Dougherty: Packers get Giants rematch
DETROIT - So the Green Bay Packers’ nemesis will come to Lambeau Field to open the playoffs
This will be mostly a different New York Giants team than the ones that raided Lambeau in the 2007 and ’11 playoffs and upset Mike McCarthy’s teams. For starters, former McCarthy assistant Ben McAdoo, not Tom Coughlin, is the Giants’ coach.
But these Giants have many of the same qualities that those Giants teams had, and that has to be a concern for the Packers. They have several of the ingredients that history shows it takes to beat McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
That is, the Giants have one of the NFL’s better defenses (No. 3 in points and No. 11 in yards going into the final regular-season weekend), and more to the point, they have cornerbacks who can match up with the Packers’ receiving corps. Janoris Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and first-round pick Eli Apple are one of the better cornerback trios in the league and give the Giants a real chance in coverage if their pass rushers can keep Rodgers in the pocket.
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The Giants of ’07 and ’11 had dominant defensive lines, which this Giants team doesn’t. But just as important as pressuring Rodgers is keeping him from getting outside the pocket and making big plays that convert third downs or put points on the board. The Giants can do that with scheme if not talent.
We saw what a weapon Rodgers is again Sunday night in the Packers NFC North title-clinching 31-24 win over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Time and again, especially in the second half, Rodgers (126.0 rating) tore out the Lions' heart by escaping pressure and throwing a dart, like on his 10-yard touchdown to Geronimo Allison that put the Packers ahead 23-14 early in the fourth quarter. Rodgers actually scrambled twice on that play, if you can believe that.
Along with the ability to cover, the Giants also have a quarterback who’s good enough to give them a fighting chance. Eli Manning can run hot and cold, but as his two Super Bowl rings and upset wins at Lambeau in those title runs prove, he can get hot and play well with the money on the line. The Giants aren’t an explosive offense, but they have one of the NFL’s most dynamic receivers in Odell Beckham Jr. A big day or even a couple big plays from him could be the difference in a game.
The Packers are peaking offensively, so they’ll be hard to stop. Rodgers played at an MVP level again Sunday night -- in the last six games, he's thrown 15 touchdown passes and no interceptions. He dominated the second half and with his defense staggering and up only six points put the game away with a 75-yard touchdown drive that killed most of the final 7½ minutes of the game.That is how a team with the Packers' shaky defense has to finish a game.
And the offense keeps getting a little better. Geronimo Allison (four catches, 91 yards) showed for the second straight game that he’s a player the Packers need to get on the field a lot even if Randall Cobb returns from an ankle injury this week. And Ty Montgomery and Aaron Ripkowski combined for 105 yards rushing on 17 carries, proving the Packers’ run game remains viable. This offense will be tough to slow down in the postseason.
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But Manning has a good chance to keep pace, because the Packers’ secondary is in shambles.
By game’s end, cornerbacks Quinten Rollins (neck), Damarious Randall (knee, along with previous groin and shoulder) and backup Makinton Dorleant (knee) were out. That left Micah Hyde and LaDarius Gunter as the outside cornerbacks, with safeties Morgan Burnett and Kentrell Brice manning the slots in the nickel and dime, and Marwin Evans playing occasionally at safety. Josh Hawkins, another deep backup cornerback, was inactive Sunday but probably will have to play against the Giants. No one could have envisioned in August that this would be the Packers' secondary come playoff time.
Rollins’ injury was scary and required him to be strapped to a stretcher before he was taken to the hospital. The Packers said he was conscious and had movement in his extremities, but even in a best-case scenario you’d think the chances of him playing this week are minimal. Randall wasn’t able to return, so who knows if he’ll be available, either?
And regardless, the Lions picked on both with great success before they left the game. The Packers won basically because their offense took over in the second half. Stops are not coming easily for coordinator Dom Capers’ defense.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford piled up 347 passing yards. He’s a talented quarterback and having his best season, but in the playoffs the Packers are going to see talented quarterbacks. They need to find a way to compensate for the coverage issues, either by playing with a lead or getting constant heat on the passer.
Regardless, the Packers fulfilled Rodgers’ call for running the table, and that six-game winning streak puts them in the playoffs for the eighth straight year. McCarthy joins Bill Belichick, Tom Landry and Chuck Noll as the only coaches to have done that with one team. That's fast company.
They got their division title and a wild-card home game in the playoffs — Detroit will travel to Seattle for its playoff opener. But they also drew a tough matchup. Maybe they can exorcise some Giants demons. But the Giants have the make-up to win a playoff game in Lambeau yet again.
NFL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans, 3:35 p.m., ESPN
Detroit Lions at Seattle Seahawks, 7:15 p.m., NBC
Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers, 12:05 p.m., CBS
New York Giants at Green Bay Packers, 3:40 p.m., FOX