By Paul Dottino
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The Giants nearly have found their way out of the forest and back to a path that returns them into the race for the NFC East.
Make no mistake about it. The Giants (3-6) still have a lot of work to do and many elements to improve as they attempt to win their fourth consecutive game. But the Green Bay Packers are reeling – with injuries on both sides of the ball – and are down to third-string quarterback Scott Tolzien, a third-year pro with very little experience making his first NFL start.
As many as three spots along Green Bay’s offensive line may be shuffled and they’ve got as many as five injured starters on defense, including LB Clay Matthews (broken thumb), the unit’s unquestioned leader and big-play specialist.
Here are three key matchups to watch in the game:
1. Giants MLB Jon Beason vs. rookie RB Eddie Lacy. The Giants haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher since Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams battered them in Week 3. And they’ve faced an almost weekly assault of the NFL’s Top 10 rushers.
Beason has combined for 28 tackles since he became a starter four games ago, providing leadership, stability and mobility to the unit. Lacy (669 rushing yards, 4.2 avg., four TDs) is a hard-nosed runner who also has enough speed to have broken off a 56-yard burst this season. The Packers will want to run the ball to keep the pressure off Tolzien.
The sooner the Giants take away the run, the better off they will be against Tolzein, who threw two interceptions against Philadelphia last weekend. He’s got an average arm and appears to be most comfortable throwing screens and check-downs, given his lack of accuracy down the field.
2. Giants QB Eli Manning vs. Packers secondary. Green Bay has the fewest interceptions in the NFL this season – only three. Manning has thrown the most interceptions (16) in the league, but only one during the three-game winning streak and it was returned for a touchdown by Oakland.
Manning needs to be careful in not giving away anything to the Packers, who have a suspect secondary (246 yards per game, 21st in the NFL). CB Sam Shields owns the secondary’s best coverage skills, given declining corner Tramon Williams (six penalties), who is expected to slide into the slot to cover WR Victor Cruz. That means WRs Hakeem Nicks and Rueben Randle will have the chance to make plays against Shields and Davon House (in for the injured Casey Hayward, hamstring).
3. Giants P Steve Weatherford vs. Packers PR Micah Hyde. Hyde ranks third in the NFL with a 15.4-yard punt return average, highlighted by a 93-yard TD against Minnesota three weeks ago. The Giants have allowed three punt returns for scores this season, which has helped to skew their opponents’ average to an horrific 19.2 yards per punt.
Assuming it’s too much to ask for the Giants to tighten up their coverage unit, it will be important for Weatherford to kick the ball out of bounds so that Hyde does not have any opportunities to make a big play. Few things can change a game’s momentum more than giving up a score or a large chunk of return yardage on a punt.
PREDICTION: Giants 27, Packers 13.
PREDICTION vs. the spread: 6-3.
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