Ross, Giants secondary ready for Packers sequel
It’s not going to be as easy as last time.
The communication problems and blown assignments that allowed Rodgers to hit a wide-open Donald Driver in the first half and lead a last-minute, game-winning field goal drive in a 38-35 victory in early December have been fixed, and everybody is seemingly healthy.
Aaron Ross, who had to leave Sunday’s 24-2 win over Atlanta in the NFC wild-card game with a head injury, practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and said he would play Sunday in Green Bay in the NFC divisional round.
What’s more is there is a sense a confidence and a belief that the Packers can be beaten.
“To me, it’s another game,” safety Antrel Rolle said. “I don’t put any opponent on a pedestal. I understand they have a lot of weapons on this team and they are an awesome opponent, and so are we.”
The Giants (10-7) have evolved over the past month from an inconsistent defense that gave up big plays both on the ground and in the air to one that suddenly has found itself. The last three opponents _ the Jets, Cowboys and Falcons _ have combined for 30 points, with the Giants offense contributing two to that total with a safety last week.
A big part of the transformation has been getting the defensive line back. Osi Umenyiora has returned from an ankle injury. Justin Tuck has overcome neck, groin, ankle and toes woes. Combine those two with All Pro Jason Pierre-Paul and the front line is harassing opposing quarterbacks.
What’s also different is the play of the back seven, particularly the secondary. The talent has been there with Ross, Rolle, cornerbacks Corey Webster and Prince Amukamara, and safeties Kenny Phillips and Deon Grant.
However, getting them and the linebackers on the same page in pass coverage has been a yearlong effort that finally has everyone reading the same lines.
“We’ve come a long way,” linebacker Michael Boley said. “Early on, we were so up and down, the linebackers and the secondary. One week, one thing would hurt us and the next week it would be something else. The last couple of weeks, we’ve brought everything together, not really simplified things, but made sure that everyone was on the same page.”
Umenyiora didn’t play that game. Tuck was limited by injuries. Boley was just coming back from a hamstring injury and was only 70 percent. Phillips sprained a knee in the first half and Amukamara, who was still working his way back into shape after breaking his foot in training camp, ran out of gas, and was replaced in the second half by recently signed Will Blackmon.
“The first game we had to move around so much, it was hard to get a key because we were playing different positions,” Grant said, noting the he had to take over at safety for Phillips and Ross had to play the nickel, something he hadn’t done much.
Still, the Giants were competitive with the league’s highest scoring team.