Matchups to Watch  

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Giants need Pierce to step up if they are to stop Grant

The Giants and Packers met in Week 2 at the Meadowlands, with Green Bay winning, 35-13. Since that game, many things have changed for both teams.

The Giants turned things around after an 0-2 start, but it's actually the Packers who have been doing things differently since then as they have gone from a pass-first offense to a more balanced attack. Green Bay threw the ball 247 times in the first six weeks -- an average of 41 attempts per game. That figure dropped to 33 attempts per game in the last 10 regular-season games. For the Giants, the biggest change has been an improved running game -- they rushed for 94 yards in that first meeting but are now averaging 134 yards per game. And the play of Eli Manning has improved as the season has progressed.

Here are my key matchups for Sunday's NFC Championship Game between The Giants and Packers ...



Antonio Pierce, LB, N.Y. Giants
 
Ryan Grant, RB, Green Bay


You can probably make up an all-star team of unrestricted free agents from this weekend's games, and these two are near the top of the list. In Week 2, Grant was still a third-stringer and he had no rushing attempts and one reception for 21 yards in the game. In his first six games, he rushed for a total of 27 yards. In the next 10 regular-season games, he rushed for 929 yards -- and added 201 in last week's playoff win. Grant has the strength to run inside and the speed to run outside and has shown the ability to avoid tacklers in the open field. He is also a good receiver coming out of the backfield and will flank out as a wide receiver when the Packers try to create matchup problems.

Pierce came into the NFL as an unrestricted free agent in 2001 as an outside linebacker, and he was signed by the Giants in 2005 as a restricted free agent. He has started at middle linebacker the last three seasons for the Giants and has been their leading tackler. He leads by example and is very vocal. He's a smart player who is very competitive. He had 12 tackles and one pass defended in the Week 2 meeting. Pierce should be a big factor in the Giants' run defense if they are to win this game -- though he did not play all that well against the run in Dallas last week.



Eli Manning, QB, N.Y. Giants
 
Al Harris, CB, Green Bay


For the Giants to win, Manning needs to manage the game. He will most likely throw about 25 times, unless they fall behind and are trying to catch up. Manning has played well the past three games. He has the arm strength and the ability to find open receivers. Inclement weather should not bother him because he's used to the tough winds of the Meadowlands.

Here's how these teams stacked up this season in some critical statisitcal categories:
Category N.Y. Giants Green Bay
Point differential plus-22 plus-144
Sack differential plus-25 minus-17
Turnover margin minus-9 plus-4
Third-down conversion pct. 41.6 41.5

Harris plays right corner in most all of their defenses. Rarely does he get into the slot. He likes to get his hands on you and play bump-and-run. He has very good hands playing the ball, but his game is won in the line of scrimmage. He has problems with speed receivers, but should do a good job with Giants receivers Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer, who are not burners.

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