Monty, a fervent Packers blogger at Totalpackers.com, provides color on Sunday's big game at Lambeau Field.
Here is Monty's scouting report:
This is about as simple as it gets. Both teams need the win. If the Giants win, they clinch at least a wild card berth. The Packers must beat the Giants to have a shot at a wild card berth -- if they lose this game, they won't be going to the playoffs this year.
The Packers are coming off two straight losses -- a completely uninspired 7-3 loss at Detroit and a 31-27 barn burner at New England. The Packers will be glad to return to friendly confines of Lambeau Field and get their catalyst back.
On offense, the Packers will rely heavily on quarterback Aaron Rodgers who was playing at a Tom Brady-like level before going down with a concussion two weeks ago. The team's running game has been virtually non-existent all season -- the Packers rank 24th in the league in rushing. However, they showed the willingness and ability to run by racking up 143 yards against New England. The weather in Green Bay may very well mean the Packers have to run more than they normally do.
The Packers defense is led by outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who has 12.5 sacks and has changed the way opposing offenses game plan for the Packers. Cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson are one of the best tandems in the league and inside linebacker Desmond Bishop has turned into a playmaker since taking over for the injured Nick Barnett at inside linebacker.
The Packers major weakness is special teams, where punter Tim Masthay and kicker Mason Crosby are inconsistent and the coverage units are among the worst in the league.
1. Giants loquacious safety Antrel Rolle guaranteed a win on Sunday. Has this caused a stir in Green Bay?
TP: It's been mentioned, but I don't think anyone cares what Antrel Rolle says. The Packers know they have to beat the Giants to have a shot at the playoffs. Nothing Rolle says is going to alter that focus.
2. The Packers have had a plethora of injuries this year. Can you give us an update on who is out? And you will play on Sunday? With all these injuries, what back up player or players have been a pleasant surprise?
TP: Well, most importantly, quarterback Aaron Rodgers will return to the starting lineup after missing the last game and a half with a concussion. The Packers have 15 guys on injured reserve, which I believe leads the league. Six of those guys opened the season as starters. Additionally, starting defensive end Cullen Jenkins is likely to miss this weekend's game. To say we've been hit hard by injuries is an understatement. If the Packers don't fire their strength and conditioning coach after the season, something's wrong.
All that being said, the Packers have built up an incredible amount of depth. The biggest blow was losing tight end Jermichael Finley, who changed the way opposing defenses game plan for the Packers. The Packers tight end group is a non-factor without Finley. Although they're not as strong as they could have been, the depth has really shown itself for the Packers.
In fact, we were able to see that Desmond Bishop is actually an upgrade over Nick Barnett at inside linebacker.
3. Last year, the Packers switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense. Apparently, it took a year for defensive players to get acclimated to Dom Capers defense. Right now, the Pack has a very formidable defense. They are 3rd in the league against the pass and best in points allowed. Could you tell us more about this defense?
TP: Dom Capers is a master of matchups and utilizing personnel to the greatest advantage through different packages. Traditionally, Capers system has taken a bit to click fully because there are so many packages and formations and so much terminology to learn. The defense is pretty solid this season, especially considering all the injuries, but it actually began to gel towards the middle of last season. The Packers finished second in overall defense in 2009, trailing only the Jets. They were fifth against the pass and first against the run. Honestly, I feel the Packers defense was better last season because they made more game-changing plays, but they've certainly held their own in the face of adversity, this season.
4. I have watched several Packer games. On some Sunday's, they looked very impressive. ie the Jets. And they played sloppy against the Bears on Monday Night Football. Why the inconsistent play?
TP:Coaching. Inconsistent, sloppy play have been staples of the Mike McCarthy era. The Packers have traditionally been among the league leaders in penalties under McCarthy. In fact, this is the first season they're not near the top in at least the past four. Poor clock management and shoddy special teams play have also killed the Packers. If you look at the Bears game, the Packers handed it to them on a silver platter by committing a team-record 18 penalties. If you look at the losses at New England and Atlanta, special teams gaffes killed the Packers. The Packers have the talent to put it together on the field, but it's lacking on the sideline.
5. Last Sunday,after giving the Eagles an early gift wrapped Christmas present, this Giants team is reeling. From the opening kickoff, I believe McCarthy's Packers have to hit the Giants in the mouth. They need to take a quick lead. How do you see the Packers approach to this game?
TP: I think it will be similar to how they approached the Patriots game. Despite everything, this isn't a team that's made any excuses. They know they can go out and play with anyone even when they're not 100 percent. I expect them to be loose, but focused and I expect them to be physical. If the Packers get out to an early lead, the game could be over quickly, but I expect the Giants to be a little extra focused because of what happened last week and I expect a close game.
