Giants vs. Packers: the key matchups Print
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Saturday, 19 January 2008 08:42
NFL Headline News

 GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -Matchups for the NFC championship game between the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field:
When the Giants have the ball
QB Eli Manning (10) has stopped making mistakes and started making plays, even after slow starts. His recent work, including that touchdown drive in the final 46 seconds of the first half at Dallas last Sunday, has reminded observers of a certain Colts quarterback who won last year's Super Bowl
Manning will need to deal with a fierce pass rush led by Aaron Kampman (74), Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (94) and Corey Williams (99). They combined for 28 1/2 sacks during the season. But he handled Dallas' rush pretty well last week, and his offensive line, particularly tackle David Diehl (66) and guard Chris Snee (76), has excelled recently.
The Giants could really miss injured tight end Jeremy Shockey here. Green Bay's linebackers, especially Nick Barnett (56) and A.J. Hawk (50), are extremely active and versatile. Although rookie Kevin Boss (89) has filled in admirably for Shockey, it's questionable if he can have a similar impact against this mobile, aggressive defense.
Bitter cold and possibly wind - not to mention any precipitation - could play havoc with the passing game, but the Giants want to run first anyway. They'll start off with their big back, Brandon Jacobs (27), who isn't just a power runner but also a threat to the outside. Then they bring on rookie Ahman Bradshaw (44), who's been a revelation the last few weeks and will threaten the Packers on the outside and with cutbacks.
Barnett, Hawk and safety Atari Bigby (20), coming off a huge game against Seattle, must control New York's runs. If they can't, the Giants won't worry too much about winning the matchups of wideouts Plaxico Burress (17), a revitalized Amani Toomer (81), and rookie Steve Smith (12) against veteran cornerbacks Al Harris (31) and Charles Woodson (21), who play lots of man coverage. Burress might see more single coverage than usual in this one, but Harris and Woodson often have been up to that challenge.
When the Packers have the ball
Before fixating on Brett Favre (4) and his being one step from another Super Bowl after a decade's absence, remember that most of Green Bay's big plays against Seattle were made by Ryan Grant (25). An unheralded backup running back with the Giants in the preseason, he was traded to the Packers and began the season a fifth-stringer. Now he's a star, especially after overcoming two early fumbles that led to Seahawks touchdowns to rush for 201 yards and three scores.
New York's defensive line led the NFL in sacks (53), so getting pressure on Favre is almost a given. But stopping Grant hardly is. A one-cut runner, Grant could find lanes opened up by tackles Mark Tauscher (65) and Chad Clifton (76) and center Scott Wells (63). That would leave plenty of work against the run for Antonio Pierce (58) and the other linebackers.
Favre gets rid of the ball quicker than Jeff Garcia or Tony Romo, the two quarterbacks New York has beaten in the postseason. He'd better against the NFL's most dangerous pass rushers: his buddy Michael Strahan (92), Osi Umenyiora (72), Jason Tuck (91) and DT Fred Robbins (98).
Given enough time - and given his creativity - Favre might take advantage of New York's secondary with his corps of big-play receivers. Greg Jennings (85) has been the main touchdown threat and Donald Driver (80) is Favre's longtime favorite target. But Koren Robinson (81), TE David Lee (86) and rookie James Jones (89) are formidable foes for CBs Aaron Ross (31) and Corey Webster (23), and safety Gibril Wilson (28).
Special teams
Giants placekicker Lawrence Tynes (9) made all but four of his 27 field goal tries, with all the misses from between the 30 and 39. He needs to be precise because Green Bay rookie Mason Crosby (2) scored 141 points and most of his eight misses were from long range. Crosby also is accustomed to the Lambeau Field conditions.
New York punter Jeff Feagles is in his 20th pro season, yet this is his first championship game. He's among the best directional punters the league has ever seen. By contrast, Packers punter Jon Ryan (9) has had some awful games (two blocks at Chicago) and some strong ones.
Woodson is the best punt returner in the game - if he handles the chore, something coach Mike McCarthy might be loath to do. Tramon Williams (38) and Robinson handle the kickoff runbacks and neither is real dangerous.
New York's Domenik Hixon (87) had a terrific game against New England in the season finale, but he's inexperienced. Punt returner R.J. McQuarters (25) has good hands, but isn't much of a return threat.
Coaching
Tom Coughlin nearly got fired when the Giants swooned last season, although they got into the playoffs and lost in the first round. A more approachable Coughlin now is in line for a well-deserved contract extension. His best work wasn't so much in strategy or game preparation, but in taking a divided locker room and pulling it together. It helped that running back Tiki Barber, the leader of the anti-Coughlin forces, retired.
Coughlin has nurtured Manning to the point he now is a strength, not a question mark. He also has put together a three-headed running attack that provides offensive balance. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has his unit playing aggressively, and the pass rush is formidable and deep.
McCarthy reined in Favre just enough to eliminate the turnovers that had the star quarterback's career in stagnation. He deserves lots of credit for that, as well as for showing faith in Grant as the prime runner, and in an offensive line that needed to jell and certainly has.
McCarthy also showed patience with a young receiving corps and that has paid off big time.
Defensive coordinator Bob Sanders, like Coughlin, seemed to be in trouble heading into the 2007 season. His unit, though, has been strong throughout, with vast improvement by the linebackers. The pass rush often has been as good as New York's.
Intangibles
The Giants have won nine straight on the road, including at Tampa and Dallas in the playoffs. In most areas, they are the more veteran team than the Packers, and they've been playing well for a month.
But they also lost to Green Bay in Week 2 and dismissing that game because it was so long ago would be unwise. The Packers took advantage of New York's mediocre secondary, and no quarterback in the NFC is better equipped to do that than Favre. The one area where the Giants haven't improved a lot is the defensive backfield.
Of course, Favre must have time to throw.
The Packers have not been overpowering at home, where they went 7-1, but had several close games. How much their proximity to Favre's first Super Bowl in 10 years will provide a boost is immeasurable, but it should be significant.
 

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