NFC Playoff Preview: Can The Packers Stop The Four Horsemen Of The Sack-pocalypse?

The Green Bay Packers host the New York Giants in the biggest game at Lambeau Field since the infamous NFC Championship in 2007, when a young Eli Manning outplayed Brett Favre in Favre’s final game as a Packer and launched the Giants into the Super Bowl. After playing four playoff games on the road and the Super Bowl in the last two years, the Packers are finally back at the Frozen Tundra for this year’s Divisional Round game.

In their Week 13 matchup, the two teams battled right down to the wire with the Packers narrowly escaping. The Giants scored late to tie the game, but left too much time on the clock for Aaron Rodgers and Co. as they sprinted down the field for the game-winning field goal. 

Since the loss, the Giants have turned the page and gotten hot quickly. They will ride into Wisconsin with full confidence expecting to take down the NFC’s top seed.

The Giants are coming off a dominating 24-2 Wild Card performance against the Atlanta Falcons, and are looking to carry forward the momentum they built in the second half of that game. On the other hand, the Packers come off their bye with a healthy football team, and have no trouble scoring early and often. As Rodgers’ 11-0 touchdown to interception ratio in the first quarter, and 22-2 ratio in the first half attests: this team simply does not dig holes for itself.

Rodgers and the rest of the Packers offense will get theirs when they are on the field. The question becomes will Eli Manning and the Giants do enough to keep up with the Packers? The answer is no. They have the ability to, but the Giants can’t afford to be careless with the ball and the Packers defense is hungry to prove themselves. 

What This Game Comes Down To:

Can the Giants front four can get to Rodgers enough to disrupt his game?

The New York Giants have one of the most talented defensive fronts in the NFL, and their mission will be to knock the hell out of Aaron Rodgers as frequently as possible. The Packers’ offensive line has been solid, even with the shuffling late in the year, and kept Rodgers upright.

As healthy as they have been since opening day, the Packers offensive line faces a huge test from the Giants defense. The group is extremely talented and will find ways to get to Rodgers throughout the game. 

One of Rodgers biggest assets is his ability to get outside the pocket and away from pressure. He will need to do this against the Giants with defenders barreling down. While the Giants will get to Rodgers at times, the Packers should be able to do enough on most downs to allow Rodgers time to work.

What the Kansas City Chiefs defense did in the Packers’ lone loss this season – generating pressure with its front four, dropping seven or eight defenders into coverage – showed other teams the way to slow down the NFL’s highest-scoring offense.  It’s hard to deny that if the Giants can generate pressure on Rodgers with their front four, they give themselves a much better chance to win than if they blitz Rodgers.

Not So Fast

According to STATS Inc, Rodgers ranked No. 1 in the NFL in 2011 against the blitz with a 131.4 passer rating (85 of 125, 1,500 yards, 11 touchdowns, two interceptions). He also led the NFL in passer rating against the blitz last season and was second in the NFL in the category in 2009. Over the past three seasons, Rodgers has been the NFL’s best quarterback against the blitz with a 114.7 passer rating.

It’ll be up to the Packers’ reassembled starting offensive line to negate that advantage. The starting fivesome – left tackle Chad Clifton, left guard T.J. Lang, center Scott Wells, right guard Josh Sitton and right tackle Bryan Bulaga – is set to start its first game together since Bulaga went down with a knee injury in Week 3 in Chicago.

Beyond Pierre-Paul, the Giants rotate a cadre of talented defensive linemen, including ends Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Dave Tollefson and tackles Linval Joseph, Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard. Of the Giants’ 48 sacks, 41.5 have come from defensive linemen.

The Packers can ill-afford to have Rodgers under duress all game long. If the line gives him time, the Giants are susceptible in the back end. New York ranked 29th in the 32-team league in passing yards allowed – only the New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots and the league-worst Packers gave up more yardage through the air – and allowed Rodgers to complete 28 of 46 passes for 369 yards with four touchdowns and one interception (106.2 rating).

Simply put: if Aaron Rodgers remains upright, the Packers walk into the NFC Championship game.