Here are three of the defining matchups, one in each phase, as we begin our lookahead to Sunday’s game between the Green Bay Packers (8-3) and New York Giants (2-9).
Packers offense vs. Giants defense
Green Bay’s offense has been at its best when it’s been balanced. But balance might not be the recipe to move the ball against the Giants.
New York ranks seventh in the league with 3.93 yards allowed per rushing attempt, including 2.50 last week at Chicago. That stands to reason because the Giants boast a formidable front to their 3-4 defense. The starters have been Dalvin Tomlinson (second round, 2017) at nose tackle with Dexter Lawrence (first round, 2019) and B.J. Hill (third round, 2018) as the ends. Leonard Williams, the Jets’ first-round pick in 2015 and a Pro Bowler in 2016, was acquired before the trade deadline to bolster an already-stout group. Almost one-fourth of opponent rushing plays have been held to 0 yards or less.
The cornerback group isn’t nearly as stacked. Veteran Janoris Jenkins leads the team with four interceptions and is second in the league with 13 passes defensed but the other starters are rookies DeAndre Baker (first round) and Corey Ballentine (sixth round). Because they’ve played like rookies, the Giants are 31st with 8.08 yards allowed per passing attempt. At safety, Jabrill Peppers – who was acquired in the Odell Beckham trade – leads the team with 76 tackles and three forced fumbles but is unlikely to play due to injury.
Giants offense vs. Packers defense
As was the case last week with San Francisco tight end George Kittle, all eyes will be on the injury report and the status of Giants tight end Evan Engram.
Engram missed the last two games with a foot injury. Even though he’s missed three games in total, he leads the team with 44 receptions for 467 yards. He’s not a traditional tight end, standing just 6-foot-3, but he’ll be one of the fastest guys on the field with a 4.42 clocking in the 40-yard dash at the 2017 Scouting Combine. The Giants drafted him in the first round and have been rewarded with a 103.8 passer rating this year, according to Pro Football Focus.
Green Bay’s struggles against tight ends have been well-documented. Against the opposition’s No. 1 tight end the past five weeks, the Packers are allowing 100.0 receiving yards per game.
With running back Saquon Barkley hobbling through a high-ankle sprain that cost him almost four full games earlier in the season, Engram is the game-breaking weapon the Packers must stop.
The kicking game
Green Bay’s punt-return unit is impossibly bad. It entered last week’s game with minus-8 return yards. Incredibly, it got worse last week, with Tremon Smith’s two returns for minus-3 yards. The Packers have had one positive return all season – a 1-yarder by Trevor Davis in Week 1. Will this be the week where Green Bay goes forward? Giants punter Riley Dixon, who is averaging 47.0 yards per punt, has kicked 45 times. Opponents have returned 18 punts with a 5.9-yard average. It’s allowed a return of 10-plus yards in two of the past three games.
Otherwise, Aldrick Rosas is 8-of-12 on field goals, with no makes of 40-plus yards, Cody Lattimore is averaging 25.5 yards per kickoff return and there is uncertainty at punt returner with receiver Golden Tate (concussion) and Peppers (back) potentially sidelined.