By Steve Silverman
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The headliners are almost always the quarterbacks.
But the matchups that decide the games often have little to do with the headliners.
When the Giants host the Packers tomorrow night in the marquee game of the weekend, the Packers bring in the best regular-season quarterback in the NFL in Aaron Rodgers while the Giants will counter with the best postseason quarterback in Eli Manning.
Under most circumstances, Manning would not have to concern himself with Rodgers’ performance. He would only have to concern himself with the Packers’ defense and the openings they give him.
But in this particular game, he may well have to keep an eye on Rodgers. The Giants’ talented defense has not played the way Tom Coughlin and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell have expected them to play this season.
The talent on the defensive line is second-to-none in the league, but the Giants have not gotten that kind of performance. The Giants rank 22nd in the league in yards allowed, tucked between the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Brown. They are giving up 371.6 yards per game and 5.9 yards per play.
The most telling stat is that the Giants are tied for 13th in sacks with the Detroit Lions. They have 25 sacks, 10 fewer than the Denver Broncos and eight fewer than the Packers.
That’s not acceptable. When you have Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and a powerful defensive tackle in Linval Joseph who can destroy the interior with his mauling style, being tied with the Lions is not a good place to be.
The Lions are sloppy, dirty, immature and inconsistent. You don’t want to be tied with the Lions in any category. It’s a bad sign.
Especially when you have to line up against Rodgers. If you can put maximum pressure on Rodgers when he drops back, he is no longer the best quarterback in the world. He will make mistakes when he feels pressure.
However, if the Giants’ defensive front line plays like they have been for much of the season, Rodgers will breathe deep, step up into the pocket and fire the ball to Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb with little trouble.
That’s where Manning comes into the equation. If the Giants’ defense does not play to its talent level this week, Manning is going to have to get out of his slump right away. He has had four straight substandard games and he really hasn’t had a notable game since Week Five when he threw three touchdown passes (but that was against Cleveland).
He has to come out of it this week and the matchup is favorable. The Packers are a high-pressure, gambling defense. When they don’t gamble and win, they give a quarterback plenty of wide open space in the secondary.
When they are successful, they can collapse the pocket and crush the quarterback.
The main quarterback crusher is Clay Matthews, but the angriest man on the field won’t be able to play. Matthews depends on his acceleration to get to the quarterback and he has 9.0 sacks this season. But he also has a bad hamstring that won’t allow him to come around the corner with a head of steam. Head coach Mike McCarthy has to sit him along with safety Charles Woodson (collarbone) and cornerback Sam Shields (ankle).
That’s quite a trio. Their absence doesn’t make it an easy day for Manning, but it gives him a much better chance to be successful.
Through his first 10 games, Manning has 12 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions. That’s not going to get the job done for a team that has back-to-back Super Bowl aspirations.
He can get well against Green Bay’s middle-of-the-pack (16th-ranked) defense that does not have its best player in the lineup.
He must get well if the Giants are going to survive this game and the rest of a nasty schedule that includes Washington, New Orleans, Atlanta and Baltimore in the next four weeks.
The formula for success is easy to understand. Better play from the defensive front line and the quarterback.
The time for waiting and patience is over. It’s now winning time.
What quarterback will put up better numbers on Sunday night, Rodgers or Manning? Let us know your pick below.