6. What are some key match ups to watch?
TP: Clay Matthews vs. Kareem McKenzie -- Matthews has 12.5 sacks and keeping him away from Eli will go a long way towards determining how successful the Giants offense is going to be.
Tramon Williams vs. Hakeem Nicks -- Williams has surpassed Charles Woodson and is becoming one of the top cover corners in the league. I expect to see him on Nicks most of the day.
The Giants running game vs. Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk -- Bishop and Hawk will be primarily responsible for stopping Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. If Bishop gambles too much and Hawk runs himself out of plays, the Giants could dominate on the ground and control the game.
Justin Tuck vs. Bryan Bulaga -- The Packers are going to have to give the rookie help if they plan on blocking Tuck. Bulaga seems to have two or three major assignment breakdowns a game.
7. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is expected to play. Bereft of a running game, can this Packers offensive line protect Rodgers from the Giants prolific pass rush? Oh by the way, the Giants have knocked out FIVE quarterbacks this year.
TP: Even though I'd probably replace 3/5 of the Packers offensive line in the offseason, it isn't because of their pass blocking. They're actually a decent pass blocking unit and Rodgers has one of the best pocket presences in the league. Where the Packers are below average is in run blocking. Certainly, protecting Rodgers will be a key to the game, especially our tackles vs. your ends, but I'm more worried about Rodgers getting knocked out of the game when he's running in the open field and refusing to slide.
8. Your prediction.
TP: There are two things I know. First, this game is a must-win for the Packers, so they'll be prepared. Second, Lambeau Field gives the Packers one hell of a home-field advantage. That being said, the Packers will have to execute in every facet of the game and as I said, that doesn't always happen under McCarthy. I also have nightmares of the 2007 NFC Championship game when Tom Coughlin simply outcoached McCarthy. In the end, I think the Packers have better leadership on the field with Rodgers and Woodson than the Giants do, and that will be the difference.
Packers 24, Giants 20
Let us hope Monty is wrong. As of today, I still have not recovered from Sunday's cataclysmic meltdown. When the Giants were up 31-10 with seven minutes left, I began to believe this Giants team can make it to Dallas. Then, unimaginably, the sluice gates opened. Instead of being in first place in the NFC East and having a possible first round bye, unfortunately, the Giants have to fight for a playoff berth. At this point, I do not know what kind of team we have. Prior to the beginning of this season, I thought this team would finish 5-11. Thankfully, they have exceeded my low expectations. The reasoning for my dim view- Tom Coughlin. I based my reasoning from reading "The Score Takes Care of Itself", ( Bill Walsh's philosophy on leadership) In this book, the late Hall of Fame coach espouses to take control of what you can control. "It is Walsh's belief, the final score of a football game is decided, on average, according to the following percentages: 20 percent is due to luck, such as a referee's bad call, a tricky bounce of the ball, an injury, or some other happenstance." Walsh continues: "I accepted the fact that I couldn't control that 20 percent of each game. However, the rest of it-80 percent-could be under my control with comprehensive planning and preparation." "Those same numbers, in Walsh's opinion, not only applied to the San Francisco 49ers but to the competition as well." "Walsh recognized that his job as a leader was to get more out of his 80 percent than the opposing coach and his staff could get out of their 80 percent." (Walsh, Jamison, and Walsh, 2009, p. 56-57). Indeed, Walsh's outstanding leadership trickled down to his coaches and players. One mantra for Walsh's teams was Beat'em to the punch! This meant hurt your opponent before they can hurt you. "Another was "Commit, explode, recover (if your're wrong) which was having a plan of attack, executing it suddenly and powerfully, and then reacting quickly and intelligently to the results of what you have done." (Walsh, Jamison, and Walsh, 2009, p. 90-91). In addition to the aforementioned examples of his leadership, Walsh is also known for the FOUR MINUTE OFFENSE. "The four minute offense meant we were ahead late in the game and wanted to take time off the clock, avoid penalties, not go out of bounds, control the ball." (Walsh, Jamison, and Walsh, 2009, p. 91). When this situation presented itself, on the sidelines, his players were yelling, "Four Minute Offense!" This was very satisfying to Walsh because his players bought into his leadership style. On the other hand, over his seven years with the Giants, Coughlin's teams have been very inconsistent especially in second halves of seasons. His teams have been sporadic. Therefore, they have not responded to his leadership qualities. Perhaps, after the loss to the Eagles, this is reason he sat in the dark for two hours. Needless to say, even after their epic loss, the Giants can still get into the playoffs. And they MUST beat the Packers on Sunday. As we know, once you get into the tournament, anything can happen-like an improbable Super Bowl XLII Championship. Thus far, I have been wrong about this 2010 Giants team. Let us hope Coughlin can guide his team to a win on Sunday. Without a doubt, this would be a wonderful Christmas present for all Giants fans.