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O-Line Readying For Formidable Front

Last Sunday at New England, the offensive line contributed to Green Bay’s improved run game and third-down efficiency after struggling in those areas at Detroit. While that surely will be a focus again this week, the Giants bring another challenge with one of the most productive defensive lines in the league.


New York enters Sunday's matchup with the Packers ranked No. 2 in the NFL in overall defense and No. 2 in sacks with 42, with 34 of them coming in the Giants' nine wins. They are led by ends Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, who have each recorded 10 sacks this season to make up the only double-digit sack duo in the league, but also have productive tackles in Barry Cofield (55 tackles and four sacks) and Chris Canty (47 tackles and four passes defensed).

"They're a talented front, as talented as we're going to face," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "It starts with their front four. For us, it's all about protection. We have to find ways to block it up and then try and get the ball to our playmakers.

"It's important that we change up the looks for those guys. Don't give them a consistent rush lane every time, move the pocket occasionally, get me on the edge, on the perimeter, and don't let them continue to tee off. Because they're very effective when they can take a consistent rush lane every play."

Last week in their 38-31 loss to Philadelphia, the Giants sacked quarterback Michael Vick three times, but he also got loose for 130 rushing yards on 10 carries, with 94 of those coming on just four rushes in the fourth quarter as the Eagles made a furious comeback from a 31-10 deficit.

Rodgers will be returning to the field after missing last Sunday's game against the Patriots due to a concussion sustained the previous week at Detroit, and while the Packers aren't looking for him to be running the ball a lot, the threat that he brings (309 rushing yards this season) is an added dimension that the Giants will need to account for.

"Obviously you've got to think in New York this week they are trying to coach up, obviously I am not sitting here saying Aaron is going to run like Michael Vick runs, but I would say one of the things they are long in the jaw about or long in the mouth about is the way Michael Vick ran the ball the other day," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "I'm sure they are going to devote extra time about more discipline in their rush lanes, whether they are pressuring and making sure they have contain.

"It's all fundamental things of football that you know they have, but whether they can execute it or not is the story. It would be great if we could spring him loose a little bit."

What Rodgers will need to be aware of, both in the pocket and out of it, is protecting the football against a team that has been the best in the league at taking it away this season. The Giants rank No. 1 in the NFL with 34 total takeaways, including a league-best 19 recoveries of an NFL-high 26 forced fumbles.

Of those forced fumbles, 19 have come courtesy of its defensive line, with Umenyiora (league-high eight) and Tuck (six) leading the charge. Those are career highs for both players in the category, with Umenyiora's number the third best this decade in the NFL behind only Colts DE Dwight Freeney and Rams DE Leonard Little (nine each in 2002) with two games still remaining.

"Sometimes it is because the inside guys are good and they are forcing the quarterbacks out and they are hitting guys from behind and the quarterback can't see him," Philbin said. "Obviously if it is a right-handed quarterback, (Umenyiora) has an advantage there because the quarterback can't see him.

"It's just a good overall pass rush, but those guys are trained well to knock the ball loose from the quarterback."

The Packers have lost seven fumbles this season, tied for seventh fewest in the league, and two of those were on kickoff returns by Jordy Nelson against Detroit in Week 4. Rodgers has only fumbled twice this season and lost one, at Atlanta on a goal-line rushing attempt, a marked improvement from his 20 combined fumbles with seven lost in his first two seasons as a starter.

"I think the best thing that helps the quarterback is sometimes that pocket awareness that is hard to really quantify," Philbin said. "It's hard to necessarily drill or coach, the guys that have a sense of where the rush is at, where it is coming from.

"Then I think (Rodgers) is very sharp mentally so he knows if we are in a particular scheme where we've got X amount of blockers and he feels some type of pressure, a lot of times you see a sack/fumble on an overload blitz where teams are not really sound protection-wise. I think he has a good sense if we are short a guy of getting the ball out or taking off, one or the other."

With the Giants' high sack numbers this season, it's not a surprise to see them having success on third-down defense as they lead the league at 31.1 percent. Philbin spoke last week about the importance of "staying on schedule" against the Patriots, as the offense looked to avoid the negative-yardage plays on first and second downs that would put them in challenging positions on third down. That will certainly be the case against a New York team that has placed its opponents in third-and-10-plus 34.4 percent of the time this season.

While the Packers did allow five sacks to the Patriots, they were able to avoid penalties completely on offense after the line was whistled for two at Detroit the previous week. They also had more production on the ground as they picked up 143 yards on 38 carries after gaining just 66 on 20 attempts against the Lions.

Success in those areas helped factor into an improved performance on third down as Green Bay converted on 11-of-19 opportunities after going just 2-of-12 at Detroit. Over the past six games, the Packers have been successful on third down 50.8 percent of the time compared to 35.1 in the first eight contests.

"In most games we are probably doing a little bit better on first and second down," Philbin said. "I would say we are probably doing a little bit better job in protection overall, although the last (three) games we have had 13 sacks. We're probably catching the ball better. That one game where we couldn't catch a cold in Washington, we have had less of those.

"I think just general execution overall, the performance has been better. I don't know that our game plans have been any better or worse for that matter, but I think our execution has been better."

That will need to continue Sunday as the offense looks to limit the impact of the Giants' front.

"They're excellent," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "Tuck, they're doing a very good job schematically moving him around than prior years, so I've been very impressed with his flexibility. And Osi, he has been an excellent pass rusher in this league for quite some time.

"Their D-line is in my opinion the strength of their defense. It will be a big challenge for us. It will be important for us to know where they are at all times."

Additional coverage - Dec. 23

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