Dom Capers’ eyes twinkled when he heard the question.
“What did I learn?” he said, repeating a reporter’s question about the previous meeting between the Packers and the Giants. “I learned you can’t give up big plays. They’ve got big-play people. They have those kinds of capabilities with their people. We had three balls go over the top of us and all three led to points.”
It will be the No. 1 goal of the Packers defense this Sunday to deny the Giants the kind of big plays that nearly resulted in an upset of the then-undefeated Packers on Dec. 4. The Giants scored on just the third play of the game, on a 67-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to tight end Travis Beckum (pictured), took a 10-7 lead following a 42-yard completion to Victor Cruz, and set up a touchdown with a 51-yard completion to Hakeem Nicks on the Giants’ first play of the second half.
Those three plays resulted in nearly half of the Giants’ total points in a 38-35 loss to the Packers at MetLife Stadium.
“We have to find ways to not let Eli get in a groove,” Capers added.
The Packers defense is last in the league in yards allowed and first in the league in interceptions. Something has to give, right?
One of Capers’ statistical measuring sticks is passer rating differential. Armed with Aaron Rodgers, the highest-rated passer in the league, the Packers defense had won the passer rating battle in every game this season but one, but Manning came within 5.5 points of Rodgers in the first meeting between the two teams.
“Eli’s a timing thrower. Any time you can disrupt the rhythm of a timing thrower, that’s significant,” Capers said.
The Packers did not, however, disrupt Manning’s timing often enough. He was sacked only once and hurried just three times. Lack of pass-rush has been a theme for the Packers defense this season, and it’s caused the passer rating of opposing quarterbacks to climb to 80.6, up from a league-leading 67.8 in the previous two seasons.
Maybe an even bigger concern for this game is the Giants’ running game, which exploded for 172 yards in last Sunday’s playoff win over Atlanta, after finishing the regular season as the league’s worst-ranked rush-offense.
“A big part of their offense is if they can get their run game going. Their pass game comes off their run game,” Capers said.
Stop the run and deny big plays. The Packers defense’s ability to achieve those two goals might determine the outcome of Sunday’s game.
On offense, left tackle Chad Clifton is a center of attention. He’s only played one quarter of football since sustaining a severe hamstring injury in Week 5, but he’ll be in the starting lineup on Sunday and he’ll be staring across the line at the NFL’s best pass-rush combination: Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul.
“They have a very good rotation. They play with seven guys. They stay fresh. You can tell they count their reps,” Packers Offensive Line Coach James Campen said. “They’re as fine a group of seven as you’re going to face.”
Head Coach Mike McCarthy pronounced Clifton fit and ready to go, when McCarthy met with the media on Friday.
“It’s been a while, but it was a normal week for him,” McCarthy said of Clifton’s practice regimen.
“He looks good,” Campen said. “Chad has played a lot of football. It’s starting to come together for him again."
In a limited role, Pierre-Paul was fourth in the league in sacks, 16.5, this season. He registered two tackles for loss, two hurries and two passes-defensed in the previous game against the Packers.
“He’s a long guy that plays with an extremely high motor. Obviously, he’s improved a ton and he’s one of the best to play the position right now,” Campen said of Pierre-Paul.
Offensively, it would seem the Packers’ No. 1 goal would be to provide pass-protection for Rodgers against the best pass-rushing front four in the game.
Despite a heavy rush on Rodgers in the previous meeting, the Giants were only able to sack him twice. Rodgers scrambled away from trouble on several occasions, making key completions and gaining 32 yards on four runs.
“It seems like he knows when it’s coming. It’s hard to rattle him. We’ll see what happens on Sunday. It will be part of our game plan to try to rattle him,” Tuck said. “We have to play to a high level to even come close to beating these guys.”
Each team’s objectives are clearly etched in their game plans. The Giants need to rattle Rodgers. The Packers need to protect their quarterback and deny big plays. Additional coverage - Jan. 13