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Key matchup: Packers' offensive line vs. Giants' defensive line

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Dan Arkush

darkush@pfwmedia.com
Executive editor

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By Dan Arkush

Packers offensive line vs. Giants defensive line

As big a reason as any for the defending Super Bowl champions Giants’ 37-20 shellacking of the Packers in the playoffs last season was the consistent pressure New York’s deep and talented defensive line put on QB Aaron Rodgers. In that game, the Giants registered four sacks, two by DE Osi Umenyiora, in addition to disrupting Rodgers’ timing by breaking down the Packers’ blocking schemes and taking the run out of the equation.

This Sunday at MetLife Stadium, a well-rested Giants D-line coming off a bye week will be taking on a revamped Packers offensive line that is adjusting on the fly with new starters at both right tackle and left guard because of the season-ending hip injury suffered two weeks ago by Bryan Bulaga, who is considered one of the league’s best young right tackles. Bulaga, who by all accounts was playing well before he went down for the count, has been replaced by T.J. Lang, who moved over from left guard. The new left guard is Evan Dietrich-Smith, who had been previously earning his keep in a versatile reserve role.

The Packers’ new-look line actually looked very good after Bulaga went out early in the victory over Arizona. But last Sunday against the Lions, it had its share of struggles matched up against Detroit’s staunch defensive front. That was especially the case with Dietrich-Smith, who was in over his head trying to contain Lions DT Nick Fairley (two sacks), and Lang, who looked like you might expect a lineman playing a new position on a new side of the field to look going against a tough customer like Lions DE Cliff Avril, who applied steady pressure.

As was the case last season, the Giants' D-line’s impact has wavered at times. Relatively nonexistent the first five weeks of the season, the unit showed how capable it was of dominating its opposition with a spirited six-sack onslaught in their 26-3 win over the Niners, spearheaded by DRE Jason Pierre-Paul (three tackles, including two sacks, and a pass deflection). The Giants had 17 sacks in a four-game span before mystifyingly getting shut out in a 31-13 loss to the Bengals before their bye week.

Pierre-Paul, who had a breakout 2011 campaign in his second season (16½ sacks), leads the Giants this season with 6½ sacks. His lightning-quick first step and great natural leverage figure to pose a major challenge for Packers OLT Marshall Newhouse, who has mostly held his own since replacing veteran Chad Clifton but has had problems when forced to face top-tier pass rushers like Pierre-Paul. Making matters worse for Newhouse will be the double dose of trouble courtesy of Umenyiora, who has declined but is still capable of dominant stretches as a rotational rusher (four sacks).

On the Giants’ left edge, Justin Tuck (three sacks) is a tough veteran penetrator who is a lot healthier this season than he was last year. Tuck can collapse the pocket, rush from inside and out and make plays on the ball. He will most frequently confront Lang, who is powerful enough to move people at the line and quick enough to block at the LB level. Lang, who might be the Packers’ best drive blocker in goal-line and short-yardage situations, was one of only two offensive players (along with departed C Scott Wells) to start all 16 games last season (15 at left guard, one at right tackle) — a point worth noting considering the Packers' considerable lack of depth on the line at present.

On the inside, the weakest link for the Packers would appear to be Dietrich-Smith, who will be matched up much of the time against dependable Giants DRT Chris Canty, back in the starting lineup after starting the season on the physically unable to perform list with a knee injury.

An excellent matchup could be in the offing between Packers ORG Josh Sitton, a rock-solid mauler with excellent reactionary skills, and Giants DLT Linval Joseph, who has shown steady improvement as a pass rusher (four sacks) and run defender.

Packers C Jeff Saturday, a five-time Pro Bowler, has not been nearly as good as Wells, who signed with the Rams. But he is a smart, seasoned veteran who can still the get the job done adequately enough and keep mistakes to a minimum.

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