Thursday, January 17, 2008

NFC Championship Game Preview: New York Giants at Green Bay

New York Do’s and Don’t’s – Chris Clement

Do balance the offensive game-plan as brilliantly as you have the previous two playoff match-ups. Eli went 12-18 in the passing game while Jacobs (14 carries) and Bradshaw (6 carries) shared duties in the rush game. While 163 yards through the air and 88 on the ground will not be enough against Green Bay’s red-hot attack, balancing the equation will allow the Giants to control the clock…which keeps Favre and company off the field for as long as possible.

Do open up the playbook early and often. Winning without targeting the big play to Plaxico isn’t likely to work for a second-straight week. Not to mention, it’s highly unlikely that All-Pro caliber cornerbacks Al Harris & Charles Woodson won’t make similar mistakes to what Cowboys defenders did. As they did by flying all over the field last weekend against the Seahawks, the Packers may overplay a few deep routes. Since the Pack are completely capable of putting up 30+ in rough weather, the Giants may need to match touchdown-for-touchdown in the first half.

Do thank the front office for allowing Tom Coughlin another year with the team. The absence of Tiki Barber and the relatively capable handling of the Strahan “holdout” look more than steady with the proper perspective. Ditto with a slew of injuries, a shaky Eli, and the prospects of play vs. sit in Week 17 against the Pats. I never thought I would say this, but the Giants were right to see Tiki leave and Tom stay.

Don’t allow R.W. McQuarters to see too much of Greg Jennings. White-hot in the regular season and now the playoffs, Jennings is an 80-yard touchdown reception threat every time a drive starts for the Packers. With Sam Madison, Kevin Dockery, and now Aaron Ross banged up, a lot will be asked of McQuarters. Pairing him with the likes of free agent rookie (from Howard University, of all places) Geoffrey Pope may be a glaring weakness that Favre tries to expose immediately. This spells even more responsibility for the linebackers, safeties, and the entire defensive coaching staff. Good luck.

Don’t fear Ryan Grant. As rookies will show you often, one minute they’ve fumbled their first two meaningful snaps and the next they have 201 yards and a couple of touchdowns. Grant’s numbers over the last eleven weeks surpass everyone, including LT. While running at home, potentially in the muck, is tempting to Grant, the Giants survived a dominant Marion Barber, III (100+ yards in the first half) and shut down the bruising back in the second half. While Grant is a different runner, the results must be similar this weekend.

Don’t stop believing. I firmly believe the Giants felt they would beat the Patriots. Ditto with the Bucs and Cowboys. Now, while every team must exude confidence in order to win, the Giants are basking in it. Don’t stop that train of thought. Not even for a second.

Green Bay Do’s and Don’t’s – Armin Mohajeri

Do let Brett Favre do what he does best and sling the rock long. Go for some big plays early. Donald Driver, Gregg Jennings and James Jones can eat the Giants secondary alive. There is nothing to fear about the Giants secondary other than the fact that they're been playing better than they truly are during the run the team has made. A couple of early TD passes by Favre should send the Giants secondary into a downward spiral as they come back to earth.

Do have confidence in your DBs. Woodson and Harris can shut down Plaxico and Amani. This is a match up of veteran WRs against veteran CBs. The veteran CBs won't succumb as easily to precise route running. With Nick Collins and Atari Bigby stepping up this season, they can work their switches in coverage and run a variation of the Cover 2 with the luxury of a linebacker covering TE Kevin Boss (who isn't going to win any foot races). This will allow the Packers front seven to go after Eli.

Do it for Brett. As cheesy as it sounds (and no, John Madden is not pushing me to say this), the Packers have to dedicate themselves to getting their captain back to the Super Bowl. Mark Schlereth said it best during an interview: one of the great motivating factors for his two Super Bowl rings with the Broncos was the fact that the team pulled together and said, "If we can't do it for ourselves, let's do it for John." Brett Favre has accomplished so much; he has dealt with so much adversity; he has suffered so much pain. Yet, he gets out there on the field and performs. He may already have a ring, but he deserves a shot to earn another.

Don't forget the RBs that got you here. Ryan Grant has proven to be a big-play back. He is as critical to the success of the Packers as any player on that squad this season. While the big plays should be flowing, the meat of the game should be using Grant (and Brandon Jackson who's had a few nice plays of late) to wear down the Giants front seven. Wearing down Strahan, Umenyiora and Tuck by constantly running at them will go a long way towards keeping them off Favre late in the game. Of course, unless there's some sort of sack record that Favre feels Strahan needs to break. Then, all bets are off.

