Thursday, December 1, 2011
How the Giants can shock the world
By Dan Graziano
The Giants need more production from Jason Pierre-Paul and the front four to beat Green Bay.
No chance, right? The New York Giants are coming off one of their most humiliating losses in recent memory. They've lost three in a row and their division lead. Their season is spiraling downward, and this week's opponent is... the Green Bay Packers?
It's hard to find anyone out there who thinks the Giants have a chance to win this game. But if that's what you're looking for, you've found it. Yes, in spite of the unchallenged awesomeness of the Super Bowl champion Packers, in spite of how bad the Giants have looked in their last two games, in spite of the injuries to Osi Umenyiora and Mario Manningham and Ahmad Bradshaw and most of the rest of the team picture, the Giants have a real chance to pull the upset and shock the world.
Start with the Xs and Os. The Giants clearly have enough in the passing game to outscore the Packers, if that's what it takes to win. The brilliant Charles Woodson notwithstanding, the Packers have allowed the second-most passing yards in the league this year. They lead the league with 22 interceptions, but as long as Eli Manning can be as responsible with the ball as he's been for most of this season, he should be able to find paydirt with Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks down the field. If it's to be a shootout, you'd of course favor Aaron Rodgers and his arsenal over almost anyone. But the Giants are equipped for a shootout, so it's no gimme for the Pack.
The Giants' running game is the worst in the league, statistically, but if Bradshaw can return from his foot injury and play Sunday as he says he's planning to, he'll help as a runner, a pass blocker and a screen receiver -- three things the Giants sorely need no matter who they're playing. The Packers want to pressure the passer and force him into those interceptions on which they thrive. If Bradshaw can play, he brings with him at least the threat of a run game, which should help keep the Green Bay defense honest.
Which is all well and good, but the key question is how to stop Rodgers and the Packers' offense. And that's much trickier, especially considering how bad the Giants were on defense against the Saints. This entire concept -- the idea that they can win Sunday -- is based on the idea that the Giants' defense will actually show up for the game. It posits that they will play harder, look more hungry and less instantly defeated than they did on Monday Night. If they come out as flat as they were in their last two games, you can forget everything you're reading here.
Aaron Ross will have his hands full trying to stop the Packers' powerful passing game.
But there are a number of reasons to think they won't, and those will be addressed here soon. First, the game plan for stopping Rodgers: The Giants will need to keep their safeties deep and count on cornerbacks Corey Webster and Aaron Ross to have good, nimble coverage games. That pair will need to be able to change up routes along with the receivers and, with that deep safety help, take away the Packers' big-play ability down the field. The Giants were able to do this in their Week 3 victory over the Eagles in Philadelphia, and they can do it again if Webster and Ross play their absolute best.
They'll also need their linebackers to stay home and not bite on Rodgers' play-action fakes. This will be a challenge, because the Giants' linebackers are a bunch of rookies and rookies can be easily duped by a veteran as brilliant as Rodgers. But if the Giants' coaching staff can spend the week successfully drilling into the heads of those linebackers that the Packers' run game is little more than a red herring -- that Green Bay doesn't have the depth and variety of running back options that hurt them in New Orleans -- they should find themselves in position to make plays in the middle of the field and handle the Packers' screen game. None of this means Rodgers won't throw for a ton of yards, or that he can't pick apart a defense that's playing this kind of two-deep shell. But if he has to settle for short stuff and moving the ball down the field in methodical (rather than breathtaking) fashion, that gives the Giants more opportunities to make the kinds of plays they need to make to stop him. Which are, of course...
Sacks. The Giants must rediscover a pass rush that has gone missing. They've collected just five sacks in their past four games and didn't get Drew Brees even once Monday night. The Giants' defense simply does not work unless its front four can get hits on the quarterback. And lately, as teams have discovered that and used more max-protect schemes and draw plays to keep the front four at bay, the Giants' defense has been ordinary. With Umenyiora out, it's going to be on Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul to find ways to Rodgers. The Packers' offensive line probably will still be missing left tackle Chad Clifton, and although Marshall Newhouse has filled in nicely, Pierre-Paul should be able to handle him. If Michael Strahan's visit Wednesday can fire up the defensive line the way it did last season before the Bears game in which it sacked Jay Cutler nine times in the first half, you could see a renewed energy from the most important group the Giants put on the field.
And in the end, that's the real key. The Giants need to summon everything they can emotionally. They need to remember that they were the ones who started the Packers' current 17-game win streak when they went up to Green Bay and lost 45-17 on the day after Christmas last year. They need to muster some anger over that game, which cost them their playoff spot at least as much as the previous week's collapse against the Eagles did. And they need to convince themselves that they're the ones who can stop the streak they started.
They'll also need every ounce of their patented us-against-them mojo. The Giants have the reputation of a team that wins games no one else thinks it can win. That rep may have taken a hit Monday, but it was alive and well a month ago when the Giants went to New England and beat the Patriots. And it's rooted in a Super Bowl XLII victory over a team that came in on an 18-game winning streak and seemed even less beatable than these Packers seem. There are still players in the Giants' locker room who remember that game, and who know that there is no such thing as a game you can't win.
The Giants will be playing at home, with their backs stuck firmly to the wall, with the entire world convinced they have no chance to win. That's when they're at their most dangerous. You want to get the Giants mad, make them play with heart and courage and in-your-face toughness? Best way to do that is tell them they have no chance.