EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — They gave up 360 passing yards the last time they played the Green Bay Packers, and that wasn't even the worst day of the season for the New York Giants' secondary. It is not the strength of their team, and the main reason it's looked better lately is the effective aggressiveness of the defensive line as it pressures quarterbacks. But while he's clearly not ready to proclaim that all is well on the back end, Giants coach Tom Coughlin believes his secondary will be better in Sunday's playoff rematch in Green Bay than it was in the 38-35 Week 13 loss at the Meadowlands.
"We're definitely going to be tested in the secondary, obviously," Coughlin said before Wednesday's practice. "There has been improvement — a plastering effect, if you will. Much better than it was a few short weeks ago. I think that's the growth of the confidence that comes from the pass rush, to the ability to stop the run and then to be able to execute on the back end — knowing full well that naturally there's yardage to be gained but nevertheless that we stay away from the big play."
Against the Packers, with their dynamic and myriad receiving threats and quarterback Aaron Rodgers' pinpoint accuracy, that's the best for which you can hope. The Giants must trust their pass rushers to harass Rodgers and then make sure their cornerbacks and safeties don't get burned for anything too deep. Rodgers can beat them by throwing short all the way down the field, but at least if you force him to play that way you're giving yourself more chances to make a play to stop him or get a turnover.
"We have to do our job in the secondary and make sure we take away their wide receivers," safety Antrel Rolle said. "I understand they're an awesome opponent, but then again so are we. I wouldn't put any opponent on a pedestal."
One thing the Giants have going in their favor is that they're much healthier on defense than they were in the first Green Bay game. That day, linebacker Michael Boley was still coming back from a hamstring injury. Chase Blackburn had just been signed off the street. Osi Umenyiora was out with an ankle injury. Safety Kenny Phillips hurt his knee in the second quarter and had to come out of the game. Safety Deon Grant said Wednesday he remembers the all-hands-on-deck feeling from a game in which he had to spend some time at middle linebacker.
"A lot of guys were just out there guessing," Grant said. "So I think the biggest thing this time will be the ability to play full-speed and just being concise on everything with everybody in the right place and knowing what they're supposed to do."
Will it be enough to slow down Rodgers & Co.? We'll find out Sunday. But the Giants definitely go into this game feeling better equipped to do so than they did six weeks ago.