I know it's been a few months since the Packers' playoffs ended, but I just got around to watching the Packers-Giants tape. So if you'll bear with me for just a minute longer here (because it's early June and what's a football blogger to do?), I'll go over a few general things that I saw in the Packers' ignominious playoff end.
-The Packers kept safeties Morgan Burnett and Charlie Peprah back deep for almost the entire game, and the corners tended to give dangerous Giants recievers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks a lot of cushion on the outside. In addition, Green Bay played a huge amount of zone coverage throughout the game. The Giants were able to exploit this by just biting off chunk after chunk of yardage; 15 yards here, 17 yards there. Only once, on the half-ending Hail Mary throw to Nicks in the end zone, did Eli Manning air the ball out farther than 20 yards downfield. The Packers' corners kept expecting them to go deep and they never did.
-Hakeem Nicks physically dominated the Packers' cornerbacks. It wasn't that Tramon Williams or Sam Shields was in poor coverage, it was more that he outmuscled them for the reception or shielded them from the ball with his body, as he did on the Hail Mary touchdown. On one 29-yard gain, Shields was in good position to make the interception, but at the decisive moment Nicks simply got his hands in front of Shields and took the ball away. Shields bounced off the big reciever and Nicks ran for another ten yards.
-There's also that nagging 70-yard touchdown, where Peprah put everything he had into a hit on Nicks and didn't do more than bruise him.
-I never thought I'd say this, but the Packers really missed Brandon Jackson out there. After John Kuhn went out with an injury in the second quarter, the Packers found themselves without a good pass-protecting back, and Kuhn's various replacements eventually allowed two drive-killing sacks. On third and 5 late in the second quarter, LB Michael Boley shoved James Starks out of the way, then turned inside to sack Aaron Rodgers. And on fourth and 5 early in the fourth quarter, when the Packers were on the drive, Boley embarrassed Brandon Saine around the corner and sacked Rodgers again.
-Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk had excellent games. Hawk was rarely tested in coverage, but Manning appeared to be targeting Bishop early. On three passes to tight end Jake Ballard, Bishop didn't allow a completion. He also made two tackles for loss, stopped Brandon Jacobs on third and short and put a couple of devastating hits on Manning. Hawk also looked very instinctive; he put a hit or two on Manning himself, and slashed through the line to grab Ahmad Bradshaw by the legs on second and short.
-Clay Matthews was almost invisible, though. I don't remember noticing him more than once, when he arrived on the scene late during a Brad Jones sack of Manning.
-Overall, though, I thought the Packers' defense performed much better than they had for the balance of the season. Yes, there were the two abominable Nicks touchdowns, and they gave up boatloads of passing yardage, but the Packers forced the Giants to settle for field goals after making it to the 13, 21, 5 and 17-yard lines (and blocked one of those tries). They forced a pair of punts in the third quarter when the offense was trying to come back, and kept the game reasonably close until late in the fourth quarter. That was when a Ryan Grant fumble gave New York the ball on the Packers' 3-yard line, and let's be honest, the '00 Ravens would have had some trouble in that situation.
-On the other hand, the Packers' offense was just horrendous. They were able to move the ball well at times, but either turned the ball over or screwed up before they made it to the end zone. Rodgers looked like he was having trouble compensating for the wind, and the recievers dropped pass after pass. (However, only one of those passes--a Tom Crabtree drop on third and 7--was drive-ending. The Packers overcame most of the other drops, excepting the infamous Jermichael Finley dive-and-miss that I don't consider a drop.)
It's hard to know what went wrong there, although a combination of deep Giants' safeties and gusting winds took away the deep passes that the Packers used to such great effect all season. That couldn't have helped, but it shouldn't have mattered that much. New York had minimal trouble with the elements, and the Packers looked flustered all game long.