Match-Ups To Watch On Sunday

As often as a big play can be magnified in a postseason game, it’s rare for any one play to decide a game. But if one team dominates a key area for most or all of the 60 minutes, that can spell the difference between winning and losing. With that in mind, here are three prominent match-ups getting most of the attention heading into Sunday’s NFC Championship. - More Audio | Video | Packers-Giants Game Center


Packers LT Chad Clifton gets ready to block Giants DE Osi Umenyiora during the Week 2 meeting earlier this season.

As often as a big play can be magnified in a postseason game, it's rare that a championship contest, or any contest for that matter, actually is decided on one play.

But it can come down to one particular aspect, a match-up, that plays out over the course of four quarters. If one team dominates a key area for most or all of the 60 minutes, that can spell the difference between winning and losing.

With that in mind, here are three prominent match-ups getting most of the attention heading into Sunday's NFC Championship between the Packers and the Giants.

New York DEs Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora vs. Green Bay OTs Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton

The Giants led the NFL in sacks with 53 in the regular season, and they chalked up a couple more along with numerous pressures of Dallas quarterback Tony Romo during their playoff upset last week.

Strahan and Umenyiora combined for 22 of those sacks in the regular season, and Justin Tuck added 10 more.

Tauscher will be primarily responsible for Strahan, and Green Bay's eight-year veteran is coming off an impressive showing against Seattle's Patrick Kerney last week. Kerney was seemingly unstoppable in the Seahawks' Wild Card win over Washington, but Tauscher, handling him mostly one-on-one, held him without a sack, pressure, QB hit or even a tackle.

Not surprisingly, Tauscher's comments this week have focused on taking the exact same approach against Strahan - not getting caught up in all the hype and just doing what's made him one of the league's most dependable right tackles since 2000.

"That's the case every week," said Tauscher, who shut out Strahan in Week 2 when the veteran defensive end was just rounding into shape after sitting out training camp. "If I go out there and I'm a turnstile, regardless of who I'm playing that's a big negative for our football team to be successful. Just because he's a Hall of Famer and a great player doesn't mean I have to go block him any more than somebody else. It's just that he's going to test me probably more than other players will."

Meanwhile Clifton will take on Umenyiora on the blind side. Umenyiora exploded for six of his team-high 13 sacks in one game this season, against the Eagles, and Clifton has a lot of respect for his quickness and athleticism.

But like Tauscher last week, Clifton isn't going into the game looking for help from tight ends or chip blocks from running backs to slow Umenyiora down. It may be needed occasionally, but relying on it too much can severely hamstring an offense and limit a quarterback's options in the passing game.

"I think Mark and myself, we both take a lot of pride in (blocking solo)," Clifton said. "It's not like we never get any help whatsoever, but it's minimal and we both go out there, we trust our technique, we work hard in practice and that's why we've had success."

The other factor in neutralizing New York's pass rush is quarterback Brett Favre's quick release. Favre was sacked only 15 times in the regular season (Packers quarterbacks were sacked 19 times overall), and it's his ability to react to the defense and make a quick decision that helps keep that total down.

"To think they only had 19 sacks in the course of the season," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said, "boy, that's something else."

Green Bay's WRs vs. New York's banged-up secondary

The Packers like to test any opponent's depth at cornerback with their four- and five-receiver sets, and with the Giants' secondary dinged up, they could push New York to its limit.

Cornerbacks Sam Madison (abdominal strain), Aaron Ross (shoulder) and Kevin Dockery (hip) are all battling injuries this week. Dockery has been ruled out, while Ross practiced the most of the three and appears likely to play. Madison is still very much up in the air. Ross and Madison are officially listed as questionable on the Giants' injury report.

Veteran reserve corner R.W. McQuarters has come up with late interceptions to seal each of the Giants' two playoff wins. But if some of the injured corners aren't at full strength and the Packers send out their "Big Five" formation with five receivers, Favre will be looking for that one-on-one match-up his receiver is almost sure to win.

"We feel like out of the five guys that are out there, you can't stop all of us at one time," receiver Greg Jennings said. "That's our approach to it, and I think that will continue to be our approach regardless of who is out there.

"You can't really double anybody. It just opens the whole playbook up for us when we go five wide."

The Green Bay receivers have said all week they expect the injured New York corners all to play considering what's at stake in this game, but even if the Giants are at or near full strength, it won't stop the Packers from trying to spread them out.

"We're not taking anything from their secondary. They have a great secondary," receiver Donald Driver said. "But we say we'll match any of our five wides against any five DBs in the National Football League and go at it."

New York QB Eli Manning vs. Green Bay's pass rush

Manning is playing the best football of his four-year career in this postseason, with a 123.2 quarterback rating in road wins at Tampa Bay and Dallas. He has four touchdown passes and no interceptions in the playoffs.

{sportsad300}Much of his career Manning has been inconsistent, and the book on him earlier in his career, and at times this season, was to rattle him with pressure and his performance will turn shaky.

But last week may have been a turning point. Manning was sacked three times by the Cowboys, tied for the second-most sacks he took in a game this year, yet he was an efficient 12-of-18 for 163 yards with two TDs and a career-high 132.4 rating.

That makes it all the more imperative for the Packers' pass rush to put consistent pressure on Manning. One sack here or there isn't likely to bother him. He has to be under duress regularly for the pass rush to truly make a difference.

"We have to make him feel uncomfortable, don't allow him to sit back there and really try to do what he's done, and that's manage the game," Packers sack leader Aaron Kampman said. "I feel like our defensive line prides itself on getting to the quarterback, and that will be no different on Sunday. That will be our goal again."

The Packers haven't resorted to much blitzing this season because their front four has done a good job getting penetration and pressure. But considering Manning's maturity, it's hard to know whether that will be enough, and the Packers will have to adjust if it isn't.

"I have a lot of faith in our guys up front, in our pass rush and they'll get there," linebacker Nick Barnett said. "They'll do what they have to do.

"We're just going to continue to keep working and if we have to bring pressure we have a good blitz package waiting in the duffel bag and we're going to unzip it."

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