It’s not worth comparing this Sunday’s divisional playoff matchup to the 2007 NFC title game that saw the New York Giants knock off No.4 and the second-seeded Green Bay Packers.
Both teams have changed dramatically over the past four years, as have most teams in the league. In 2008, the Packers handed the franchise reins over to Aaron Rodgers and then employed a new defensive scheme. The Giants have since become much more pass-happy on offense. However, one aspect of Tom Coughlin’s Giants has not changed in four years: the prowess seen in the Giants’ defensive line.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Giants win games with their defensive line. New York features one of the best pass rushing trios in the NFL in Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul. The three terrorized quarterbacks throughout the fall, combining for 30.5 sacks during the regular season. The Giants got another four more sacks out of inside pass rusher Chris Canty, who makes the D-line even better.
Sunday will be no walk in the park for the Giants, however, as an emotional Packers squad finally became healthy. The Giant defensive front will be lining up against a Packers O-line that just saw tackles Chad Clifton and Bryan Bulaga return to the starting lineup. Center Scott Wells has enjoyed a pro bowl season while guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton are two of the NFC’s best of breed.
One factor working in the Giants’ favor is the fact that the Packers’ O-line hasn’t played together for more than a quarter since the beginning of the season. In the NFL, chemistry within an offensive line often goes underrated. Clifton played for about a quarter in the season finale but there is a big difference between playing on a snap count and playing an entire game.
If the unit starts the game out of sync – and the Giants manage to get on the board quickly – the Packers could be in trouble. The Packers’ front five must also stay focused in their first meaningful game in weeks. Green Bay has been very discipline on the penalty front all season long. I see no reason why that trend would unravel this week.
Both teams’ performance in the trenches in their last postseason meeting played a role in the game’s outcome. Green Bay backs must average better than the two yards per carry Ryan Grant turned in four years ago. That production – as well as production from the Packers’ bread-and-butter passing attack – all starts with sound play from the offensive line.