Each week throughout the season, PFW executive editor and resident Packers expert Dan Arkush hooks up with a personality who has connections with the Packers and asks him five Packer-related questions. This week Arkush connects with ex-Packer Greg Koch, a fixture at right tackle in Green Bay from 1977-85 who now resides in Houston.
1. Obviously, the death of Michael Philbin, the son of Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, has to be a distraction before the game this Sunday vs. the Giants. Just how big a distraction do you see it being? Is it enough to give the Giants a winning edge? Or will the Packers be able to overcome this adversity the same way they have been able to overcome so many injuries?
Koch: The Packers have overcome many adversities, but this doesn't compare to any football injury or any player missing all or part of a particular season. The loss of a child is devastating, no matter what the age, and it will have an effect on the team, no matter what anyone says. Hopefully, the team will win one for Coach Philbin and his family, but at a time like this, football loses its importance in the great scheme of life, and my heartfelt condolences and prayers go out to the Philbin family.
2. Are you concerned about the Packers' offensive line operating vs. a Giants defensive front that is suddenly playing really, really well with Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck all starting to wreak havoc?
Koch: Their defensive line is playing really well, but they are no more a challenge to the Packers' line than the Lions' front seven, and I think the Packers' offensive line will be just fine. They have had a week to heal and seem to always rise to the occasion in big matchups, which this one really is. The O-line will probably be the key to the game because if they can slow this Giants pass rush and give Aaron (Rodgers) time to throw, I am not that impressed with the Giants' secondary. They mask a lot of weakness due to the line getting pressure on the quarterback. Of course, all this can be mitigated with the Packers establishing the run, which will open up the play-action and screens that Mike McCarthy likes so much. I said back in the middle of December that the Giants were a team I would be watching for and worried about playing if they got hot. Well, after ranking 32nd in rushing all season, Brandon Jacobs has decided to quit pouting, Ahmad Bradshaw is healthy again, all three receivers (Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz) are healthy, and Eli Manning is having his best year.
3. Give me one other key matchup (away from the trenches) that you will be honing in on in this game Sunday.
Koch: Jermichael Finley creates unbelievable matchup problems for any defense, and I hope that the Packers use him more than they have this season. I will also be watching to see how many plays (WR Greg) Jennings will get and if he has fully recovered.
4. Do you see a similar-type shootout in the offing to the Week 13 barn burner won by the Packers 38-35? How about offering a prediction.
Koch: I see two very good teams going at it, and you know that, with the Giants, it will always be a physical football game. And like I have always said, it is not always the best team that wins in the playoffs, but the hot team, and the Giants are surely that. So, yes, I see a similar game, but with the Packers' home-field advantage ultimately being the difference maker. Let's make it Green Bay 28, New York 20.
5. Finally, since you're down there in Houston, I've got a Texans question for you: Do you like their chances vs. the Ravens, and does Wade Phillips interviewing for a head-coaching job in Jacksonville this week seem a little odd with the game this weekend?
Koch: The Ravens are 8-0 at home this year and one of the top teams in the league coming off a bye, going 9-2 over the last 11 years. The only team to score more than 10 points (after a Ravens bye) was the Texans earlier in the year, but that was with Matt Schaub at quarterback. It will be a great matchup between the Texans' running game and the Ravens' defense, but in the end, I would stack the box and make T.J. Yates — the Texans' fifth-round, third-team quarterback — beat you, and I just don't think he has the experience to do so. The Texans played a really easy schedule this season and made great strides, with their defense going from 30th in the league to second, but I'm afraid the road ends in Baltimore. Wade Phillips could be elected mayor here in Houston with what he has done with this defense, but his interviewing with Tampa Bay during the most important week of the Texans' brief history is confusing and more than bad timing. I know this is a business and that there are only so many head-coaching positions, but Wade's performance speaks for itself, and his players are not robots. This will have to have an effect on them. Besides, I don't see Tampa hiring what would be the oldest head coach in the league, when what they want is someone to come in and groom Josh Freeman. I realize Wade hates the tag that he is a great coordinator but not a great head coach, but it may be too late in the game for him to be anything else.