The teams: The Green Bay Packers (5-4) vs. the New York Giants (3-6).
The time: 3:25 p.m. CST Sunday.
The place: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
The TV coverage: FOX – WITI (Ch. 6 in Milwaukee), WMSN (Ch. 47 in Madison) and WLUK (Ch. 11 in Green Bay).
The announcers: Kenny Albert and Daryl Johnston in the booth and Tony Siragusa reporting from the sidelines.
The coaches: Green Bay's Mike McCarthy is 85-46 (including 6-4 in the postseason) in his eighth season as the Packers' coach and as an NFL head coach. Tom Coughlin is XX-XX in his 10th season as coach of the Giants and 166-134 (including 12-7 in the playoffs) in his 18th season as an NFL head coach.
The series: The Packers lead the all-time regular-season series, 27-22-2, including a 17-16-2 advantage at New York. The Packers also hold a 4-3 edge in postseason play, even though they lost the last playoff meeting betwee the teams. Although the Packers have won seven of the last 11 meetings, the Giants have won the last two that mattered – a 2012 regular-season victory at MetLife Stadium and an NFC Divisional Playoff game in the 2011 playoffs at Lambeau Field. The Packers did win a 2011 regular-season game at MetLife Stadium during their undefeated start.
The rankings: The Packers’ third-ranked offense is No. 6 in rushing and No. 5 in passing. Their 18th-ranked defense is No. 13 against the run and No. 21 against the pass. The Giants’ 23rd-ranked offense is No. 29 in rushing and No. 14 in passing. Their 12th-ranked defense is No. 11 against the run and No. 11 against the pass.
The line: The Giants are favored by 4 1/2 points.
The injury report: Packers – Out: CB Casey Hayward (hamstring), QB Aaron Rodgers (collarbone). Doubtful: OLB Nick Perry (foot/ankle). Questionable: T/G Don Barclay (knee), OLB Andy Mulumba (ankle). Probable: DT Johnny Jolly (groin), OLB Mike Neal (abdomen), C Evan Dietrich-Smith (knee), OLB Clay Matthews (thumb), DT Ryan Pickett (knee), CB Sam Shields (hamstring).
Giants – Out: CB Corey Webster (groin/ankle). Questionable: DE Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder), RB Brandon Jacobs (hamstring/knee). Probable: TE Bear Pascoe (ankle), CB Terrell Thomas (knee).
THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
‘Scoots’ time: Alex Van Pelt has been there. As Jim Kelly’s backup with the Buffalo Bills in the 1990s, Van Pelt remembers what it’s like to go from clipboard-holder to signal-caller in a matter of seconds. He remembers it happening “two or three times,” and, well, it wasn’t always pretty.
“There’s a definite curve. You’d like to think you’re going to go in and maintain the level of play the starter had usually doesn’t happen when you come off the bench,” the Packers running backs coach recalled. “You do your best, but with a week of preparation going into the next week you feel more confident in calling plays, getting in and out of the huddle, all of the adjustments, all the routes you’ve thrown that week. You just feel a lot more comfortable.”
That’s why Van Pelt liked what he saw from No. 3 quarterback Scott Tolzien against Philadelphia a week ago. Although he threw two costly interceptions, including one in the end zone that took points off the board, Tolzien had command of the huddle and never looked overwhelmed after veteran backup Seneca Wallace, getting his first start in place of an injured Rodgers, went out after the first series. Against Chicago the previous week, the 10-year vet had struggled off the bench.
“I was impressed. I thought he handled himself extremely well, made plays. (He) missed a couple of throws, but if we had a week of practice throwing that throw three or four times, he probably hits it,” Van Pelt said. “That’s some of the curve I’m talking about. All the reports I got from my guys was very impressive, he took charge, he was a leader, things you expect from a guy coming in off the bench.”
Now, Tolzien will make his first NFL start, and unlike the previous week with Wallace, there was a palpable feeling of confidence in the Packers’ locker room. Rather than paying lipservice to the idea of the backup QB having their faith, the players seemed to be giving off a genuine vibe of Scott can do this. Or, if you prefer, “Scoots,” as Rodgers nicknamed him. (“It’s Aaron Rodgers,” Tolzien replied when asked how he felt about the nickname. “He’s the boss. What am I going to say?”)
Tolzien spent extra time throughout the week with quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo, offensive coordinator Tom Clements, Rodgers, and of course McCarthy, who met with him on Tuesday and again on Thursday to talk about play-calls he might prefer.
“He’s getting a lot of coaching, I can tell you that,” McCarthy joked. “It’s time for him to just settle down and go play football. He’s a very even-keeled young man, absorbs everything, but I think it’s like anything, when your opportunity comes, you need to just play football the way he’s always played.
“He just needs to go out and play the quarterback position. We’re not worried about him. Everybody needs to go out and do their job and do it at a better level than we did last week. That’s our focus.”
One way to help Tolzien: A successful running game, which went from dominant against Chicago (29 attempts, 199 total yards) to the opposite (30 carries, 99 yards) against the Eagles.
“Obviously for him to stay ahead of schedule with the chains, keep him out of those situations where he’s got to push the ball down the field with third-and-long, keeping an edge in down and distance, having some success in the run game (can help),” Van Pelt said. “He can use the play-action pass game and the fake game to help him, open up guys. We’re going at it the same mentality – we want to be effective in the run regardless of who’s playing quarterback – but those are some of the areas that might help.
“I just thought we left a lot of yards on the field (against Philadelphia). I thought we ran the ball, and not all of it, but we weren’t decisive enough with our cuts and didn’t have enough forward lean with our pad level, which we talked about this week. There was definitely more yards out there than we got last Sunday”
Lining up: Another challenge for Tolzien: Possibly more musical chairs on the offensive line, which in consecutive weeks has watched at least one starter head to the sideline and not return. Two weeks ago, right guard T.J. Lang left with a concussion, leaving Wallace to battle the Bears with Barclay at right guard and Marshall Newhouse at right tackle. Against the Eagles, the Packers first lost Dietrich-Smith, which forced Lang to move to center, shifted Barclay again to right guard and brought Newhouse off the bench; then Barclay went down and undrafted rookie free agent Lane Taylor was pressed into service at right guard.