The first-place Giants will attempt to get back on track after two losses and a bye when they host the Green Bay Packers Sunday night in MetLife Stadium. The Giants are 6-4. Green Bay is 7-3 and has won five consecutive games, tying the Denver Broncos for the NFL’s longest current winning streak. This will be the teams’ third meeting in 11 months. On Dec. 4, 2011, Mason Crosby kicked a 31-yard field goal as time expired as the Packers improved to 12-0 with a 38-35 victory over the Giants. Six weeks later, the Giants traveled to Green Bay and routed the Packers, 37-20, in an NFC Divisional Playoff Game on their way to victory in Super Bowl XLVI. The Packers have a three-game regular-season winning streak and a four-game winning streak as visitors vs. the Giants. Green Bay leads the regular-season series, 27-21-2, and the postseason series, 4-3. The Giants won the last two playoff games played between the teams.
The Packers rank 18th in the NFL in offense with an average of 345.5 yards a game. They are 24th in rushing (99.2 yards per game) and 11th in passing (246.3). The Packers are ninth in the league in scoring with an average of 26.3 points a game and have scored at least 24 points in every one of their victories.
Green Bay is 10-3 on the road since the start of the 2011 season and one of the losses this year was a controversial defeat in Seattle that was the final game worked by replacement officials. The Packers have only nine giveaways, tying them with Baltimore and San Francisco for the league’s second-lowest figure. Their turnover differential is plus-seven and they have won 26 of their last 28 regular-season games in which they won the turnover battle.
The Packers’ offense is designed to emphasize the pass. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player, is having another superb season. He leads the NFL with a 107.3 passer rating and is second with 27 touchdown passes against only six interceptions. Rodgers is a rare quarterback talent with no physical limitations. He is third in the NFL in both the fourth quarter (111.8 rating) and on third down (111.5). Rodgers is an outstanding athlete who makes opponents defend the entire field. He has an explosive release and throws with both accuracy and touch. Rodgers also has more than 1,300 career rushing yards. His backup is first-year pro Graham Harrell.
Fullback John Kuhn was a 2011 Pro Bowler. He returned to action last week in Detroit after missing two games with a hamstring injury. Kuhn is a highly-productive runner, receiver and blocker. He scored three touchdowns – two rushing, one receiving - against the Giants in a Packers victory in 2010.
Green Bay has only two rushing touchdowns this season. Alex Green, a second-year pro with quickness and speed, is the Packers’ leading rusher with 272 yards. But he played just six snaps last week against the Lions. James Starks started at Detroit and ran for 74 yards on 25 carries. He is a first and second down power runner. Green and Starks stepped up when Cedric Benson suffered a Lisfranc injury in his foot at Indianapolis on October 7. Benson is on injured reserve but has been designated for return later in the season. Kuhn is often employed as the third down back. The Packers’ most dangerous runner has been wide receiver Randall Cobb, who has 115 yards on only eight carries, a 14.4-yard average.
Cobb headlines a deep and productive receiving corps that has thrived despite missing key components in several games. Greg Jennings, a 2011 Pro Bowler, had surgery on November 1 to repair an abdominal tear. He also has a groin injury and has not played since September 30, but is expected to return soon. Cobb has not missed a game and leads the team with 54 receptions, including nine last week. He is an explosive receiver with outstanding speed and sneaky moves. Jordy Nelson missed one game with a hamstring injury and most of another with a sore ankle, but leads the team with 577 receiving yards on 43 catches. He is a big, strong, sure-handed receiver who is smooth in his routes. James Jones has 42 catches, including a team-high eight for touchdowns. He has excellent speed, which enables him to track deep balls and accelerate once he gets the ball in his hands. Veteran Donald Driver plays about 14 snaps a game and has eight receptions this season.
Green Bay employs five tight ends, four of whom have played. The leader is Jermichael Finley, who has 32 catches and two touchdowns. Finley has a matchup advantage vs. most safeties and capitalizes with excellent instincts and coverage awareness. He has big-play ability in the passing game. Tom Crabtree plays in all the packages and is a vertical threat with a long upfield stride. He has touchdown catches of 72 and 48 yards and is a feisty line of scrimmage blocker. D.J. Williams has flashed impressive receiving skills. Ryan Taylor has lined up on the line of scrimmage and as an H-back and fullback. Andrew Quarless opened the season on the reserve/physically unable to perform list because of a severe knee injury he suffered in Week 13 last year. He was activated on November 7, but has yet to play in a game.
The Packers have had to reshuffle their offensive line because of the loss of right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who was placed on injured reserve last week with a dislocated hip suffered on November 4 vs. Arizona. T.J. Lang moved from left guard to right tackle and Evan Dietrich-Smith has settled in at guard. Lang is a tough, physical player with good pull speed. Left tackle Marshall Newhouse has unusually long arms and he keeps his feet moving on contact. Dietrich-Smith can play all three inside positions and tries to get an advantage with a quick first step. Right guard Josh Sitton has been the team’s best offensive lineman. He is a mauler in the run game who also has good instincts in pass protection. The center is 14-year veteran Jeff Saturday, who makes all the protection calls and is still paying at a high level. Greg Van Roten, an undrafted rookie, is the team’s top reserve lineman.
