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All 22

N.Y. Giants should win weekend’s best wild-card matchup

A hot Aaron Rodgers won’t be enough for Packers to win

As a former player, I have grown frustrated with the oversimplification of football analysis. So this season, I will be watching the coaches’ video and analyzing the impact of all 22 players on the field and the coaches’ game plan.

The best matchup of wild-card weekend is obviously the New York Giants vs. the Green Bay Packers. My instinct is to pick the Giants to prevail, even though Aaron Rodgers has appeared unstoppable in recent weeks and the game is in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

What can I say? I am a sucker for tough defenses. And I have loved the Giants’ defense since I wrote about its dominating 16-13 Week 2 victory over the New Orleans Saints. Back then, I even went so far as to say that if their defense can maintain that level of play, the Giants were “certain Super Bowl contenders.” At the time, I anticipated their offense would improve. I was wrong. It did not get any better.

But Eli Manning is Mr. January, so maybe they will end up in Houston for the Super Bowl after all. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Actually, this All 22 is about the past. In preparation for this weekend’s Giants-Packers game, let’s go back to Week 5, when the Giants went to Lambeau Field to face the Packers, and see what we can learn.

Watch out for Rodgers

The Packers won, 23-16. Rodgers threw for 259 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and 23 completions in 45 attempts. His numbers weren’t impressive, but he improvised well at important moments in the game. I’m sure that comes as no surprise to anyone who has ever watched Rodgers play. The Giants hardly blitzed at all. Instead, they dedicated more defenders to pass coverage. In passing situations, the Giants ran a lot of 2-man, which means their two safeties were playing deep halves, allowing the other defenders to play tight man-to-man coverage underneath. Occasionally, the safeties would double the slot receivers on both sides, rather than play deep halves. For the most part, these coverages were effective at thwarting the initial play. But Rodgers is at his best when he is forced to improvise. He ran for first downs and eluded pass rushers to extend plays, giving his receivers additional time to get open. He kept drives moving and made key plays in the red zone this way. But overall, the Giants did well containing Rodgers in dropback pass situations.

Though the Giants’ defense played well, they did struggle against play-action bootlegs, which was a big part of the Packers’ game plan. Presumably, the Packers wanted to get Rodgers on the move because they were concerned about allowing the Giants’ talented pass rushers, Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul. But I don’t think that strategy will work again because the Packers don’t have a respectable running act. The real offensive hero of that game was running back Eddie Lacy. He didn’t score any touchdowns, but his dependable running is what allowed Rodgers to successfully execute play-action bootlegs. Lacy ran for 81 yards and averaged 7.4 yards per carry. Unfortunately for the Packers, Lacy is on injured reserve and won’t be available Sunday. For most of the season, the Packers have shown no ability to run the ball effectively, so it will be hard for them to execute the same game plan.

Packers fans might have some faith in the running game after last week’s game against the Detroit Lions. Aaron Ripkowski and Ty Montgomery averaged 6.8 and 5.5 yards per carry, respectively. However, I wouldn’t bet on them replicating that performance.

But given how well Rodgers has been playing, most analysts probably believe it won’t matter if they can run the ball. I disagree. The Giants have been blitzing more and more as the season has progressed, and I don’t expect them to stop now. Blitzing will make it more difficult for Rodgers to hurt them with his scrambling. It will also put pressure on the Giants secondary players to cover with less help than they had the last time they played. The secondary is the strongest unit on the team, and I think they will be up to the task. Sadly, I am not sure it will matter because this game will be determined by the Giants’ offense.

Last time they played, the Packers played pretty simple defenses and held the Giants to 16 points. On third downs, they doubled Odell Beckham Jr. And that seemed to be enough to short-circuit the Giants’ offense. Unfortunately for Giants fans, it doesn’t look like the their offense has gotten any more sophisticated. Their offense is still throw-it-to-Odell and pray that he does the rest. Because of their offensive ineptitude, I can no longer say that they are “certain Super Bowl contenders,” but I think the offense will play well enough to win this week, against an injury-ravaged and porous Packers defense. Don’t make me regret this, Eli.

Domonique Foxworth is a senior writer at Andscape. He is a recovering pro athlete and superficial intellectual.