By: Bill Tewes
The Green Bay Packers looked like they were on their way to another lackluster playoff performance, until the deepest receiving corps in the NFL turned up the heat in the frigid cold. Aaron Rodgers and company struck back against a stout New York Giants secondary that had shut them out throughout most of the first half.
The second quarter almost spelled doom for Green Bay, as Jordy Nelson took flight to make what should have been a spectacular catch down the sideline. Instead, Nelson dropped the ball and took a punishing (and illegal) hit from defensive back Leon Hall. Nelson crawled over to the sideline and was down for a long time. It looked like Green Bay’s offense, which at that point was floundering, was completely doomed.
Enter Davante Adams, who became Rodgers’ first read after Nelson went out. The Packers marched down the field after a nice punt return from Micah Hyde and this drive would be all Adams. After getting no traction with Adams throughout much of the first half, Rodgers hit a huge pass to him down the sideline, with Adams shaking coverage en route to a 31 yard gain. The drive resulted in the most important sequence of the game, as the offensive line gave Aaron Rodgers all day. Rodgers, showing legendary pocket presence, took nearly nine seconds to find Adams in the end-zone, who is proving to be Mr. January by coming up big in playoff games.
The true wildcard in this game was Randall Cobb. No one knew how many snaps he was going to get or if he could perform at a high-level after being out for two games with an ankle injury, but he looked none the worse for wear. Cobb’s touchdown grab of Rodgers’ Hail Mary heave to end the half gave the Packers a monumental boost and some nice separation on the score board after a poor start. Cobb would grab two more touchdowns finishing with five receptions for 116 yards and leaving no question as to his importance to this team.
Green Bay’s receivers absolutely outclassed New York’s all game. Odell Beckham dropped multiple catch-able passes and finished up with four receptions for 28 yards, making him the fifth best statistical receiver for New York Sunday afternoon. Tavarres King, who had two catches in all of the games he played in the regular season, hauled in a nice touchdown grab on broken coverage by Damarious Randall. That catch accounted for 41 of his 73 yards. For all the talk of Green Bay’s secondary collapsing and potentially allowing for one of the more dynamic receivers in the NFL (Beckham) to completely trash them, they held their own and held him in check all game. Outside of King, they did not allow rookie Sterling Shephard to find room to work, as he has become a solid red zone threat for New York with eight touchdowns this year.
The Packers also got solid contributions from Jared Cook and Ty Montgomery. Cook was consistently getting open and even though Rodgers overthrew him a couple times, he connected with Cook on multiple second down conversions for 10+ yards. The Packers will need Cook to step up if Nelson as well as maybe even Montgomery miss time. Montgomery added three catches for 41 yards and if he suits up next week against Dallas, will add a short pass threat out of the backfield.
Geronimo Allison was an afterthought all game, catching only one pass for eight yards after having an impressive game against the Lions last week. Allison took a backseat with Cobb coming back, but still offers a dangerous weapon as well as quality depth at a position that is always seemingly deep for Green Bay. They will need all hands on deck to beat Dallas in Jerry World.
Taking a look at advance metrics shows Dallas’ secondary ranks 26th in the league according to Pro-Football Reference. There will be plenty of opportunities for Rodgers and this deep receiving corps to do some damage through the air. Dallas’ defense excels in run defense as they are ranked first overall in the entire league, so the Packers will have to find unique ways to utilize Montgomery, Aaron Ripkowski and Christine Michael in the passing game and take what they can get on the ground.
Next Sunday’s game is shaping up to be an instant classic. Will the rookie duo of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott keep up their incredible maiden season and down the Pack in Dallas? Or will Aaron Rodgers continue his Run-The-Table campaign with a win in the same building he won his first Super Bowl in?