Point, counterpoint: Does it help the Packers to have already played the Giants?


Packers.com Staff Writer Mike Spofford says no.

I don't think having already seen the Giants benefits the Packers, even though all of their NFC playoff victories a year ago were of the "rematch" variety. I also don't think there's much benefit for the Giants, either.

Both teams were missing key personnel from the first meeting back on Dec. 4, and that changes things. On defense, the Packers were without starting inside linebackers Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk, replaced by D.J. Smith and Robert Francois. The Packers' depth at that position was necessary last month, and it will be a luxury this time around with the entire linebacker corps healthy.

More important, left tackle Chad Clifton and right guard Josh Sitton missed the first meeting, and it's the offensive line that has the biggest challenge in this game, handling the Giants' active and deep defensive front. The Packers haven't had their season-opening starting five on the offensive line out there since Week 3, and how the veteran Clifton fares against All-Pro Jason Pierre-Paul will go a long way toward determining a victor. There's no way to know, because Pierre-Paul was matched up against second-year man Marshall Newhouse last time.

Having James Starks will also help against that defensive line. Starks had just three carries in the first meeting as he continued re-aggravating various leg injuries. Having both him and Ryan Grant fresh through four quarters to help keep that Giants front honest could be key.

Similarly, the Giants are getting some guys back. Defensive end Osi Umenyiora has returned from the foot injury that kept him out of the first meeting, meaning New York's starting defensive line and seven-man rotation are at full strength. Also, center Davis Baas, the veteran leader in the running game and in the protection of quarterback Eli Manning, is back.

Aside from the personnel changes, though, I just don't see the first meeting having much bearing on the upcoming playoff battle, because the Giants are simply a different team now, especially on defense.

When the two teams met before in a 38-35 shootout, the Giants were in the midst of their worst defensive stretch of the season. New York had given up 49 points in losing to the Saints the week before playing the Packers, and they gave up 34 in a victory over the Cowboys the following week that broke their four-game losing streak.

Since then, however, the point totals scored against the Giants in their last four games are 23, 14, 14 and two, the last essentially a defensive shutout in the wild-card win over the Falcons. The 23 allowed to the Redskins came in a loss, but it's worth noting that 10 of those points were set up by Giants turnovers in their own territory. One of the 14s was against the Cowboys, 20 points fewer than the Giants allowed to that same team three weeks prior.

This Giants defense has hit its stride, and it's not just because the unit got Umenyiora back. The defensive front has been on the attack since the team's season was on the line, and it hasn't let up. When they have needed it the most, the Giants have found their identity, and they're playing to it.

That's not to say the Packers can't or won't win. Green Bay has the offensive firepower to play with, and beat, anybody. It's just that while the X's and O's may look similar this Sunday compared to the previous meeting with the Giants, many of the actual players are either different or performing differently, which makes the first game seem like it occurred much longer than six weeks ago.

Packers.com Editor Vic Ketchman says yes.

The best thing about the Packers having already played the Giants this season is that the Packers know exactly what they'll be facing on Sunday, which is to say the best collection of pass-rushers in the league.

Mike McCarthy won't have to drive home that point to his offensive linemen this week. Each one of them knows what their greatest challenge will be, which is to say protect Aaron Rodgers from an outfit that dropped the quarterback 48 times this season.

That's where victory begins for the Packers: protecting Rodgers from Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and friends on Sunday. Had the Packers not faced the Giants earlier in the season, they might not fully understand the force with which the Giants rush the passer, especially as it pertains to Pierre-Paul, a pass-rush talent so extreme that he's harkening memories of a guy named L.T.

Rodgers was only sacked twice in the Packers' 38-35 win in New York on Dec. 4, but Rodgers was hurried six times. Pierre-Paul (16.5 sacks) was all over the field, registering two tackles for loss, two hurries and two passes-defensed. Oh, by the way, Umenyiora didn't play in that game, but he'll be in the lineup on Sunday.

Having seen that collection of pass-rush talent once already, Head Coach Mike McCarthy will no doubt have designed a game plan intended to address the Giants' rush: Screens, draws, misdirection plays, a trap or two, etc. Rodgers will no doubt move the pocket, as he had to do on several occasions in that win in the Meadowlands, scrambling from trouble four times for 32 yards.

Make no mistake about it, the Packers are better for what they experienced a little over a month ago, and that includes an appreciation for a running game that might otherwise be camouflaged by its No. 32 rankings.

No. 32? That's a joke. The Giants rushed 20 times for 100 yards, which is 5.0 yards per carry, which means the Giants didn't run the ball often enough, which is a mistake they're not likely to make, again. Ask the Falcons if they think the Giants have the league's No. 32 running game.

The Packers got a first-hand look at what Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks can do, too, and it's not likely that the Packers will get caught flat-footed on the deep ball, again, as they did on Dec. 4 when Cruz burned the Packers for 42 yards and Nicks got them for 51.

Had the Packers not faced the Giants already this season, they might not know to ignore that 9-7 regular-season record. The Giants are no 9-7 team and the Packers know it.

Here's what having played the Giants once already this season has done for the Packers: It's given the Packers a very sharp focus for a game against an opponent the Packers know is of the highest quality. As a result, the Packers will be ready for this one.

What do you think?

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