Giants-Packers a formula for offensive fireworks

Going into Sunday’s NFC divisional playoff game against the New

York Giants, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are best known

for all the fireworks they’ve produced on offense.

That’s a good thing for the Super Bowl champions, because

they’ve been remarkably vulnerable on defense.

All season, the Packers have been giving up yards in big chunks

and bailing themselves out by forcing turnovers. And while the

Giants might hope to slow the game down by establishing the run and

keeping Rodgers on the sideline, the last meeting between the two

teams – a 38-35 victory by the Packers on a last-second field goal

Dec. 4 – could mean Sunday is shaping up as another fast-paced game

that comes down to the last possession.

With Eli Manning and the offense on a role, the Giants like

their chances this time around.

”I think if we get into a shootout like we did last time, I

think we will be OK,” wide receiver Victor Cruz said. ”But it

will have to come down to who has the last touch.”

Meanwhile, the Packers’ defense is looking to hit the reset

button in the playoffs.

”This is a fresh start for us to right all our wrongs,”

defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. ”We’re excited about it. It’s

the same group that did it last year, the same team, so we know

it’s there to do it. You just have to do it. Time is running out.

This is one-and-done, so we have to get it done.”

Manning can draw on the Giants’ victory in a frigid NFC

championship game at Lambeau Field four years ago, but he doesn’t

think that experience is relevant.

”It’s a new year, a new team, new players going against a new

team,” Manning said. ”It’s just a matter of guys executing, guys

knowing the game plan, going in there, looking forward to the

opportunity that’s ahead of us, getting excited about it and have

the attitude that we’re going to go in there and play great

football.”

They’ll likely have their chances.

Green Bay’s defense gave up more yards than any other team this

season, an average of 411.6 per game. Packers coaches and players

shrug off that statistic, pointing out that their ball-hawking

defense has been able to come up with enough turnovers and stops in

critical situations to help the team go 15-1.

What’s more troubling than the yards is the number of big plays.

According to STATS LLC, the Packers gave up 80 plays of 20-plus

yards this season – third-most in the league this season, and 26

more big plays than they gave up last season.

The Packers have been better in the second half of the season,

giving up 25 big plays in the past eight games, according to

STATS.

They’re certain to be tested by Manning, a talented group of

wide receivers and a running game that finally seems to be playing

up to its potential.

”One thing about Eli, he’s having I think his best year,”

Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. ”The guy’s been

very accurate throwing the deep ball.”

Capers said Manning has improved considerably when it comes to

throwing on the move.

”Eli doesn’t move to run, but he moves to buy time for those

receivers,” Capers said. ”They do a good job of adjusting their

routes. I’ve seen him move – he moves more to his right than he

does his left – but he can move and still throw the ball with some

accuracy. I think he’s doing a better job with that.”

To Packers defensive lineman B.J. Raji, the biggest difference

in Manning’s game is that he’s throwing fewer interceptions.

”He’s always been able to make every throw,” Raji said. ”Just

when he’s choosing to make those throws, I think he’s doing a

fantastic job.”

And for all their faults, the Packers defense has lived off

interceptions this year, picking off an NFL-best 31 passes this

season.

”In their secondary at least, they like to gamble a lot, they

like to take a lot of chances and risks,” Cruz said. ”Which means

they either win or they lose big, which explains why they lead the

league in interceptions and why they lead the league in giving up

big plays, they are tops in the league in giving up big plays. So

we understand that and we’ve seen it on film.”

Manning threw 16 interceptions this season after throwing 25 in

2010, and will be especially mindful of avoiding turnovers against

the Packers.

”They try to make some big plays so they give up a few plays,”

Manning said. ”But especially with an offense like they have, that

has the ability to score and score quickly, you can’t give them

extra opportunities. You can’t give them a short field. We have to

take care of the football.”

That’s the challenge for a Packers defense that hopes to make a

fresh start in the playoffs.

”I think our defensive guys are excited about the

opportunity,” Capers said. ”I think we know what we’ve got to do.

We’re facing an offense that’s hitting on all cylinders. They did a

really nice job against the Falcons last week so they come in with

momentum.”

AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan contributed to this report from

East Rutherford, N.J.