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Eye on the Packers: Breaking Down the Matchup


*'s Michael Eisen scouts the opposing offense, defense, and special teams: *

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Two of the NFL's most venerable franchises will meet on the postseason stage Sunday when the Giants visit the Green Bay Packers in an NFC Wild Card Game in Lambeau Field. The Packers lead the postseason series, 4-3, but the Giants won the two most recent games in 2007 and 2011 -- both in Lambeau – on their way to victories in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI. The fifth-seeded Giants are a wild card team after compiling an 11-5 record and a second-place finish in the NFC East. Green Bay won its last six games, including a victory in Detroit Sunday night that clinched the NFC North title with a 10-6 record. The teams met in Green Bay on Oct. 9, when the Packers earned a 23-16 victory.

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What is the Packers' biggest strength?

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who Giants coach Ben McAdoo said is, "playing out of his mind right now." Out of this world is more like it. After the Packers fell to 4-6 with a loss in Washington on Nov. 20, Rodgers said, "I feel like we can run the table, I really do." And they did, thanks primarily to Rodgers, who threw 18 touchdown passes and zero interceptions in the final seven games, including that loss to the Redskins.

He might be the league's best quarterback at breaking out of the pocket and making plays on the move. And Rodgers has run more this year. He rushed for 42 yards on 10 carries in Detroit, and 369 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 5.5 yards a carry in the regular season.

What player is key to the Packers' offense?

Uh, that would be Aaron Rodgers. Let's see, he led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes and ranked second with 7.26 yards-per-attempt. He threw only seven interceptions. Rodgers' 104.1 passer rating is the highest in NFL history (minimum 1,500 attempts). But it's not just his throwing and running that frustrates opponents. Rodgers is masterful at getting his team a free five yards. When the defense substitutes, he often hurries up to the line and calls for the ball to be snapped. That resulted in a league-high seven opposition penalties for 12 men on the field. And his hard counts have drawn opponents offside 14 times. That's 130 extra yards in 5-yard increments.

What is the strength of the Packers' offense?

In keeping with our theme, it is the Rodgers-led passing game. The Packers have not run the ball as well as they'd like all season. Eddie Lacy, who ran for 81 yards against the Giants in October, is on injured reserve. James Starks has missed seven games, including the last three, with a concussion he sustained in an auto accident.

Their leading rusher is Ty Montgomery, who wears No. 88 because he's a converted wide receiver. So the Packers often substitute short passes for runs. Rodgers throws to a terrific trio of wide receivers in Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb (who combined for 232 catches, 2,864 yards and 30 touchdowns). Tight ends Jared Cook and Richard Rodgers each caught 30 passes, so Aaron Rodgers has plenty of targets to choose from.

What player is key to the Packers' defense?

Right outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who has returned to health after an early-season hamstring injury forced him to miss four games; he has been playing through a shoulder injury in recent weeks. The unit's best and most recognizable player, Matthews is a productive leader who always seems to be in the middle of everything happening on the field. Against Minnesota in Week 16, Matthews had a strip sack, two quarterback knockdowns, drew a holding penalty and batted down a pair of passes. Runner-up honors go to strong safety Morgan Burnett, who has kept the injury-depleted secondary together.

What is the strength of the Packers' defense?

An imposing front seven that excels at stopping the run. Green Bay finished eighth in the NFL, allowing 94.7 yards per game on the ground. The Packers' strength is inside, where tackle Mike Daniels and nose tackle Letroy Guion are quick and disruptive. Green Bay also had at least one sack in every game, and 40 for the season. Outside linebacker Nick Perry led the way with 11.0, and 15-year veteran Julius Peppers added 7.5, including four in the last six games.

What player is key to the Packers' special teams?

Kicker Mason Crosby, the Packers' career scoring leader with 1,267 points. This season, he scored 122 points while making 26 of 30 field goal attempts. Crosby is a proven postseason performer, hitting 23 of 25 attempts in 15 games, including his last 20 in a row dating back to 2010. The two misses were from 50 and 54 yards.

Based on the scouting report, the Giants must do this one thing to win:

Keep Rodgers in the pocket. He continually breaks the opposing team's will by breaking contain and then running or throwing for a first down. No quarterback makes as many big plays outside the pocket. If the Giants can keep him in there and put consistent pressure on him, they'll greatly enhance their chance of winning.

Statistics you should know:

  1. The Giants, Packers and Cowboys are all making their NFL-record 32nd postseason appearance.
  1. In the Packers' first 10 games, their turnover differential was minus-6 and their record was 4-6. In their last six games, their differential was plus-14, and they won all six games.
  1. The Packers have both the NFL leader in touchdown passes (Rodgers, 40) and touchdown receptions (Nelson, 14), the first time the Packers have had both since 1956, when the players were Tobin Rote and Bill Howton (both of whom played at Rice University).
  1. Green Bay was the NFL's second-best third-down team, converting 98 of 210 opportunities (46.7 percent).
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