The old economic adage, “Past returns don’t indicate future performances,” applies perfectly to Sunday’s NFC Championship.
The Giants team that faces Green Bay in a rematch has gone through major changes after the Packers spoiled New York’s home opener in Week 2. And it’s those added weapons that will give New York a real shot at beating yet another elite team on the road.
The Giants now boast the best pass rush in the league—one that can shut down even the most mobile quarterbacks. Looking at how Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan finally tuckered out Dallas’s offensive line last week demonstrates how they could wreak similar havoc on Brett Favre. The Packers legend still moves around well in the pocket and makes breathtaking plays on the run even at the age of 38, like last week’s third-and-eight underhand toss to Donald Lee that resulted in a first down.. But the Giants now have a better grasp of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme, something they only started to understand after their Week 2 loss to the Packers.
The Packers, however, gave up only 19 total sacks this season, and, like last week, the Giants will have to be patient and wear down Green Bay’s tackles before they can hope to pressure Favre. In fact, players might want to watch tapes of the only team that beat the Packers twice this season: the Chicago Bears.
In those two games, Chicago dropped linebackers back to play a bigger role in pass coverage, forcing Favre to throw into traffic. The result was lots of deflected passes and two interceptions in each game. Considering the numerous injuries among the Giants’ secondary, Spagnuolo could use Antonio Pierce the same way Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher was utilized and drop him into coverage on passing plays. If the Giants take away the big yardage potential of Favre’s patented quick slants and force him to stand in the pocket and attempt longer throws over the middle, their pass rush might have time to pressure him.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Giants must do a better job of establishing the run against the Packers than they did against the Cowboys. Brandon Jacobs, who missed the last Packers game with an injury, makes for an ideal match-up in weather that’s supposed to hover around zero at game time. In bone-chilling cold, the advantage always goes to physical running backs who are unafraid to steamroll a defense.
Unfortunately for the Giants, that same rule applies to yet another player who was absent from their first game against the Packers: sensational Green Bay running back Ryan Grant, who ran for a franchise-record 201 yards last week in the win over the Seahawks and has given the Packers the fierce ground game they missed for most of the season.
Grant should have a tougher time doing anything like that this week, though. After all, this defense, and these Giants, bear little resemblance to the team that lost to Green Bay at the beginning of the season.