Eli Manning said he knows his New York Giants will have big-play opportunities against the Green Bay Packers’ league-worst defense in this weekend’s playoff game. It will be up to his offense to take advantage.
While the Packers scored more points than any team in the National Football League this season, no club surrendered more total yards (411.6) and more passing yards (299.8) than the defending Super Bowl champions.
Manning, 31, led the NFL in pass completions of 40 yards or longer this season, and connected with Hakeem Nicks for a 72-yard touchdown that all but sealed a 24-2 win over the Atlanta Falcons in the first round of the playoffs. The Packers defense, meanwhile led the NFL in interceptions.
“They try to make some big plays so they give up a few plays,” Manning told reporters yesterday. “We have to capitalize when we have opportunities to hit big plays, but be smart and don’t turn the ball over.”
The Giants (10-7) visit the Packers (15-1) on Jan. 15 and are 7 1/2-point underdogs in the last of this weekend’s four playoff matchups, which feature all eight of the NFL’s division winners for the second time since the league realigned in 2002.
While the Packers gave up a lot of yards -- many of them after opposing teams fell behind and were forced to pass in an effort to catch up -- their defense has also been opportunistic. Green Bay’s 31 interceptions this season were eight more than the next-closest teams, the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers.
“They do a good job of mixing up some different pressures, different looks,” Manning said. “They do a good job of everybody getting involved, everybody getting their hands on the ball, being aggressive with the defensive backs. They run around and play fast so they get opportunities.”
Manning passed for 347 yards and three touchdowns in the Giants’ 38-35 home loss to the Packers on Dec. 4. His counterpart, Aaron Rodgers, passed for 369 yards, four scores and led the last-minute drive that set up Mason Crosby’s 30-yard field goal as time expired.
Nicks said he isn’t concerned if this weekend’s game turns into another high-scoring shootout.
“I’m pretty confident in our offense, our running game, the way Eli is throwing the ball right now and the way the wide receivers are playing,” Nicks said.
Defensively, the Giants say they’ve improved since last month’s meeting between the teams.
In their playoff opener, the Giants didn’t allow the Falcons’ offense to score for the first time in 73 games. New York held Atlanta to a season-low 247 yards and now faces a Green Bay offense that led the NFL with 35 points a game.
Giants safety Antrel Rolle said the first game tape he watched this week was of the Packers’ lone loss this season, a 19-14 defeat against Kansas City on Dec. 18.
“They attacked them defensively, they were very physical,” Rolle said of the Chiefs. “They were more physical than Green Bay on that given day, and they won the game.”
Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said the key will be for Giants pass-rushers to play physical, get pressure on Rodgers and prevent him from running and making plays out of the pocket. Pierre-Paul had 16 1/2 sacks this season for the Giants, who tied for third in the NFL in that category and now have Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora back after injuries.
“It is going to be a tough challenge with Jason, Tuck, Osi and those guys,” Rodgers said. “They all offer their own difficulties when you try to block them and protect. It is going to be important to try to slow those guys down a little bit and for us to win those one-on-one matchups.”
Green Bay Winners
The Giants won their last playoff trip to Green Bay, beating the Packers in the National Football Conference championship after the 2007 season before upsetting the Patriots in the Super Bowl. The Giants peaked at the right time that season, and Manning said he thinks this team is showing similar improvement.
“We have to take advantage of this opportunity, it’s hard to get here,” Manning said. “We have guys healthy. We have people in the right positions doing good things. It’s just a matter of everybody coming together and continuing to play our best football during this time of the year.”