Baranczyk/Christl column: Packers needed all their weapons to hold off Manning, Giants

Dec. 5, 2011

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Eli Manning isnít Aaron Rodgers, but heís playing at a high level. And maybe due to injuries and other reasons, the New York Giants arenít the team they are on paper. But theyíve still have some eye-popping talent in places.

Thatís largely why the Packers had their closest game yet in their march to 12-0. But what the Giants couldnít match was the Packersí number of big-play weapons. Opposing defenses canít bracket more than two receivers if theyíre covering five with seven. And with the emergence of Jordy Nelson as a big-play threat, it puts opposing defensive coordinators in a pick-your-poison predicament on almost every play.

That was evident again Sunday and particularly on the final drive when the Packers shredded the Giants for 68 yards on four plays in less than a minute to set up Mason Crosbyís game-winning field goal.

Matchup problems

Having lost their best cornerback, Terrell Thomas, to an injury in the preseason, the Giants clearly were concerned about protecting their corners and bracketing the outside receivers, or at least one outside receiver and Greg Jennings when he was in the slot.

Thatís why Jermichael Finley had a big day. He had favorable matchups. Whereas some teams have put a nickel back on him with a safety over the top, the Giants gambled and played him more one-on-one with a linebacker or a strong safety.

The last series manifested the challenge the Giants faced.

On Finleyís 24-yard catch to start the final drive, he lined up to the right along with Jennings and Nelson. One corner lined up head-up on Jennings with a safety behind him. James Jones was on the left side with a corner across from him and a safety in center field. That left Finley one-on-one to run an out against a linebacker playing inside leverage. Thatís a physical mismatch.

On Nelsonís 27-yard catch up the sideline, the Giants blitzed and Nelson was one-on-one against Will Blackmon, their fourth or fifth corner, with no safety in the picture.

On Jenningsí 18-yard catch, he was the slot receiver to the left with Jones outside him. Finley and Nelson lined up on the right side. The two safeties appeared to be focused on Jennings and Finley. But the corner across from Jennings played soft coverage, and Jennings caught the ball underneath him.

Jordy Nelson

Granted, Nelson gets some favorable matchups. But he also has emerged as a consistent playmaker. Maybe he doesnít have the extra gear that some of the great receivers possess, but he understands route running, and he has the ability to get in and out of cuts.

Heís kind of an Antonio Freeman type. Not a blazer, but just a good all-around receiver. In fact, Nelson might be better than Freeman. Thatís how talented the Packers are at the receiver positions. Freeman was their No. 1 receiver in their 1996, í97 Super Bowl years; and Nelson is viewed as the No. 3 threat on this yearís Packers.

Freemanís forte was the skinny slant. Nelson is better at running up the sideline and making those over-the-shoulder catches. That seems to be his forte: The go-route up the sideline. And thatís a tough catch. Donít forget, heís making those over-the-shoulder catches at full speed.

Plus, Nelson knows where he is on the field, and he has the body control to get his feet down in bounds. That was just a terrific catch on the last series. So was the 33-yarder in the first quarter.

Even comparing Nelson to Jennings, there are things Nelson does better. For example, heís more physical than Jennings. Jennings relies on his feet; Nelson is bigger and will go up and win a jump ball.

Dietrich-Smith & Newhouse

The Giants have a physical defensive line, and Marshall Newhouse and Evan Dietrich-Smith werenít physical enough to match up. Newhouse wonít face many defensive ends better than Jason Pierre-Paul, but he couldnít keep him out of the play whether it was run or pass. Newhouse got his weight out over his toes pass blocking, and he looked soft in the running game.

Inside, defensive tackle Linval Joseph had nine solo tackles. Dietrich-Smith has short arms, and he was playing against big guys with long arms. Thatís tough, but one of the ways to counteract it is by being physical. And Dietrich-Smith looks like more of a finesse player.

One of the problems with the running game was that the Packers werenít getting to the second level. Josh Sitton does a good job with that, and they missed him. But a bigger issue was that Newhouse and Dietrich-Smith werenít cutting off the backside pursuit.

Inside linebackers

Robert Francois got a little better as the game went on, but early, it was like his feet were stuck in wet cement. He has to press the line of scrimmage and be more physical against the run. Plus, he was backdooring plays. He has to play the scheme, not shoot windows behind the ball carrier.

And D.J. Smith is better when heís flying around and playing with leverage. When he stops and tries to take on blockers, heís in trouble. Thatís not his game. When that fullback or lead blocker comes out, he has to use his feet to get through him and not hand-fight him.

Those guys arenít going to be another Desmond Bishop and fill in the way Bishop did for Nick Barnett last year.

Former Press-Gazette sports editor Cliff Christl and former football coach and player Eric Baranczyk offer their analysis of Green Bay Packers games each week.

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