Four Downs: Packers-Giants preview
This week, Four Downs looks at the next Game of Increased Importance for the Packers, this one against the Giants in New York. It’s Scott Tolzien under center, but for Green Bay to win it’s going to be about a lot more than him. Find us on Facebook and comment there, if you want, or here.
1. Riders of a three-game winning streak that almost miraculously places them squarely back into the race for the NFC East crown, which is made of aluminum foil and pipe cleaners this season, the New York Giants are, even by their own standards, taking their patented lingering around the playoff scene to stumbling zombie-like levels in 2013.
And kudos to them. Since they can’t control their surrounding circumstances, since it’s a division that could very easily produce an 8-8 or 9-7 champion – which gets you a ticket to the postseason, which is all that really matters, as the Giants have proven – New York is pulling the parachute cord at just about the last possible moment.
That doesn’t mean they’ll land safely, mind you, but for the Green Bay Packers it does mean that the Giants are a team with a probably-stupid but still-growing self-confidence that comes with already surviving one near-death experience this season. So much like mythology’s giants, the Giants, no matter how seriously we want to take this particular team, are still very big obstacles standing right in the middle of the dang road.
2. That is one reason worth worrying about Sunday’s game, and that wouldn’t change if the Packers were at full-strength, or if they at least had their starting quarterback. We said last week that Seneca Wallace or anyone else needs support in this uncomfortable, unwanted situation, and that of course now applies to Scott Tolzien, starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. Which is a sentence we write now, in 2013.
In all seriousness, we believe in Tolzien’s ability to pick this up on the fly and give the Packers a quality start in New York. We really do, but the other, main reason for worry is the rapidly-contracting room for error Green Bay is living in. The NFC isn’t getting clearer to map out. With teams like the Panthers and Lions and Bears and Eagles either hanging around or ascending, the conference is as scrambled a mess as ever. Every loss is going to be harder to recover from, every mistake will look and feel worse. Can Tolzien avoid those back-breaking errors? And if he can’t – really, can a completely blotch-free performance be expected? Is that fair? – can the Packers win anyway? Or, another way to ask this is, can Tolzien play well and Green Bay still lose?
3. And this is where we land on Green Bay’s worst quality in the two-ish games without Aaron Rodgers. When the rest of the team has needed to level the balance so often tilted obviously (and effectively) towards Rodgers and the offense, they’ve instead regressed. Against the Eagles, Mason Crosby picked a bad time to do his 2012 thing, and the defense has reopened its bumbling Big Play Charity for opponents.
Aaron Rodgers takes glaring problems and dims their shine enough that they’re often just soft lamps giving off low light in the corner after a victory. Every shot of weakness is easier to absorb in those comfortable conditions. Right now, there really isn’t any time for nine-minute opponent drives or mid-level wide receivers running free and easy between a confused secondary. This isn’t the way the Packers will win this week, or next week. There needs to be a more-equal distribution of the weight, and probably soon.
Because without that, we don’t see how Tolzien’s performance matters as much, or Eddie Lacy’s punishing rushes, or how Jordy Nelson, Jarrett Boykin and the rest of the receivers are still producing with another new quarterback. If the defense can’t pull itself off the field, if the Packers can’t take advantage of a majority of their scoring situations on the road, an explosive offense may not be around to save them.
With Rodgers, well, it was either expected or relied upon far too much. We could see this being a good challenge that might aid the team down the stretch should they overcome it, but again, there’s really no more time for Learning In A Loss with more teams bellying up to the NFC playoff picture every week.
4. Eli Manning may be our best evidence that the mysteries of life are nothing more than a demented game the universe plays with humanity, laughing and laughing at us as we try to solve an unsolvable puzzle. We are not surprised, necessarily, that Manning is having such a strange and awful season to this point, that the Giants are still needing to win in spite of a two-time Super Bowl MVP in Week 10, but this has been a season of things we never expected to see, so, for all we know, maybe this is standard operating procedure after all.
This overall uneasiness towards thinking we know anything about this league is why we could still see Manning continuing his efforts towards keeping Tom Coughlin’s face permanently transfixed in a state of rage and bewildered disgust, giving the Packers defense a much-needed energy boost in the form of nourishing turnovers in that process. (The Giants are far and away the worst in the NFC, with 28 total giveaways. Manning has 16 interceptions.)
But, because they are the Giants and Manning is Manning, we could also see him snapping out of this funk just in time for Green Bay’s visit. We could see this because there is no one looking out for you, football fans. There’s no escaping the universe. It is going to put us all through the ringer eventually. We don’t want to sound over-the-top, here: football is gonna do football things, is basically what we’re saying. And yet, in the face of the increased weightiness of each week, starting with this one against the Giants, we really do believe that Scott Tolzien will play well enough to win. We are just not sure about the rest.
As Packers fans we have to hope the worst, for this season, is already behind us. For our part, we want to believe it is. Hope is the most consistent thing we have as fans, especially at this moment. So if you don’t mind, we’re about to lean pretty heavily on it.
(On the following scale: Ted Thompson is a tough guy to read. In an attempt to pay homage to his flat style of delivery, we will couple our pick with a 1-5 rating scale of our confidence translated into Thompson Confidence, which, we feel, is just as ultimately silly and tough to derive meaning from as choosing a score.)
Honorary Ted Thompson ‘I feel confident’ scale of confidence: 2 ‘I feel confident’-s out of 5.