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Green Bay Packers Wild Card Preview: New York Giants

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New York Giants Come to Lambeau For Familiar Playoff Match-up

Until the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants officially take the field on Sunday afternoon, there will undoubtedly be those that cite the previous playoff battles of these two storied franchises in 2007-08 and 2011-12 as predictors of things to come.

Despite Eli Manning and the Giants beating the Packers in their previous two trips to Lambeau Field for postseason games, taking down Brett Favre the first time and Aaron Rodgers the second, there is little to no correlation between the former, and future results.

In fact, only one player on each squad was an active participant in the 2008 match-up (Mason Crosby, GBEli Manning, NYG), and only a small handful of players were around in 2012.

Even the Packers 23-16 win over the Giants in week 5 seems irrelevant, because the three months since they both have seemingly transformed themselves from average to legitimate contenders.

For Green Bay it has taken a somewhat stabilized secondary and MVP-like output from Aaron Rodgers to come back from the brink, while New York has relied on spurts of brilliance from their talented edge receivers and now top-tier defense.

The outcome Sunday will likely come down to who stays the hottest of those factions, Rodgers and the Packers offense or the Giants defense led by Defensive Player of the year candidate Landon Collins and shutdown corner Janoris Jenkins.

Packers Offense vs Giants Defense

When the Packers faced off with the Giants in early October, New York’s defense was battered and bruised, playing without talented corners’ Eli Apple and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on the outside.

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Even undermanned, the Giants ball-hawking secondary held Aaron Rodgers to a season worst 23 of 45 passing (51%) for 259 yards. They also forced Rodgers into two uncharacteristically poor interceptions at home, a rarity in his career.

Both were picked off by elite cover-corner Janoris Jenkins.

Jenkins was able to relatively shut down Green Bay’s number one wide-out Jordy Nelson in the first meeting after an early touchdown, holding him to 4 catches (13 targets) and 38 yards. For Nelson, it was a game he dubbed as “embarrassing” after numerous dropped passes and missed opportunities.

Jenkins on Nelson is one of the more intriguing match-ups you’ll see all season among the two positions.

Nelson is a top-level route runner ranking among the league’s best, and Jenkins can put people on an island nearly as well as Darrelle Revis in his prime.

The two of them will go toe-to-toe for much of the night. And with the Giants missing Jason Pierre-Paul up-front, Jenkins ability to stick with Nelson when Rodgers inevitably extends plays will be a major key to the game.

However, with all due respect to Jenkins, perhaps the best and most important player on the Giants defense has been safety Landon Collins.

Collins often plays up near the line of scrimmage, and he possess great skill in both open-field tackling and playmaking in the pass game.

On the year, he has accounted for 125 tackles, five interceptions, five tackles for loss, and four sacks. All among the upper-portion of the league when it comes to the safety position.

Rodgers will have to out-think Collins as much as possible, using eye movement and pre-snap manipulation to keep him off-balance. His instincts are so incredible that if he has even an inkling of where the ball is going, he’s there.

The rest of the New York secondary will be tested by the Packers arsenal of wide-outs, especially assuming Randall Cobb makes his return from injury and break-out star Geronimo Allison continues to get targets.

Jared Cook Poised For Huge Performance In First Playoff Game

Even with overwhelming numbers in favor of the Giants defense, which has given up just 14.3 points per game the previous 7 games, there is no reason Green Bay can’t succeed against New York.

It will just take exploiting the weakest part of the Giants scheme, that being their inability to cover opposing team’s tight ends.

According to Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) system, which breaks down a team’s performance to a league baseline, New York comes in 26th of 32 teams in tight end defense.

In total, tight ends have caught 89 of 137 (65%) targets against the Giants for just over 1,000 yards on the season. They have also averaged nearly 12 yards per reception and 7.7 yards per target.

This could mean a memorable playoff performance on deck for Packers tight end Jared Cook, who will be playing in his first career playoff game in his 8-year career on Sunday.

Cook wasn’t available in the first match-up because of an ankle injury, but the Green Bay offense has transformed since his return.

