In going back and looking at the Packers-Giants games last season, I thought it made more sense to look back at the regular season contest. In the playoffs, the Packers repeatedly turned the ball over, and sort of forced them out of their game plan. From an evaluation perspective, I thought the regular season game was better game to review. My notes:
• There was a play the Packers ran in the 1st quarter that caught my eye. It was a wheel route to Jordy Nelson that went for 33 yards. There was something about wheel routes with the Giants defense last season that opposing offenses looked to exploit. The Niners ran them with extreme effectiveness last season against the Giants, although the Giants were ready for it earlier this season. Here’s the play design:
- Jordy Nelson will be the one running the wheel route. He’s lined up in the middle of the bunch formation on the right side.
- The inside receiver of that bunch is Donald Driver, who will be running to the opposite hash and coming back across the middle.
- The outside receiver in the bunch is TE Tom Crabtree. He’ll be providing extra protection for Aaron Rodgers by blocking DE Justin Tuck.
- The WR on the left side of the formation (Greg Jennings, I think) will be running sort of a “lazy deep post,” which is designed to keep safety Kenny Phillips busy.
At the snap, Aaron Rodgers fakes the handoff left, and is going to roll out to his right. He’s reading safety Antrel Rolle (circled at midfield):
Rodgers has great protection, which allows him to give a little pump fake to Driver (circled in yellow), drawing Rolle (also circled in yellow) up from his safety spot to take away the underneath route. Meanwhile, Nelson has Corey Webster beaten down the field:
Rodgers actually misfired on this play. It could have gone for a TD with a nice touch pass, but Rodgers threw a laser, causing Nelson to have to stop and adjust to the ball. Still, it was a nice 33 yard gain, and a great play design.
Surprisingly, the Packers never went back to it. I’ll be looking for this play tonight.
• The Packers couldn’t run the ball against the Giants, but that didn’t stop them from trying. 24 rushes by running backs for 57 yards, although Aaron Rodgers chipped in 32 yards on 4 carries. I thought Linval Joseph did a great job taking on double-teams and clogging up running lanes, which is something he has not done well this season.
• Travis Beckum burned Charlie Peprah on a 67 yard TD pass. They won’t have Peprah to pick on this time around. Peprah is actually now a Cowboy. M.D. Jennings is the new starting safety, and is much more athletic, although inexperienced.
• When the Giants took shots down the field, they mostly stayed inside (or near) the hashmarks. Deep middle. And it was there. Eli found an assortment of receivers in that area of the field, including Beckum, Victor Cruz, and Hakeem Nicks. This will be the first week Nicks has not appeared in the injury report. If he is truly 100%, that would be an enormous boost to this struggling offense.
• A huge matchup in this game will be how the Packers choose to try to defend Victor Cruz. They have a rookie playing slot corner for them by the name of Casey Hayward out of Vanderbilt. I really liked Hayward from what I saw of him at the Senior Bowl, and he has been outstanding in the Packers’ D this season. Last season, Cruz saw a healthy dose of Jarrett Bush. No Bush for him this time around, I would guess.
• The Packers’ screen game was effective. I think they could have gotten more out of it if they had a better running back to make plays once he had the ball in his hands, but the blocking downfield was there. The starting RB for the Packers had been Alex Green, 2nd year player out of Hawaii. He was at 3.1 per carry on the season, with 11 receptions, but James Starks got most of the work last week. Anyway, I guess the long story short here is that the Packers don’t have much in the way of a scary threat at RB.
• Conversely, whenever the Giants tried to throw to the running backs, whether it be on screens or just dumps to the flat, it wasn’t there. The Packers did a great job taking that away.
• Packers tried to go early and often to Jermichael Finley, who got matchups against a mix of Giants, including Mathias Kiwanuka, Jacquian Williams, Michael Boley, and Deon Grant. Finley could play a a surprisingly big role in this game. He had 6 catches for 87 yards, a TD, and at least 3 drops that I counted on 11 targets in the first matchup last season. He also forced an illegal contact call on Williams on a key 4th quarter 3rd and long. 4 for 37 on 9 targets in the playoffs.
I’m in two fantasy football leagues in which I have Rob Gronkowski and needed to pick up an additional TE. I was shocked to find that Finley was available in both leagues. But it makes sense. Here are Finley’s numbers on the season: 32 catches, 337 yards, 2 TD, and PFF has him down for 7 drops. That’s just an unacceptable number of drops on just 48 targets. Still, Finley is talented, and the Giants historically have had difficulty with opposing TEs. I’ll be interested to see if they try to get Finley going this week, especially with Williams still out, and Kenny Phillips still a little banged up. I think it’ll be there for the Packers. But can Finley hang onto the ball, and does Rodgers still trust him?
• Minor thing to look for: The Packers had Randall Cobb throw a pass, which the Giants defended well. Cobb played a little QB at Kentucky and has a nice arm. Note: He’s left handed, so if you see him come on a reverse from right to left there’s a good chance he could be throwing the ball down the field.
• Rare game where Brandon Jacobs ran the ball effectively. 8 carries, 59 yards, 1 TD. The Giants picked some nice spots to mix him in. Maybe we’ll see the Giants mix in Andre Brown a little more today. I think 10 touches would make sense for him, assuming the game stays close.
• Clay Matthews’ pick 6 was a thing of beauty. The Giants ran play action, Eli had nothing down the field, so he came off his deep routes, and looked to check it down. Matthews read Eli the entire way, and broke on the ball beautifully as Eli was releasing it to Ahmad Bradhaw in the flat. Perfectly played. No Matthews today. He’s out, as are CB/S/LB Charles Woodson and CB Sam Shields.
• Packers LT Marshall Newhouse was awful. JPP didn’t register a sack, but he terrorized Rodgers all day. He got a few hits in, batted a few passes at the line, and hurried throws all day. It may have been one of JPP’s best games last season, despite the lack of stats. Newhouse, at least from what I’ve seen of the Packers this year, is vastly improved at LT. I still suspect the Packers will give him some help, but I don’t see JPP dominating him to the extreme level that he did last season.
• Mason Crosby had a miss last year at the Meadowlands. He started this season 5 for 5 on FG attempts, but has since gone 6 for 13. There was some thinking that the Packers would cut Crosby this week and bring in a new kicker, but they’re sticking with him for now.
• Since I didn’t make my pick for tonight’s game earlier in the week, I’ll do so here. Packers are the better team right now, and while I’m tempted by the Giants getting healthy after the week, I just think the Packers have some nice matchup advantages on offense. Packers 31-27.