The Giants headed into this week of preparation fully aware of the eerie comparisons to the last time they ventured into the playoffs.
But unlike that surreal 2007 postseason run, New York isn’t nearly as balanced offensively and will stress all week to get back to the basics.
Head coach Tom Coughlin admits he sees both similarities and differences with then and now, but is quick to say regardless of the parallels, it still comes down to who executes better. There is no elixir or mojo of playoffs past that’ll carry the Giants past the defending Super Bowl champs. Rather, the Giants will rely on its recent experience with Green Bay (a 38-35 Week 13 home loss) and the experience of the Kansas City Chiefs — the only team to knock off the 15-1 Packers.
Coughlin said he’d like to follow the blueprint of the Chiefs.
“We did [play Green Bay well] and of course they had a lot of yards and we had a lot of yards and it was a lot of points scored,” Coughlin said of the defeat. “[But] our defense is hopefully better this time.”
Coughlin added they’ll take a long look at what they did in their earlier loss and what the Chiefs did in their win and try to implement both aspects of what went right.
“When we go back and look at the tapes and study what has happened over the last few weeks, hopefully we can do a little bit better job,” Coughlin said.
The Chiefs held the Packers to 315 total yards that afternoon — easily the lowest output of the year for the defending champions. Coughlin said the keys to evening the playing field will be “time of possession” and to remain “very physical, as the Chiefs were.”
Running back Ahmad Bradshaw said he’s definitely a believer. The diminutive powerhouse of a back said much like the 2007 run he’d like to see the gameplan run through the newfound success of the running game. After teaming with Brandon Jacobs to combine for 172 total yards last week against the Falcons, Bradshaw is confident New York can duplicate that feat. He added it will not only help the offense keep up with the high-powered Packers, but allow the rejuvenated defense to remain fresh down the stretch.
“Confidence, man,” Bradshaw said about what he’s feeling heading into the game. “We feel good about our running game and sticking to it. Like I said, [if] we keep running and keep pressuring we are more comfortable and we play better ball. We feel as tough as any NFL team in the league. … I can’t wait to get there and play them. But first, we’ve got to have a good week of practice and go up there and do what we’ve got to do.”
What the Packers do best is take away the ball, according to Coughlin.
“They take the ball from people as well as anyone, including 31 interceptions,” Coughlin said. “And injuries don’t take away from their aggressiveness either.”
Should the Giants protect the ball and hold up their end, all within the locker room believe they have a chance of at least slowing down the Packers’ vaunted attack. There’s also high hopes that there’s a blueprint laid before them and with key guys finally getting healthy — and hot — at the right time, this game will come down to the wire.
“I think we are playing better, playing tighter coverage and I think guys are much more mindful and prideful and healthy,” Coughlin noted. “And they are playing more physically if you noticed how the corners have been playing. [Safety Antrel] Rolle has been all over the place, [safety Deon] Grant has made a strong contribution and [safety] Kenny Phillips has got them all lined up. … I just think that we also have done a better job underneath. And that was an issue for us in terms of pattern reads, identification, recognition of who is where and doing a better job with a lot of the check downs.”
Playing the Packers presents a challenge like few others in the NFL. This is a team that has won 21 of its last 22 games, a streak that began with a 45-17 rout of the Giants at Lambeau Field on Dec. 26, 2010. Green Bay has scored an NFL-high 560 points this season (35 points per game), including at least 24 points in every game, with the lone exception the 19-14 loss at Kansas City. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the favorite to win the NFL Most Valuable Player Award, threw 45 touchdown passes and only six interceptions and he was inactive for the season finale against Detroit.
The last time these two teams met, the Packers gained 449 yards, including 360 through the air, and had 29 first downs. Although those are intimidating numbers, the defense has stewed since their loss to the Packers and are champing at the bit to rectify matters. Many have even gone on the record stating this is the matchup they’ve wanted all along.
“We lost the game,” Rolle said. “Green Bay is an outstanding opponent, [but] there are no moral victories in that loss. But I think, speaking for myself, I wanted to see those guys again and our wish is being granted this Sunday. … We’re coming in there expecting to win this game. That’s our mindset.”
Big Blue notes
» The last time they met the only lead the Giants owned was 7-0. Manning said he feels the Giants will need to “get on to an even faster start than last time.”
» There will be different personnel for the Giants than last time, though, specifically on defense. They will enter the rematch with a defense that is presumably stronger, as defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who has three sacks in the last two games, didn’t play against the Packers after suffering a sprained ankle the previous week in New Orleans. Linebacker Chase Blackburn, now the starting middle linebacker, was signed four days before that game (and had the only interception of a Rodgers pass). And weakside linebacker Michael Boley was not at full strength after missing the previous two-plus games with a hamstring injury.
» Coughlin will never give bulletin-board material, but he did allow himself to say he thinks playing that extra game in the wild-card round may actually play into the Giants’ favor, instead of sitting around on a bye week as the Packers did: “I think from a motivational standpoint in all athletics, whatever the sport is, it will be [an advantage] to a certain extent. But when all the talking is done, you still have to go play. When you win, certainly you want to build on that and we have had three of those [must-win games] in a row. We are certainly going to continue to challenge our team to improve in the areas that we need to improve but it is always much better to do that in the scenario of winning.”
Coughlin won’t allow for sentimentality to play a role in Sunday’s game, but did acknowledge Lambeau is a special place and is looking forward to playing there: “Personally, I am really well aware of [history] because I had an opportunity to coach there for a couple of years and I like to understand more about the history of the game. The [Vince] Lombardis, the [Tom] Landrys and the connection both the Giants and the Packers have and how far they go. But as far as the players understanding the total history of Lambeau Field, we may mention something to them about that. … But I want them to understand that this is the 2011-12 New York Giants. This team is trying to carve out their own identity and maybe do something historically for this team.”
» The Giants are a very confident group. But while not engaging in any type of trash-talk, a la the build-up to the Jets game, the offense in particular is talking like they found some glaring holes in Green Bay’s defense: “I see a lot of people getting open when they play,” said wideout Mario Manningham. “But that’s the type of scheme their defense is. I ain’t going to say [they] gamble, but they play different coverages and leave different spots open.”
Tight end Travis Beckum backed up Manningham’s assertion: “You just see guys flat-out getting beat. I don’t know if it’s miscommunication or what, but there’s been several times that we’ve seen guys just run past them.”
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.