Overall, the Packers are 8-2 with Cook in the lineup this season, averaging 28.4 points per game. In those 10 weeks, Aaron Rodgers has thrown 25 touchdowns to only 1 interception with a 114.0 passer rating.

In the six games he missed, they went 2-4, and Rodgers TD-to-INT ratio fell to 15:6 with a 92.3 passer rating

His presence has been most notable on the “money downs” since his week 11 comeback, as Rodgers has completed 10 of 13 passes for 175 yards and a 118.2 rating on 3rd down passes to Cook.

With the Giants strong safety position still in shambles as Andrew Adams and Leon Hall both continue to struggle, Cook should have ample opportunity to make plays down the field.

Jordy Nelson and Davante Adams will be receiving so much attention underneath from Landon Collins and the New York corners, that if Cook is sent deep with Adams or Hall in coverage he will have a clear advantage.

It seems the perfect setup for Cook to register his first career touchdown at Lambeau Field in the Green & Gold.

Green Bay Hoping To Avoid More Eli Magic

If there was ever a quarterback that a team with home-field advantage would want to avoid in the playoffs, it’s Eli Manning.

Despite not possessing top-level arm talent or impressive athleticism, Manning has made a career out of winning games that he has no right winning.

Whether it’s his wins at Lambeau over Favre and Rodgers or his two, yes two, Super Bowl wins over Tom Brady, his ability to create miracles is second to none.

His week 5 performance against Green Bay this year was one of his worst, completing just 18 of 35 passes for 199 yards and one late-game touchdown to Odell Beckham.

The Packers had tremendous success in blitzing and forcing Manning into poor decisions before he wanted to throw. He only connected with 5 of his 12 targets to Beckham, and was seemingly without a clean pocket for three and a half quarters.

The blueprint will be much the same this time around.

Manning has thrown 16 interceptions this season, along with fumbling the ball 7 times (4 lost), mostly caused by his mobility issues.

If he’s allowed to stand in the pocket and find Beckham or Sterling Shepard down the field, he’s probably going to hit them, but with an off-balance frame his accuracy drops dramatically.

The frequency of quarterback hits and pressures from Julius Peppers, Nick Perry, and Clay Matthews off the edge will determine the defenses success for Green Bay.

Everyone is well aware of the Packers secondary issues, and with speedy receivers galore on the Giants squad, Green Bay’s front seven can’t allow Manning enough time to let those wide-out’s put on double or triple moves.

Perkins Brings Life To The Giants Run Game

Different from their first encounter is New York’s newly found run game led by Paul Perkins.

In week 5 the Giants only managed 43 yards on the ground, another factor into Manning’s poor showing. Their leading rusher was Bobby Rainey, who only gained 22 yards, 14 coming on one play.

Recently their rushing attack has gained a little more muscle, thanks to Perkins.

In their last three games, Perkins has gone from afterthought to primary ball-carrier, gaining yardage totals of 56, 68 and the 102.

This has been quite the departure for a team that only averaged 78.7 yards rushing through the first 13 games of the season. Since Perkins increase in involvement they have sky rocketed to 129.7.

He’s an extremely tough runner, one that the Green Bay linebackers will have a rough day dealing with up the middle, and most importantly for the New York offense, he has taken some weight off the shoulder of Manning and Beckham.

Final Thoughts

Last week, as the Packers were closing out the Lions and grabbing back their NFC North crown, Cris Collinsworth commented that to Detroit, Aaron Rodgers was “the Boogeyman”.

A guy that seemed to find a way to beat them no matter the circumstances when it mattered most.

As noted earlier, for Green Bay, their boogeyman is coming to their backyard on Sunday afternoon.

In his illustrious career, Eli Manning holds as many playoff wins at Lambeau Field as Aaron Rodgers, two, and that is no doubt a fact that Rodgers is aware of.

However, anyone with knowledge on the topic will tell you, there is a simple way to defeat the Boogeyman, show you’re not afraid.

Rodgers is obviously well aware of the legend, because he made his thoughts pretty clear during media availability this week when he stated, “We respect all of our opponents, but we fear none of them”.

Did you hear that Boogeym…Eli? The Baaaaaddd man is coming for you this time around.