When The Packers Have the Ball:
Mike McCarthy will do everything he can to keep the offense on schedule this week. The one matchup that favors the Giants when the Packers offense is on the field is their defensive line against the Packers' offensive line. McCarthy can negate that that advantage by keeping his offense "ahead of the sticks", meaning shorter down and distances on 2nd and 3rd downs. Too many 3rd and longs play into the Giants ability to rush with four and drop seven into coverage.
Bryan Bulaga in particular will be worth watching as he faces off against the Giants talented defensive end Justin Tuck. Last year, Tuck made life miserable for Bulaga and had Aaron Rodgers running and moving out of the pocket much faster than he wanted to.
Bulaga has improved greatly since last year's showdown, but he is coming off a very sub-standard performance in Detroit where he struggled mightily with speed off the edge, something Tuck possesses in spades. The key for Bulaga will be to keep his balance centered and not get out over his feet. Too many times last year, Bulaga was left lunging at Tuck.
It's interesting going back and watching last years matchup in Lambeau. Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell did a good job early in the game of mixing up his pressure looks on early downs, having his linebackers drop outside from the middle at the last second, trying to confuse Aaron Rodgers' reads. It wasn't always successful, but it did keep the Packers off-balance.
Fewell made headlines this week with a lively question and answer session with the New York media Thursday afternoon, where he said the following:
We look forward to the opportunity to play these guys. That’s my confidence level. We’re going to show up and we’re going to play on Sunday. More so than discipline, we just have to get after his ass, okay? And if we do that and he scrambles, then that’s the price he’s going to have to pay because we’re going to hit him. We’re going to hit him.
McCarthy will obviously be alerting the refs to Fewell's words prior to Sunday's game. He is coming off a game where his quarterback took two blatant cheap shots that went uncalled, one when Rodgers had thrown the ball while outside the pocket and one after he had fumbled and the ball had been recovered. The Packers can expect more and more of this as the year goes on - teams know the only real chance they have in stopping the Packers offense is to somehow effect Rodgers, either by injury or by throwing him off his game with these cheap shots.
That's not to say Fewell and the Giants will play the way the Lions did. Unlike the Lions, the Giants have a first class head coach and are a first rate organization. But coming off the humiliation they faced in front of a national television audience on Monday night down in New Orleans, you can bet they will be fired up to atone in front of their hometown crowd.
One weapon the Giants did not have to account for when the two teams faced last year was Packers tight end Jermichael Finley. Once again, look for Finley to stress the linebackers and safeties of the opponent. His recent spate of drops are disconcerting, but he remains a singular talent that is a matchup nightmare for any defense. Splitting him out wide on Sunday, running him up the seam - really any look the Packers give the Giants with Finley will be tough for the Giants to handle. Need proof? Look no further than this past Monday night and the Giants complete inability to handle Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. Expect more of the same from their attempts to cover Finley.
When The Giants Have The Ball:
The Giants are expecting Ahmad Bradshaw to play after the running back missed the last several weeks, and this is probably the best news Giants fans could want to hear heading into Sunday. Without Bradshaw, the Giants offense has been severely limited and one dimensional. Quarterback Eli Manning works best when he has a running game working that enables him to get into a rhythm in the play-action game. The past few weeks he's had to rely on Brandon Jacobs' three yards a carry to keep defenses honest and that just hasn't worked. Bradshaw's presence will open up a lot more playbook for Manning and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride to work with.
The Packers will be without both of their starting middle linebackers, A. J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop. In their place, both making their first professional starts, will be D.J. Smith and Robert Francois. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers didn't seem to limit his playcalls last Thursday when Bishop and Hawk went down, so its a good bet the Packers will be running most of their usual stuff. One thing to watch will be how Gilbride tries to go after Smith and Francois. Both seemed assignment sure on Thursday, but the Lions had some success running delays and counter action through the middle of the line and getting some bigger bodies to the second level. The Giants would love nothing more than to run right at the Packers, but to do so they'll need guards Chris Snee (who has admittedly been battling through several injuries) and Kevin Boothe to play much better than they did on Monday night.
On the perimeter, expect the Packers to keep Sam Sheilds and Tramon Williams on their respective sides and rather than the personnel-specific matchups we saw last week against the Lions. While not boasting a Calvin Johnson-type talent in their receiving corps, the Giants do have a deep and talented wide receiving corps, albeit one that has been hit by injuries lately. (Mario Manningham is Out for Sunday's game with a knee injury)
Enough Already, Who Wins?
Some national and local media members - and even some Packers fans - seem to think this is the game where the Packers winning streak and undefeated season comes to an end. I understand the thinking - the Giants are at home, coming off an absolute stinker of a game, and are getting close to desperation time in regards to the playoff race. Tom Coughlin is in full-on "Circle the Wagons" mode and they have the talent up front on defense to get after Aaron Rodgers, which is the one thing the team that will bump off the Packers needs to do.
But as persuasive as that all is, it doesn't account for the talent the Packers will be rolling out play after play on offense. It doesn't account for a defense that had absolutely no answers for the Saints' playmakers last week. I don't see them magically finding an approach that enables them to cover the likes of Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones and, yes, Jermichael Finley. Unless the Giants' plan is to clone Corey Webster to play each position in the secondary, they simply can't keep up on defense.
On offense, I think the Giants will be able to move the ball and score against the Packers defense - until the second half when the Packers start to pull away and the Giants are forced to go to the air exclusively. Once that happens, I think either Charles Woodson or Tramon Williams will force a turnover by way of an interception that gives the Packers another possession and thereby more points.
The Giants simply won't be able to keep up.