January 18, 2008

SI.com's Don Banks had a veteran NFC insider assess the Giants-Packers matchup.

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New York isn't just the Cinderella team in this year's final four, the Giants are the most well-coached team in the playoffs right now, Patriots included. Tom Coughlin is really getting the most out of his players. Against Dallas, New York had virtually no mistakes in three critical areas: No fumbles, no interceptions, and just three penalties. This is a team that's always had the potential to be great, but it has finally come together at just the right time for the Giants.

I like how they haven't asked Eli Manning to do a lot, but he's been great in the limited game plan the Giants are using. He's just not making those mistakes that we've seen in the past. He's either taking the sack or throwing it away. And he has made some crucial throws when he has to make them. The first touchdown pass to Amani Toomer last week was a great throw, and so was the big completion to Steve Smith.

Regardless of the field condition, the biggest matchup of the game for New York will be its banged up secondary against those Packers receivers. New York's secondary has played great the past couple weeks. Corey Webster is playing his best ball of the season, and R.W. McQuarters has been a play-maker. But with Sam Madison out and Aaron Ross having that bad shoulder, it's going to be tough. Ross will play, but it's going to be painful for him, especially in that cold. I look for Brett Favre to expose them a little bit.

I'm not sure the Giants pass rush is going to be able to do much at Lambeau if it's a slow track like it was against Seattle. Last week at Dallas, the Giants didn't have a great day rushing the passer, but what they did do well was bring their linebackers and force Tony Romo to get rid of the ball early. The tough part about this week is that Favre gets rid of the ball so quickly that I can't see them getting pressure on him from their linebackers.

Falling behind early against Seattle and then coming back to win big should really help Green Bay this week if the Giants get out to a lead. Last week when Seattle went up 14-0, the Packers never looked like they were in a rush to score points. It looked like they were just going to follow their game plan. They never panicked and they continued to run the ball.

And man did we see a young running back grow up in that game. What a performance by Ryan Grant. I don't think anyone saw Grant having that kind of game after those two early fumbles. And it wasn't just that he had yardage, it was all those big plays.

Mike McCarthy has less experience than any of the other final four head coaches, but he deserves a lot of credit. He never does anything to hurt his football team. In crucial situations, you never seem to say, "That was a poor call by McCarthy.'' He doesn't overreact, and he really knows his team well. He knows what they can and can't do. They stay with their big guns, and even when they're behind, they don't change as a football team. McCarthy isn't a big guy for the cameras, because he's not demonstrative on the sideline. He's just a quiet leader sitting behind the scenes coaching his team.

One guy who came up with a huge game last week for Green Bay was safety Atari Bigby. That was by far his best game of the year. He was everywhere on the field, and when he hit someone, they knew it. Two other guys playing really well right now that the Giants have to account for are defensive end Cullen Jenkins and cornerback Al Harris. Jenkins tore up the place last week against Seattle. And Harris right now is as close to a shutdown corner as there is in the league. He's as instinctive as any cover guy anywhere, and he does such a good job with his hands.

It's going to be a tough task for the Giants. It seems to be set up to be a perfect Green Bay type of day. You've got the Packers playing in Lambeau in January, with the cold, and Brett Favre maybe playing in the snow again. All the things you think of when you think of the Packers.

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