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Dottino: Giants’ Defense Is The Key Matchup Against Packers

Donald Driver #80 of the Green Bay Packers catches a 7-yard touchdown reception against Corey Webster #23 of the New York Giants in the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium on December 4, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Donald Driver #80 of the Green Bay Packers catches a 7-yard touchdown reception against Corey Webster #23 of the New York Giants in the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium on December 4, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

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By Paul Dottino
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Time to get back to business. Giants coach Tom Coughlin and his players have been through their bye week and won’t have any respite for the rest of the season.

Any fatigue, injuries or mental drag that they may have experienced needs to go away – and quickly – because they’ll be facing the Green Bay Packers for the third time in 11 months on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. To say this has turned into a bit of a rivalry is an understatement, especially after the Packers looked at January’s playoff loss feeling that they allowed the Giants to take away their shot at a Super Bowl.

Green Bay (7-3) has won five in a row to rescue its season, although OLB Clay Matthews (hamstring) and his nine sacks aren’t expected to be in the lineup for the second consecutive game.

Here are this week’s three matchups to watch :

1. Giants DBs vs. Packers WR Randal Cobb. Although Cobb (54 catches-574 yards-7 TDs) is listed as the third receiver, it doesn’t mean he’s automatically thrown into the slot. In fact, Green Bay will deploy him in many ways to utilize his speed. He’s rushed the ball eight times for 115 yards. In addition, Cobb has caught a scoring pass in four straight games, but only has one 100-yard game to his credit. Does rookie CB Jayron Hosley draw most of this assignment? Or does CB Corey Webster? Or will the assignment be based on the Packers’ formation? Regardless, the Giants need to make sure they do not bust a coverage on Cobb.

2. Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell vs. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is one of the NFL’s sharpest passers – both mentally and physically. Some teams don’t even try to confuse him because they feel it’s useless – last week, the Lions flooded the back seven and did not call a single blitz. The result? Rodgers fired two TD passes to direct a 24-20 victory. Fewell’s corners should be ready to play more aggressively – Webster (hand, hamstring) has gotten healthy and Prince Amukamara continues to improve. Should they be up to speed, it would allow Fewell to use a wider variety of looks and perhaps deploy more complex blitz packages – the Giants have the speed and talent to get to Rodgers, who’s been sacked 32 times (fourth-highest in NFL) this season. Rodgers has been forced to use a lot of quick-hitters, given the lack of protection – so it’s critical to disrupt the Packers’ timing.

3. Packers’ return game Cobb vs. Giants’ coverage units. The Giants’ coverage units had been doing a good job until recently – and this is a bad time to be performing poorly. Cobb (26.1 KOR avg., 11.1 PR avg. with a 72-yard TD) is as dangerous as they come and the return unit does a solid job of blocking for him. PK Lawrence Tynes and P Steve Weatherford are going to have to be very sharp in order to give the coverage units a chance to contain the Packers’ return game. A healthy Chase Blackburn and a rested Will Hill should help.

Prediction: Giants 26, Packers 23

Prediction record vs. the spread: 4-5-1