Beating the Giants
The Packers pulled off a remarkable feat in running the table over their final 6 games, winning the NFC North, and securing a home playoff game. They did exactly what they had to on Sunday, pummeling a weak Detroit defense, and building a big enough cushion to withstand a rash of injuries to the cornerbacks, including a scary neck injury to Quinten Rollins.
Their reward is a home game against the NFC’s best defense. The New York Giants have been spectacular, especially in pass defense, as long as they have been healthy. Since week 9, cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple (with admirable work from backups Leon Hall, and Trevin Wade) have stymied nearly every offense they have faced. Safety Landon Collins is one of the NFL’s best, and Andrew Adams is no slouch either. They are the driving force behind a defense that had held 3 of their last 4 opponents to 10 points or fewer, as well as creating some very embarrassing stat lines, including a 9 target, 1 catch, 10 yard effort from Dez Bryant a few weeks ago.
Like all NFC teams, the Giants have their weaknesses, and there is a clear path to victory for the Green and Gold should they chose to follow it. First and foremost…
Use Jared Cook
The Giants are the 2nd best team in football against an opponent’s #1 receiver, but it doesn’t stop there. They are 5th against #2 receivers, 7th against slot receivers, and even excel against pass-catching running backs, where they rank 3rd. Their only real weakness in the passing game is against tight ends, where they are a surprisingly terrible 26th, and when the Giants have surrendered points this season it has usually been tight ends like Zach Ertz, Ladarius Green, and Tyler Eifert doing the damage. Green is the most interesting case as the Steeler offense is in some ways reminiscent of Green Bay’s, and Green himself is very similar to Jared Cook. Green is an athletic freak with a low catch percentage, but is capable of making big plays down the field and against the Giants, Green had 3 plays of 20+ yards, all leading to scores. Le’Veon Bell, and the normally explosive Antonio Brown took care of the dirty work underneath, combining for 12 receptions, 118 yards, and a touchdown.
This is exactly how to attack the Giants, and Cook should get deep looks early if the Packers want to be effective. If Cook can stretch the field and open up underneath routes for Jordy Nelson and Geronimo Allison while Adams works the outside, they should be able to put up points.
Ty Montgomery is also an important cog in the defeating the Giants. It is no accident that the teams with the most recent successes against New York have pass-catching running backs. Le’Veon bell has long been an important weapon for the Steelers, and the Eagles’ use of Darren Sproles has put pressure on the Giants defense twice this year with good results. Montgomery is one of the reasons the Packer offense improved so much in the second half against Detroit, and his ability to exploit nickel and dime defenses on the ground while simultaneously beating linebacker coverage in the passing game is immeasurably valuable. The most effective way to combat Montgomery is with zone, but Aaron Rodgers will tear apart a zone like few others, and every other receiver benefits from his presence.
Montgomery was benched in the first quarter after running the wrong way on a screen pass, and Aaron Ripkowski filled in admirably, but even though Ripkowski was effective in what he did, the mere fact that he isn’t a huge receiving threat allowed the Lions to dictate play on defense. Ripkowski is a nice wrinkle occasionally, but Montgomery remains a true game-changer.
Odell Beckham v. Ladarius Gunter
The Packer defense is in rough shape, and the loss of Quentin Rollins and Makinton Dorleant doesn’t help one bit. The only saving grace for this week is that the Giant offense is quite bad, and Eli Manning is quickly approaching retirement, voluntarily or not. Manning’s physical tools and mobility have eroded to the point where he has to survive on football smarts and guile, and while he is not a moron, he also isn’t his older brother.
The Giants have 5 losses this season, and in 3 of them, Manning threw more picks than touchdowns. In one, he threw 2 touchdowns and 2 picks, and the final loss was an uninspired performance against the Packers in week 5. The Packers may not have picked him off, but they sacked him 3 times and generated consistent pressure. Green Bay will almost certainly be starting either street free agents or safeties at corner in this game, and getting pressure will be essential to stopping the Giant passing game. The other essential component to slowing down the Giants will be Ladarius Gunter.
Gunter hasn’t been perfect, but he has been the best corner on the team. This is faint praise in a vacuum, but Gunter has had some impressive moments, and he has shown himself capable of slowing receivers of Beckham’s caliber. The key to this game will be creating enough pressure to prevent the secondary from having to defend for long periods. The Packers have given up huge games to mediocre receivers all season with more talent out playing defense. If they allow that to happen against this defense, they will be in serious jeopardy.
I think what worries me more than anything else about the Giants is that last week, from what I could tell, they were actively trying to lose against Washington. They ran the ball 40 times, not because they were up and protecting a lead, but because they were resting players. They had 19 carries in the first half. At no point did they approach anything close to a modern offense. Beckham played only 48 of 72 snaps and they sacrificed any risk on offense to protect Eli. Despite all of this, they won easily against the 5th best offense in the league per DVOA, giving its all to get into the playoffs. They Packers are currently 4th on offense in DVOA. Nothing is ever easy in the playoffs, and this game will be no different.