Long-drive proficiency pivotal for Packers

Eric Goska, For USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
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The road to Texas, NRG Stadium and Super Bowl LI is open.

Green Bay Packers tight end Richard Rodgers (82) drops a pass in the end zone during the first half during the  Green Bay Packers 23-16 win over the  New York Giants at Lambeau Field on Sunday, Oc. 9, 2016.

On Sunday, the New York Giants will seek to halt Green Bay’s postseason drive long before it reaches hailing distance of Houston.

The Packers host the Giants in a wild-card game at Lambeau Field. It’s the first leg of a journey both teams hope will culminate in a championship.

New York boasts a defense that easily could end the Packers’ season. It lurks near the top of the league in a number of categories.

In yards allowed (5,435), it ranks 10th. In points given up (284), it is second behind the New England Patriots (250).

This season, New York is without equal when it comes to preventing long drives by the opposition. The team is more effective than a traffic court judge revoking a license.

Every year, the NFL tweaks its product. In 2016, touchbacks on kickoffs were brought out to the 25-yard line of the receiving team instead of the 20.

For our purposes, that change means we’ll consider drives of 75 yards or more. Often that is the distance a team must go to reach the end zone.

According to pro-football-reference.com, 5,844 drives consisting of one or more plays were undertaken this past season. A total of 773 stretched for 75 yards or more.

That works out to an average of 24 per team. New York is not average.

The Giants have allowed a league-low 14 drives of 75 yards or more. Thirteen resulted in touchdowns, one in a field goal.

New York has not permitted more than two long advances in any one game. None of the other 31 teams can make that claim.

In five games, the Giants did not allow any. The team was unbeaten in those contests.

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The Giants have made big strides from a year ago. In 2015, they allowed 35 drives of 75 or more yards. Only the New Orleans Saints with 40 permitted more.

New York’s numbers remained low despite being frequently tested. Opponents launched 197 drives against them, the second most behind the 202 of the San Francisco 49ers.

The Giants’ reluctance to give up long drives and the fact that they have been challenged so often suggests that the drives that do occur on their watch tend to be relatively short. Indeed, offensive forays against New York last on average 5.39 plays, a duration that ranks as the seventh shortest.

Teams having to travel more than 80 yards against the Giants likely will come up short. Only one club negotiated that distance.

That was the Steelers who trekked 88 yards in a 24-14 win on Dec. 4. Pittsburgh used seven plays and took three minutes, 21 seconds off the clock to reach the end zone on a 20-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Ladarius Green.

Why focus on long drives? To do so reveals the Giants are not as invincible as they might appear.

New York surrendered 1,088 yards on the 14 lengthy drives it allowed. Opponents ran 113 plays and averaged a healthy 9.63 yards per play.

Outside of those long advances, the Giants were far more unyielding. They gave up 4,347 yards on 949 plays for a much stingier average of 4.58.

So, if Green Bay can get in rhythm, it can do some damage. It demonstrated as much when these two teams met in early October.

The Packers were one of only three teams (Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles) to mount two drives of 75-plus yards against the Giants in the same game. Both occurred in the first half as Green Bay built a 17-6 lead.

The first offensive was the biggest in terms of number of plays and time elapsed to hit New York all season. Aaron Rodgers directed a 16-play drive that consumed eight minutes, 42 seconds and was capped by a 2-yard TD pass to Jordy Nelson.

The second was one of only three 80-yard drives staged against the Giants. Rodgers concluded that five-play affair with a 29-yard TD pass to Davante Adams.

If the Packers can replicate such efforts, they might avoid losing to New York for a third straight time in the playoffs. Such offensive firepower might put them, and not the Giants, in the driver’s seat.

Extra points

The Packers launched 32 drives of 75 yards or more. That was good for a third-place tie with the San Diego Chargers for most in the NFL behind the Atlanta Falcons and Saints with 41 each.

New York last led the league in fewest 75-plus drives allowed in 2007. It permitted eight to tie the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys for that honor

pro-football-reference.com and nflgsis.com served a resources for this article.

Postseason series

Overall: Green Bay leads 4-3

At Lambeau Field: Giants lead 2-1

Starting quarterbacks

Packers: Aaron Rodgers (7-6 overall; 0-1 vs. New York)

Giants: Eli Manning (8-3; 2-0 vs. Green Bay)

Driving 75

The six teams that allowed fewer than 20 drives of 75 or more yards in 2016. The Falcons permitted the most at 35.

No.   Team            Record

14     Giants          11-5

16     Patriots        14-2

18     Broncos        9-7

18     Texans         9-7

19     Cardinals     7-8-1

19     Seahawks     10-5-1

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