By Paul Dottino
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Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell voiced his displeasure with his unit this week – as well he should – but how will this translate to the field against an 11-0 Green Bay Packers team, whose offense closely resembles that of the New Orleans Saints? Those would be the same offensive-minded Saints who carved up the Giants (6-5) last Monday night.
His players’ response hold the key to the Giants’ chances of stopping their three-game losing streak because the offense, despite a lackluster running game that hasn’t shown up this season, has at least scored enough points to make even most of their losses interesting.
Coach Tom Coughlin has tried to remain methodical in his approach to the current slide, stressing the positives and focusing on the opportunities that his players have to turn around their misfortune. However, he’s still dealing with a gimpy roster that may not have enough bite to get the job done.
Here are the Giants’ three key matchups to watch:
1. Giants’ back seven vs. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady already has said that Rodgers is playing the position with flawless precision, so there’s not much any defense can do to stop the unflappable Rodgers. His stats are staggering, with the most impressive being a 71 percent completion mark and 33 TDs passes against just four interceptions (two off tipped passes). Fewell promises that his front four will hit Rodgers – ok, so he’s been sacked 27 times this season. But Justin Tuck admits that Rodgers doesn’t even wince at pressure in the pocket. Over the past five games, Rodgers has been sacked 15 times yet thrown only one interception. The quarterback’s accuracy and the chemistry he’s shown with his receivers is about as good as it gets. So the Giants can forget about stopping him, but they need to do their best to make him earn every yard – prevent the big play and force Rodgers and Co. to inch forward so they have more opportunities to make a mistake. Green Bay is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry and 97 yards per game on the ground, so it’s primarily about Rodgers.
2. Giants WRs Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz vs. Packers CBs Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson. The Packers have registered an NFL-leading 22 interceptions but they also have the 31st-rated pass defense (283 yards per game). Williams (four INTs) often tracks the opponents’ best receiver, so you’d think he’d lock up on Nicks, which leaves the crafty and ageless Woodson on Cruz. Although Cruz has remained very productive throughout what’s really his first NFL season, he hasn’t been matched up with any defensive back nearly as smart, experienced or talented as Woodson (six INTs). How well does Cruz and his speed/athleticism fare against the wily veteran, who will bait him and go for the pick? Remember, the Giants ask their receivers to do many sight adjustments – Cruz doesn’t always run the right routes and Woodson’s apt to do some bluffing.
3. Giants’ special teams vs. Packers’ special teams. The athletic rookie from Kentucky has run back a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown this season while posting averages of 27.8 on KOR and 12.8 on PRs. As if Rodgers really needed good field position to start his drives. The Giants’ coverage units have, for the most part, been satisfactory and they’ll need to hold their own here. But the Giants must take advantage of the Packers’ poor PR coverage (14.9) and mediocre KOR coverage (24.3) – so Aaron Ross and Da’Rel Scott, respectively, have a large burden to carry.
PREDICTION: Packers 27, Giants 24
PREDICTION RECORD VS THE SPREAD: 4-7
Do the Giants have a shot against the Packers? Leave a comment below.