LT Chad Clifton vs. Giants RDE Osi Umenyiora
A week after right tackle Mark Tauscher rose to the hyped-up challenge and manhandled Seahawks left end Patrick Kerney, equally formidable bookend Clifton is under the microscope. How the Packers function in the passing attack in the face of New York's relentless pressure will greatly hinge on Clifton's ability to protect Brett Favre's back side.
Clifton's athleticism is superior to most left tackles, but he'll have to be nimble on his feet to fend off the electric Umenyiora on the snap. Umenyiora gamely played in the teams' Week 2 matchup with a shoulder injury, but he was a non-factor against Clifton. The Giants' stated goal is to apply more pressure than Favre has experienced and create situations in which he has to hurry his throws.
Packers CB Charles Woodson vs. Giants WR Amani Toomer
Woodson was out of sorts when the teams met early in the season, missing tackles and having coverage breakdowns that contributed to some big plays. The four-time Pro Bowler could see a lot of balls thrown his way because Al Harris likely will mark Plaxico Burress, and Toomer has emerged as Eli Manning's go-to receiver in the playoffs.
Toomer is the slot receiver, opposite where Woodson lines up in nickel situations. Until Woodson can show he's destined to be a difference maker in this game, Toomer looms large when New York is compelled to pass.
NEW YORK GIANTS
GAME PLAN: The Giants, more than in previous games, will be intensely concerned with the Packers' passing game. They are not overly frightened of the running game, even though Ryan Grant has been spectacular lately. They had him for the last two years (practice squad) and finally had to make a choice between Grant and the rookie Bradshaw, so Grant got traded to the Packers.
Favre can hurt them badly in an injury-weakened secondary, which may not have CB Kevin Dockery (hip flexor) for another week. But it does appear as though rookie LCB Aaron Ross (dislocated shoulder last Sunday in Dallas) will be able to start, and possible good news will be the return of veteran RCB Sam Madison (abdominal strain).
To keep the Packers' passing game in check is half the job; to find a way to pass against a quality defense will be another. The Giants will attempt to utilize veteran WRs Plaxico Burress (sprained ankle) and Amani Toomer, who caught two TD passes vs. the Cowboys, while working the rookie Smith (four for 48 yards) into the game more frequently.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Giants RT Kareem McKenzie (slight ankle sprain) vs. Packers DE Aaron Kampman
McKenzie will have to step up his performance another notch to handle Green Bay's pass-rushing specialist Kampman (team leader with 12 sacks). It is also possible that the Packers defense will try to overload McKenzie with a two-headed monster of Kampman and pass-rushing specialist Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, who is used in a roving situation at times.
Giants QB Eli Manning vs. Packers secondary
Manning, who has played perhaps three of his best five games the last three weeks (vs. N.E., T.B. and Dallas), will have to soften up the Packers defense. To do that, he'll have to throw against RCB Al Harris, LCB Charles Woodson and WLB A.J. Hawk. He'll try to isolate WR Plaxico Burress against Woodson or Harris. Nickel safety Aaron Rouse is another threat to the Giants' passing game.