They're down to the backup to the backup. The Green Bay Packers are inching closer to the point of no return in 2013 as they venture to a familiar haunt this weekend, MetLife Stadium to meet the New York Giants. This marks the 4th straight season Green Bay has played New York in the regular season and the 4th consecutive trip to the Meadowlands, having played the Jets in the dual home in 2010. The boys in blue have been a Mike McCarthy nemesis during his tenure, last year's 38-10 loss was among the worst of the season and lest we forget, a pair of New York playoff victories against McCarthy's Pack, at Lambeau no less. The 2007 NFC Championship game, the bitter and bitterly cold overtime defeat, and the 2011 dethroning of the Super Bowl winners sending a 15-1 regular season down the drain. Sunday, the 5-4 Packers, losers of two straight, both at home, meet the suddenly resurgent G-men, winners of three in a row after an 0-6 start. Green Bay must rally behind third stringer Scott Tolzien, the former Wisconsin Badger who will make his first NFL start at quarterback. Will it be too much to ask?
Not if you ask McCarthy, Tolzien or the players. I did ask the players about what they thought of the diligent, book smart and not so athletically gifted quarterback, The answers surprised me. Before we break down the matchup, give a listen to what the guys had to say in the locker room.
If the Packers win, it will come about not so much on the performance of one man, Tolzien, but on the performance of the other 45 in uniform. Tozlien will be the classic example of a quarterback being asked to manage a game. After watching him against the Eagles, I have little doubt he can handle that. Placing him in a position where he has to make a play, like a critical third down conversion, might be more problematic. Another heavy dose of Eddie Lacy, simplified downfield routes and checkdown options galore will give Tolzien the best opportunity to keep the chains moving. Yet, that hasn't been the problem for the NFC's most productive offense. Reaching the red zone has been easy, finishing in the red zone has been darn near impossible. The Packers rank 29th in the league in red zone offense, they were 0-4 last week against Philly. Points will be hard enough to come by with Tolzien at the controls, when they get close, they must get 7, not 3. The offensive line could well be without Don Barclay (knee). Evan Dietrich-Smith was able to practice and having him at center will help. That will keep T.J. Lang at right guard. Marshall Newhouse would start at right tackle if Barclay can't go. A little nervous about that, especially with the New York front four. But the Giants may not have Jason Pierre-Paul who missed all week with a shoulder injury.
On defense, the takeaway drought has reached nine games. A paltry three intereceptions, unheard of from a team that piled up more picks than anyone in the league over the past five years. They might get a chance Sunday because Eli Manning has been extremely generous, throwing a league high 16 interceptions this season. Part of the reason he's been finding the other team is the fact the Giants struggle on the ground (76.9 yards a game/29th ranking). There's been a disconnect downfield, even with above average targets in Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. New York's front is also dinged and the Packer rushers will hopefully smell the blood. Datone Jones is coming on strong with three sacks in the last two games and Clay Matthews won't have two healthy hands, but at least 9 of his 10 fingers free. He's expected to shed the club in favor of a fiberglass brace protecting his broken thumb. Might be just enough to get him back into the swing. The tackling must improve and I can't wait to see how this unit plays in the 4th Quarter. It's been dreadful in both recent home losses.
A Green Bay win rights the ship, gets them to 6-4 with a winnable game against the Vikings coming before the extra-short week showdown with Detroit on Thanksgiving. A third straight loss, coupled with a Lions victory over Pittsburgh, would push the Packers two games back and make it feel like five. Aaron Rodgers can't heal fast enough, it's put up or shut up time. Just don't think Tolzien can generate enough points on the road. I'll take the Giants 27-20 but won't read the Pack the last rights just yet.