In the spirit of breaking down one of the Packers' potential playoff opponents, I spent approximately four hours yesterday breaking down the game film of Packers-Giants. Here are a few things to watch for in the event of a Green Bay-New York rematch.
-The Packers ran a very run-conscious version of their base 3-4, where they walked OLBs Erik Walden and Clay Matthews up to either side of the defensive ends and walked ILBs Robert Francois and D.J. Smith up about four yards off the line of scrimmage. It looked like an attempt to shore up the run defense with sheer numbers, since normal ILBs Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk were out. I counted nine plays where they had that particular formation, and the Giants threw on seven of them. TE Travis Beckum's 67-yard TD came against this formation, as did Matthews' pick-six. The Giants ran at least two run-pass options that the Packers covered well, but they chose overwhelmingly to pass against this formation.
-The next time you see a Giants game on TV, watch #80, WR Victor Cruz. He doesn't have the athletic gifts of teammate Hakeem Nicks, but Cruz is a spectacular route-runner. He can quite literally stop on a dime and start going full speed in the other direction before the defender can react. Cruz made Sam Shields and Charlie Peprah look silly on a couple of his catches, and beat Tramon Williams deep to the post for 42 yards. On that play, he gave a little nod to the sideline that threw Williams off just slightly, and then came back to the numbers for the catch. Watch him.
-Another player that bears watching is star defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. The Packers had better hope they get Chad Clifton back to play left tackle in the playoffs, because Marshall Newhouse was just consistently destroyed by Pierre-Paul. JPP is one of those physical freaks of nature; he's tall already (6'6"), but he has unbelievably long arms that extend his reach. ESPN says he has an 81-inch wingspan. If you watch Pierre-Paul in his stance, before the ball is snapped, his arms are so long that he can put his hands on the ground and have his back still be nearly horizontal. He beat Newhouse with speed to the outside and destroyed him with power on the inside with equal ease.
Pierre-Paul hit the Packers' quarterback three times and hurried him on six other plays. He also caused a sack of Aaron Rodgers by leaving him no room to escape from Justin Tuck, split a sack with Dave Tollefson that was nullified by penalty, destroyed Newhouse for three tackles-for-loss of Ryan Grant, absolutely demolished Jermichael Finley when the latter was asked to block him and batted down two passes. Heck, he even hurdled Brett Goode on the game-winning field goal. If the Packers see Pierre-Paul again in the playoffs, look out below.
-Also on the Giants' defensive line, Evan Dietrich-Smith had a rough day against Linval Joseph, the Giants' left defensive tackle. Dietrich-Smith was able to move Joseph about half the time, but far too often he let Joseph slip by him or flatten down the line to tackle Grant. Josh Sitton is better equipped to handle Joseph, being bigger and bulkier than Dietrich-Smith, so that's another player the Packers will hope to have back.
-In some positive news, the Giants have placed five cornerbacks on injured reserve this year, and what's left is Aaron Ross. Ross is not an instinctive player and can forget his assignments; he let Donald Driver run right by him for a wide-open 13-yard TD, and Greg Jennings had success against him on a couple of short comeback routes. Corey Webster wasn't great either, giving up a couple of plays along the sidelines, but Ross is definitely the weak link in the New York cornerback corps.
-Upon further review, Jordy Nelson might have had the best game of his career to date against the Giants. He caught only four passes, but they went for 94 yards and were all incredible sideline catches. Nelson caught a sideline bomb against Webster for 33, caught the ball falling out of bounds for 13 and a first down and beat former Packer Will Blackmon on two left-sideline go routes that totalled 48 yards. He had a 27-yarder on the game-winning drive, but his most impressive catch came with 7:08 remaining in the game. Here are my notes from that play:
Second and 10. Nelson makes probably the world’s all-time greatest catch on a sideline go route over Will Blackmon. Nelson begins by running upfield with his back to the QB. Nelson jumps and turns 180 degrees in mid-air, catches the ball at full extension, then turns back—still in mid-air—to somehow get both feet down on the sideline as he’s falling out of bounds. He did a complete 360 in mid-air and made a fantastic catch.
-The Packers have a favorable matchup when Charles Woodson blitzes against Giants TE Jake Ballard. Ballard is 6'6" and almost as heavy as an offensive lineman, and Woodson appeared almost too quick for him. He beat Ballard for two pressures with a nice spin move.
-When the Giants want to, they can just dominate by running Brandon Jacobs up the middle. On a drive that began at the 1-yard line after a Tim Masthay punt, the Giants ran Jacobs on five of the first seven plays for 33 tough yards. He's still an important part of the Giants' offense and is almost impossible to stop in short-yardage.
-Finally, Clay Matthews had a terrific game, and most of it came at the expense of right tackle Kareem McKenzie. Matthews beat McKenzie around the edge easily, but also was able to shove him aside with power and proceed to Eli Manning. McKenzie is nearing the end of his career and isn't nearly as good on his feet as he used to be, and it definitely showed against Matthews. He laid several good hits on Manning, and most of them were courtesy of McKenzie.