EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.** – The last four times they faced the Green Bay Packers, the Giants knew exactly what they were confronting in the opposing quarterback. In Aaron Rodgers, they were up against one of the NFLs' very best at his position, a passer with a career 65.8 completion percentage and a 180-56 touchdown/interception ratio.
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Rodgers broke his collarbone on the Packers' first possession against Chicago on Nov. 4. His replacement, Seneca Wallace, went down with a groin injury in the first series last week against Philadelphia. The Packers lost both games and will try to right their ship Sunday with Scott Tolzien, whose last start was for the University of Wisconsin in the 2011 Rose Bowl against TCU.
So after playing this season against the likes of Peyton Manning, Tony Romo and Cam Newton, what's so tough about facing Scott Tolzien?
"Everything," said cornerback Terrell Thomas, "because you don't know what to expect. They can bring out a different (scheme for him), but the great thing is that we've faced this challenge a couple times this year against backup quarterbacks. Our coaches do a great job preparing us for the worst-case scenario. We'll prepare, like always, as if Aaron was playing. He's a good quarterback and we've got to get another win come Sunday."
That they do. The Giants have won three consecutive games and at 3-6 are back in the race for the NFC East title. But they can ill-afford to stumble, which is why they must prepare for Tolzien as if he's a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback. And given how well he played last week with virtually no preparation, perhaps that isn't too far-fetched. When Wallace went down, Tolzien stepped up and completed 24 of 39 pass for 280 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
"I thought the young man did a great job when he came in," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. "He might not have taken any snaps in that practice (week) versus Philly, but he came in and ran the offense. They bogged out of the red zone, so obviously he'll get snaps in the red zone and will probably be more efficient this week."
Tolzien, who threw for 5,271 yards in 29 games at Wisconsin, spent the previous two seasons as the San Francisco 49ers' third-string quarterback. But he never played in a regular-season game until last week.
"He's obviously a smart guy," linebacker Jon Beason said. "You're the third guy in, your backup gets hurt, you don't expect to play and he went in and he was prepared and threw for almost 300 yards. If you do that every game, you're one of the elite quarterbacks in this league. He's more than capable."
The Packers certainly believe that.
"I think everybody in the building feels really good about Scott prior to the game," coach Mike McCarthy said. "This young man's work ethic is second to none. He puts a lot of time in and our whole practice squad group has really bonded and they do a lot of extra work and you can definitely see the promise in Scott."
The Giants played Rodgers and the Packers twice in 2011 (once in the postseason) and again last year. Fewell expects little change in Green Bay's scheme with Tolzien taking the snaps.
"I think (we'll see) Mike McCarthy's offense," Fewell said. "I didn't see it change last week."
Without Rodgers, the Packers have relied more heavily on their rushing attack, specifically rookie back Eddie Lacy, a second-round draft choice from Alabama. He is eighth in the NFL with 669 rushing yards and has scored four touchdowns. A big, bruising back, Lacy ran for a season-high 150 yards vs. Chicago on Nov. 4, the game in which Rodgers was injured. When Lacy needs a breather the Packers use James Starks, who is averaging 5.7 yards a carry.
"I think (Lacy) is a very gifted running back, hard-nosed runner, very agile and also definitely has some explosiveness to him," safety Antrel Rolle said. "(He is) just a straight, downhill runner. I think he's definitely giving them some balance, and Lacy to go along with Starks, I think that's a great combination that they have there."
"The best thing we can do is stop Lacy," Thomas said. "Even when Aaron was playing, they've been running behind him. He's a big back and we've got to do a better job in stopping the run. We let (Oakland's Rashad) Jennings get too many yards on us last week, so that's the number one focus, stopping him and putting all the pressure on the quarterback."
Fewell expects no decline in his players' intensity because they are facing a relative unknown and not a former Super Bowl MVP in Aaron Rodgers.
"We're trying to win football games." Fewell said. "We're trying to put wins in the bank, so we're behind the eight ball right here. We don't talk about letdown, we talk about winning this game, no matter who is at quarterback. We talk about winning this game and preparing to win this game."
To do that, the Giants will have to stop Eddie Lacy and Scott Tolzien. Who would have thought that a month ago?