- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN Staff Writer
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If the Giants are going to advance to the NFC championship game, they have to find a way to solve the Rodgers Riddle on Sunday in Green Bay.
The Giants sacked Rodgers twice in each loss, but it wasn't nearly enough to slow him down. In order to contain Rodgers and the prolific Green Bay Packers offense, the Giants must be more physical than the Packers, pressure Rodgers, continue to be disciplined and eliminate all mental lapses.
"He is having the best season that I have ever seen," Giants defensive end Dave Tollefson said of Rodgers. "I grew up in the Bay Area -- Joe Montana, Steve Young, watching those guys. I am no guru, but I know a little bit about quarterbacks, and he is playing lights out."
LET'S GET PHYSICAL
The Packers have one blemish on their season, a 19-14 loss at Kansas City on Dec. 18.
The Giants studied the film, and each defensive player came away impressed with the Chiefs' physical play on defense.
"You can take a lot from that game," linebacker Michael Boley said. "K.C. did some things that a lot of teams didn't do; they hit them in the mouth and made it a real physical game."
The Giants are coming off three of their most physical defensive outings of the season. They held the Jets and Cowboys to 14 points each and shut out the Falcons' offense.
Going into their 24-2 win over the Falcons, the Giants' mission was to win the battle up front and stop running back Michael Turner, who finished with 41 yards rushing.
The Packers are more of a pass-first offense, but the Giants want to eliminate the running game so they can focus on Rodgers and the receivers.
"It just seems like a lot of the film with Aaron and those guys, the ball just finds ways to be in the right place at the right time," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "When it doesn't happen that way, it's normally when guys have knocked them off their rhythm and kind of have knocked the timing off. And it just buys that extra second for the rush to get there."
As good as Eli Manning has been in the midst of his best season, the Giants believe their pass rush will decide this game.
The Giants defensive line has faced the NFL's top three offenses -- New Orleans, New England and Green Bay -- with mixed results.
New York sacked Tom Brady twice, hit him three times and made the Patriots quarterback look uncomfortable for three quarters in a 24-20 win at New England on Nov. 6. But during their 49-24 loss at New Orleans on Nov. 28, the Giants hit Drew Brees six times but did not register a sack and could not cover the Saints' weapons. Brees shredded them for 363 yards and four touchdowns while running for another one.
During their 38-35 loss to the Packers the following week, the Giants hit Rodgers six times, but when the game was on the line, Rodgers needed just 58 seconds and four passes to drive the Packers 68 yards for the game-winning field goal. The Giants could not cover the Packers' receivers, and when the defense seemed to be in position, Rodgers still found a way to deliver pinpoint passes.
"He's kind of like Houdini out there," defensive tackle Chris Canty said. "He avoids pass rushes. He avoids that initial surge."
The Giants are getting to the quarterback, having collected 13 sacks in their past three victories. They believe Rodgers will face an even better defense this time around.
Osi Umenyiora did not play, and Tuck was banged up with injuries during that Dec. 4 loss. Green Bay's offensive line wasn't at full strength either, as left tackle Chad Clifton and right guard Josh Sitton did not play. Rodgers will have his starting offensive line in front of him Sunday.
But the Packers have to deal with a healthy Umenyiora and Tuck to go with Pro Bowl end Jason Pierre-Paul.
"Having Osi Umenyiora back is a big plus," former Giant Michael Strahan said on a Fox conference call this week. "He's a potential game-changer because he's one of the best at creating turnovers on strips of the quarterback. Having those three on the field at any point is a problem for any offensive line."
When Rodgers last saw the Giants, they were prone to mental lapses and communication breakdowns. They allowed one of Driver's two touchdowns on a breakdown in the secondary. The Giants have since cleaned up their act, with players communicating and knowing their roles better.
In their last meeting, Boley was just coming back from a hamstring injury and admittedly was only at 70 percent while playing 50 snaps. The Giants had third safety Deon Grant relaying plays into the huddle at times while also playing linebacker Chase Blackburn after signing him off his couch earlier that week.
With Boley back full time, the Giants' communication is smoother.
"[Having a healthy Boley] is definitely going to make a big difference," Grant said. "Guys were out there guessing because they were switching around and guys getting more playing time than they expected."
The Giants say they are a better and more confident defense now, but they'll learn how much better equipped they are to handle Rodgers early on.
The last time they were in Lambeau was Dec. 26, 2010. They gave up two touchdowns to the Packers in the first quarter -- including an 80-yard catch-and-run by Nelson -- and fell behind 14-0. The Giants stormed back to tie the game in the second quarter, but Rodgers and the Packers outscored the Giants 31-3 after that for a 45-17 rout.
The Giants have seen what happens when they spot Rodgers or Brees a lead. It isn't pretty.
"When they get leads, you might as well start packing your bags," Tuck said. "I would say this team and the Saints play the best I have ever seen as far as having leads and allowing their athleticism to just take over at that point."
That's why the Giants' athletic pass rush will have to match Rodgers' greatness Sunday.
"This defense goes as this D-line goes," Tuck said. "We can definitely take over games. And we haven't done that yet."
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