Don't let Eli Manning beat you. The Cowboys had the right idea, though they still lost in the end. Go after Eli. Knock him down. It's highly doubtful that Eli will be able to pull off last second heroics if he's hearing footsteps. This will be the test to see whether Eli is maturing, or if he's the same old Eli that eventually folds under the pressure when his team needs him the most. Defensive Coordinator Bob Sanders should send two LBs to help Aaron Kampman in the pass rush. Keep an eye on Brady Poppinga, a former DE who the Giants should not forget.

Don't believe the hype. The Packers are the better team. However, the second they buy into the Giants and their hot play, the game is over. The Packers should take note of the Giants game against the Cowboys. The Cowboys played down to the Giants' level. This is how Cinderella teams are born. If they can overlook the hype and play the Giants for the team they are, the Packers shouldn't have too much problem putting them away. Be confident, yet not over-confident. However, this is much easier said than done.

Key Matchups - Sum Mehrnama

When New York has the ball

RBs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw vs. LBs Nick Barnett and AJ Hawk

Normally this paragraph would be about establishing and/or stopping the run. However, after witnessing the intriguing idea to lineup Jacobs and Bradshaw as wide receivers on numerous occasions, this is now a paragraph about the passing game. With Jeremy Shockey out, the Giants needed something different in their offense. Thus we had everyone utter a collective gasp of awe when Brandon Jacobs lined up wide and caught a pass as a TE or WR would normally catch. Barnett and Hawk were the better pass-defending LBs for the Packers this year, and they’ll need to be ready for the Giants duo to run underneath receiving routes. If they aren’t ready, then Eli Manning will hit some easy passes to his RBs and will hit his stride early.

When Green Bay has the ball

WR Donald Driver vs. the Entire Giants Secondary

Somehow, someway, the Giants secondary played better on Sunday after Aaron Ross exited the game and left them with exactly zero of their starting CBs in the game. Perhaps Ross’ heroics in using his injuried shoulder to bring down Marion Barber, III inspired his teammates, or perhaps it was the sense of urgency. Regardless, the secondary stepped up at that point (and also received a huge assist from the front-seven pressuring Romo). Unfortunately for the Giants, I think the injuries will leave their secondary exposed this weekend and that spells out an amazing opportunity for Donald Driver. New York’s corners will tire quickly and Driver should be able to capitalize for a career day … unless they manage to re-create that sense of team that carried them through the second half at Dallas. If that happens, then Driver will have to serve as a decoy in order to free-up Greg Jennings.

Intangibles – Sum Mehrnama


As cliché as it is, the weather is a huge intangible for this Sunday’s game in Green Bay. Last week, the frozen tundra resulted in the sack-happy Seahawks managing only one sack (which should’ve just been ruled a tackle for no gain). This week that same snow will require Steve Spagnuolo to devise some ingenious method of pressuring Brett Favre. Slippery conditions will slow down Osi Umenyiora, Michael Strahan and Kawika Mitchell as they rush the corners. Furthermore, Green Bay knows how to handle the snow. New York’s experience in this weather is greatly limited … in fact, the Giants may want to travel to the greater Boston area to practice in the 20 inches of snow they have up there.

Calm Quarterbacking

Both signal-callers have been prone to succumbing and thriving off of emotion during their careers. Eli Manning has become more accustomed to letting his emotions rattle him than inspire him, while Brett Favre (neé Madden) has both won and lost games due to emotional swings. This outcome of this game depends heavily upon which quarterback is more able to rely on calm and logical decision-making. The instant either of them becomes flustered, a mistake will be imminent. Favre returned to greatness this season by buying into a systematic game-plan rather than relying on his gun-slinging past. The Giants proved that they can beat a quarterback who resorts to gun-slinging (cough*Romo*cough). Eli, on the other hand, has seemingly stolen Peyton’s mojo the past three weeks and become, dare I say it, the better Manning. But we’ve seen his meltdowns far too often to expect them to be gone for good. In a sport that is dominated by clichéd mantras, it’s no surprise that these quarterbacks need to remember that slow and steady wins the race.

Final Predictions

Armin: New York wins, 23 – 20

Clement: Green Bay wins, 33 – 24

Summy: Green Bay wins, 24 – 21

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