The N.Y. Giants, who boast the No. 5 rushing offense in the league at 144.9 yards per game, are led by running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, who differ some in size and style but are similar in production.
“I think they do a very good job personnel and what they do and what they do with their big guys,” head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “Their running game is excellent. They have a great 1-2 punch as you’ve already stated, and we anticipate them coming in here trying to run the ball on us.”
The Giants average over 30 rushing attempts a game as a team, checking in at No. 6 in the league, with an average of 4.7 yards per carry that ranks No. 4 in the NFL. The 5-foot-9, 198-pound Bradshaw has received the bulk of the work, posting career highs in attempts (249) and yards (1,142) in his first season as the feature back in New York’s offense.
“He’s just different,” defensive end Ryan Pickett said. “He’s a little guy but he is tough to tackle. He breaks a lot of tackles. You are just impressed watching him. He is never down. You think, ‘OK, they tackled him, he is going to be down.' Then he keeps going. He is a good back.”
According to STATS, Bradshaw ranks No. 2 in the league in broken tackles with 23, but he has also shown off his explosiveness with 13 runs of 20-plus yards, which ties him with Tennessee’s Chris Johnson and Oakland’s Darren McFadden for the league lead.
Jacobs has shown big-play ability as well, as he is tied for No. 7 in the league with eight runs of 20-plus yards despite getting about half the number of carries (126) as Bradshaw. Last season Jacobs posted just two 20-yarders all season on 224 carries, and the explosive runs have helped him register a career-high 5.8 average per carry, good for No. 2 in the league.
But the 6-foot-4, 264-pound Jacobs is still known more for his physical running style than anything else, and the onus will be on the Packers’ front to keep him from getting to the second level.
“I’ve tackled him a few times before, and it’s like tackling a lineman,” Pickett said. “You’ve got to hit him and you’ve got to hit him good and get a lot of people on him, especially the little guys. You can’t let him get to the little guys. We try to keep him off of them because he is a big dude.”
After leading the league in rushing defense in 2009 for the first time in team history (a franchise-record 83.3 yards allowed per game), Green Bay hasn’t been as effective this season, allowing its opponents to rush for 117 yards per contest (tied for No. 19). There hasn’t been a shortage of challenges for the Packers as they have already faced three of the top seven rushing teams in the league (No. 3 Philadelphia, No. 6 N.Y. Jets, No. 7 Atlanta).
In the Week 8 matchup with the Jets, Green Bay was able to limit the tandem of LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene to just 76 yards on 22 carries (3.5 avg.) in the Packers’ 9-0 win, their lowest combined total to that point in the season. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick did most of the damage in the season opener against the Packers, accounting for 103 of Philadelphia’s 149 yards on the ground, while Falcons running back Michael Turner registered 110 yards on 23 carries, one of only two backs to eclipse the 100-yard mark against Green Bay over the past 27 games.
But Sunday might prove to be the biggest test yet, and the defense knows how much its ability to keep New York’s running backs in check could factor into the outcome.
“We’re physical up front, so we definitely want to establish that we can’t let their running game start early,” Pickett said. “If you let their running game start, then they start with the play-action and they just build off their running game.
“We know if we win up front, we’re going to win the game. We really feel like if we can come out and play like we are supposed to play against this team and stop the run, we feel like we have a good chance of winning.”
A different week
After starting his first NFL game this past Sunday night in New England, Matt Flynn is returning to his normal role of backup quarterback.
Starter Aaron Rodgers was cleared to return from his concussion and participated fully in practice on Wednesday, which means he is back to taking the vast majority of the team reps.
“It’s not anti-climatic,” Flynn said. “It’s the job. It’s the backup quarterback’s job, and I was very fortunate and very happy about last week being able to play.
“This week we have Aaron back. We’re in a must-win situation, so it’s good to have him back. I’m going to prepare just like I did last week and be ready to go if anything happens.”
Flynn gave a good accounting of himself in his first start, completing 24-of-37 passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns with one interception for a 100.3 passer rating in the 31-27 loss.
“I guess just confidence and solidifying in myself knowing that I think I can play in this league,” Flynn said when asked what he took from the performance. “I think the biggest part of it was just letting my teammates and coaches know that they can trust in me and believe in me if my number is called.”
During the nationally televised broadcast on Sunday night, Flynn’s father, Alvin, was shown several times watching the game in the stands at Gillette Stadium. A former college quarterback at Baylor, Alvin attended every one of Flynn’s games at LSU except for one, a 2005 contest against Tennessee that was moved from Saturday to Monday because of Hurricane Katrina. Alvin, a lawyer in Tyler, Texas, had to be in court that day.
“In high school and middle school he never missed one practice of mine, so I told him I wasn’t going to let him miss my first NFL start,” Flynn said. “I made sure he was there.”
Atop the fan voting
The NFL announced the final results of the fan voting for the Pro Bowl on Wednesday, and the Packers were well represented with four players finishing first at their positions.
Clay Matthews (466,501) and Charles Woodson (394,330), who both were selected to the Pro Bowl last season, finished No. 1 at outside linebacker and cornerback respectively in the NFC.
Josh Sitton (214,013) was the leading vote-getter in the NFC at guard, while veteran Chad Clifton (173,797) finished first in the conference among tackles.
Rodgers (900,544) finished No. 7 among all NFL players in fan voting, and No. 3 among NFC quarterbacks behind Vick (No. 2 overall, 1,522,437) and New Orleans’ Drew Brees (No. 5 overall, 971,531).
The Packers led the NFC with four players leading their respective positions, with Baltimore the only other team in the league to have four (Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Sam Koch).
The Pro Bowl squads are based on the consensus of fans, players and coaches, with each group’s vote counting one-third toward determining the rosters for each conference. The game will be played on Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011, and will be televised live on FOX at 6 p.m. (CT) from Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The teams will be announced next Tuesday at 6 p.m. CT on NFL Network.
Defensive end Cullen Jenkins (calf) will be out for the third straight game. Linebacker Frank Zombo (knee) did not participate in practice on Wednesday.
Linebacker Diyral Briggs (ankle), Clifton (knees), safety Nick Collins (ribs), Matthews (shin) and linebacker Erik Walden (quadriceps) were limited participants.
Collins missed the second half at New England due to the injury, but McCarthy said he anticipates Collins will play based on his history of dealing with injuries.
“We’re just going to take it a day at a time,” Collins said. “I’m making improvements every day, so small steps. Hopefully I can be out there on Sunday.”
Pickett (ankle), Rodgers (concussion) and Woodson (toe) participated fully.
For the Giants, tackle David Diehl (illness) and defensive end Dave Tollefson (knee) did not participate.
Wide receiver Mario Manningham (heel) and defensive end Osi Umenyiora (knee) were limited participants, while tackle Shawn Andrews (back), center Shaun O’Hara (foot) and wide receiver Devin Thomas (hamstring) participated fully.
Additional coverage - Dec. 22