The Packers’ defense has significantly improved. The unit finished 32nd and last in the league last year, allowing an average of 411.6 yards game. Green Bay currently ranks 16th in the league, giving up 343.9 yards a contest. The Packers are 11th against the run (99.5 yards game) and 21st vs. the pass (244.4). They are 10th in scoring defense, allowing 20.7 points a game.
Green Bay made a commitment this year to improve its defense. Each of the Packers’ first six draft choices in 2012 was a defensive player. Five of them have made significant contributions – linebacker Nick Perry (who is now on injured reserve), ends Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels, cornerback Casey Hayward and safety Jerron McMillian, as has free agent safety Sean Richardson. The lone draft choice who hasn’t contributed as they hoped is linebacker Terrell Manning. Coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers played the rookies a lot early with the expectation that they would be ready to play important snaps late in the year. Green Bay’s pass rush and third-down defense are much-improved and 14 different players have at least one sack. The Packers have given up 30 plays of 20 or more yards; last year at this time, they had allowed 43.
They are, however, playing without three defensive starters. All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews is “doubtful,” according to coach Mike McCarthy, with a hamstring injury; defensive back Charles Woodson is sidelined indefinitely with a broken collarbone; and cornerback Sam Shields will miss his fifth consecutive game because of an ankle injury. Matthews has 9.0 sacks; the next closest Packer has 3.0.
Last week vs. Detroit, the Packers did not take one snap in their base 3-4 defense. They played nickel the majority of the game and switched to their dime on third down.
Nose tackle B.J. Raji, a Pro Bowler last season, is a space-eating, attacking run defender who can also pressure the passer. Raji missed two games with an ankle injury. Left end Ryan Pickett is a consistent run defender who takes good pursuit angles. Pickett and Raji sometimes switch positions. Right end C.J. Wilson played just 13 snaps last week but leads Green Bay’s defensive linemen with 2.5 sacks. Mike Neal is a reserve with a hot motor who does his best work on the edge. Worthy is a strong, quick lineman who is competitive and aware. Daniels gets about 12 snaps a game.
Brad Jones makes all the huddle calls and has been productive. The other inside linebacker, A.J. Hawk, leads the team with 85 tackles (64 solo), despite playing a reduced role. Hawk is a savvy defender who can blitz and handle the tight end in coverage. Outside backer Erik Walden reads schemes quickly and attacks the line of scrimmage. Without Matthews – who returned an interception for a touchdown against the Giants last year – the Packers have turned to rookie free agent Dezman Moses, who started last week and had three tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. Frank Zombo, who was on the reserve/PUP list for the season’s first nine games, made his debut vs. the Lions. He is a big, strong, competitive player who is particularly sturdy vs. the run.
The secondary is filling the voids left by the absences of Woodson and Shields. Cornerback Tramon Williams has started every game and usually covers the opposition’s best receiver. He is an instinctive player who opens his hips quickly and takes off when a wideout makes his break. The ball tends to find Williams, who has 22 career interceptions. Hayward, the second-round draft choice from Vanderbilt, has started the last four games and made the most significant impact among the rookies in the secondary. His five interceptions lead all NFL rookies. Hayward has an impressively quick closing burst when the ball is in the air. Davon House has played the last four games as a corner in the Packers’ nickel package, with Hayward moving inside to cover the slot receiver. Jarrett Bush is also in the cornerback rotation.
Free safety M.D. Jennings has good awareness, anticipation and recognition. He is an ascending safety who is strong in man coverage. Jennings returned an interception 72 yards for a touchdown last week. Morgan Burnett has played every defensive snap this season. He leads the secondary with 82 tackles (52 solo) and has 2.0 sacks and nine passes defensed. Jerron McMillian plays in the dime and has a natural feel for dropping into a zone. Richardson took his first NFL snaps last week.
Green Bay’s special teams have provided a spark at critical moments this season. The Packers scored on a fake field goal in Week 2, picked up a first down on a fake punt in Week 4 and recovered as surprise onside kick in Week 7.
Cobb is one of the NFL’s very best return specialists. He is seventh in the league with an 11.1-yard punt return average, including a 75-yard touchdown, and 12th with a 26.1-yard kickoff return average, with a long runback of 46 yards. Kicker Mason Crosby has missed seven of his last 13 field goal attempts, though four of them were longer than 50 yards. Punter Tim Masthay is also the holder and orchestrator of many of the fakes. He has a 44.5-yard gross average and 40.1-yard net average. Bush is the leading special team tackler with nine.