Senior writer jclombardi previews Packers vs Giants game, keys, and game plan.
Preview: Teams: Packers vs. “CHTV NYers” Giants. Time: 3:15 p.m. Sunday CST. Place: Holy Lambeau Field, Green Bay. TV coverage: FOX and Packers nation vs NY media. Injury report: DE Cullen Jenkins (calf) and G Marshall Newhouse (back) have been ruled out. OLB Frank Zombo (knee) is doubtful. LB Diyral Briggs (ankle), S Nick Collins (ribs) and OLB Erik Walden (quadriceps) are questionable. C Scott Wells (back), OLB Clay Matthews (shin), DE Ryan Pickett (ankle), QB Aaron Rodgers (concussion), LT Chad Clifton (knees), CB Pat Lee (ankle) and CB Charles Woodson (toe) are probable. THINGS TO WATCH: Close encounters: Packers make the playoffs if they win their last two games against the Giants and Chicago. Since McCarthy took over as coach in 2006, the Packers are an NFL-worst 5-16 (.238 winning percentage) in games (including postseason) decided by four points or fewer. Over the past five seasons, McCarthy has coached in 26 games that were decided by six points or fewer. In those games, the Packers are 9-17. Over the last three seasons, the Packers are 4-15 in such games including 2-6 this year. “You practice it all of the time. Actually our quarterbacks, we spend an extraordinary amount of time on two-minute drills and no-huddle drills,” McCarthy said when asked to explain all the close losses. “Now, the last two weeks we haven’t been able to finish them as far as finish the (final) drives. Our standard of play is high. We just have to get it higher to win these types of games.” Ripe for picking: Manning enters the game with an NFL-high 20 interceptions. Last week against New England, the Packers had a chance for three interceptions. With Manning likely to give them more opportunities, the Packers must capitalize. The Packers enter the game with a plus-5 turnover differential, tied for seventh. Asked about his dropped INT against the Patriots, Woodson was still beating himself up for it, since he might have been able to take it back for a touchdown up the sideline. Running roughshod: The Packers had the best run defense in the NFL last year, but this year the unit is tied for 19th in the 32-team league. That’s a good sign for the Giants’ two-headed backfield monster of Bradshaw and Jacobs who’ve rushed for a combined 1,909 yards this season. “A 1-2 punch,” Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said. “ We’re going to have to come in and stop the run. That’s always the first option.” It’ll be especially important against the Giants who come in with the No. 5 ground game in the league. Welcome back: The Packers couldn’t be more excited about having star quarterback Rodgers back under center. The NFL’s fourth-highest rated passer, Rodgers had been playing at a Brady-esque level before being knocked out by the Lions. For Rodgers to be productive, though, the offensive line will have to afford him quality protection, which won’t be easy against a Giants team that ranks second in the NFL in sacks with 42. PREDICTION–After last Sunday night’s loss to the Patriots, coach Mike McCarthy’s message to the team was simple: The playoffs start now. While they’d rather have clinched a postseason berth already, the Packers couldn’t ask for a better scenario given the disappointing way they’ve played in their six losses and the avalanche of injuries they’ve endured. They get two NFC playoff contenders at home the final two weeks of the season, with the knowledge that if they win, they’re in. The first step is beating the Giants, no easy task even at Lambeau Field. The guess here is that the Packers’ get their first unofficial playoff victory, but it’s only a guess. Packers 27, Giants 24.
Keys to the game: An NFL head coach typically wears many hats — game manager, teacher, disciplinarian, and psychologist. For the Packers, it comes down to gambling like there’s no tomorrow. That includes rolling the dice on the health of twice-concussed QB Rodgers. Game plan: The stakes are high for this one in the penultimate week of the regular season. The Giants would be in the playoffs with a win, and the Packers would have to wait till 2011. Green Bay needs to win Sunday and also the following week against the Bears to sew up a wild-card berth. Consequently, it’s Aaron Rodgers back at quarterback for the Packers, after he missed a game because of his second head injury in two months. The onus is on Green Bay’s inconsistent offensive line to keep the blitz-happy Giants from getting to Rodgers and testing whether he can withstand any more hits. The quick, short passing game that worked well for Flynn as Rodgers’ replacement in the narrow loss to New England would be the way to go to neutralize the New York pressure. Coach/play caller McCarthy was uncharacteristically committed to running the football against the Patriots, and the Packers found success. Doing so against the Giants’ top-10 run defense may be a different story. Green Bay’s defense will be out to try to stifle New York’s fifth-rated rushing attack. Look for defensive coordinator Dom Capers to roll the dice with run blitzes and other exotic ploys to crash the line and force the Giants into throwing mode. Although Manning has been sacked just 15 times, tied with brother Peyton of Indianapolis for fewest in the NFL, he has thrown a league-high 20 interceptions.