New York Giants defense breaks down against Green Bay
Jan 8, 2017; Green Bay, WI, USA; Green Bay Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb (18) celebrates with tight end Jared Cook (89) after catching a touchdown in the second half against the New York Giants in the NFC Wild Card playoff football game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA TODAY Sports

With the New York Giants suffering a horrific 38-13 defeat to the Green Bay Packers in the wild card playoffs Sunday evening, the natural reaction to the game seems to be whose fault is this?

Typical scapegoats like the offensive line, the run game, and even Eli Manning seem tired at this point. There’s also the Miami boat party from earlier this week that certainly will be topic of conversation following Odell’s terrible performance in Green Bay.

However, it seems to me that one particular unit let the Giants down against the Packers. And, it’s the side of the ball that gave up 38 points, not the side that only scored 13.

Yes, that vaunted Giants defense. The one that held the mighty Cowboys to just seven points. The one that ranked second in the league this season in points against. The one that came into the playoffs playing as well as any defense in the NFL.

That defense broke down for the Giants on Sunday afternoon in Lambeau.

To be fair, the Giants defense started off well, seemingly able to control the game utilizing stellar pass coverage to produce sacks from conventional pass rushers. Take this sack by Okwara for instance:

While the Giants only rushed four guys, their linemen were able to get to the quarterback. However, that trend ended in the second half.

Be it great pass protection or Aaron Rodgers amazing ability to extend plays, the Giants were simply not able to get to the Packers’ quarterback in the second half. Take, for instance, this touchdown from Rodgers to Randall Cobb:

With the Giants only rushing four, Rodgers has an eternity in the pocket, giving Cobb the opportunity to get open. Unlike the first half, where the Giants completely befuddled Rodgers with a mix of blitz and coverage sacks. But, the final of the Giants’ five sacks came in the very early stages of the third quarter, and from that moment on, Rodgers was able to have his way with the New York defense.

Keep in mind, that this is a defense who fully knew they would have to carry this team against Green Bay.

The Giants haven’t scored 20 points in a game since they hung 27 on the Browns on November 28. They haven’t scored 30 points in a game all season. Quite frankly, despite the obvious talent that Odell, Eli, and quite a few members on this team exhibit, this simply wasn’t an effective unit in 2016.

The defense knew that in order to beat the Packers, they would have to keep them under 20 points, and they failed miserably in that mission. When the Packers kicked the field goal at the end of the third quarter to go up 24-13, the game was effectively over.

In many respects, this season has validated the Giants off season substantially. Considering just one year ago, Giants fans were calling for GM Jerry Reese to be fired, this season appears to be a rousing success.

Not only did New York return to the playoffs, but they did so on the back of an incredible defense, rejuvenated from last year’s subpar performance, and loaded with Reese’s big money free agent signings and promising draft picks playing key roles. The Giants forged an identity as a defensive powerhouse, reminiscent of the Super Bowl winning sides that are revered to this day by the New York faithful.

However, that team did not show up on Sunday. That defense did not show up on Sunday. And as a result, the winning ways of the Giants’ past, did not show up on Sunday.

It’s entirely possible that the Giants simply ran into a very good Packers team. Maybe the Packers go on to beat the Cowboys, beat the winner of Seattle-Atlanta, and end up with a trip to Houston as the NFC champs. Would it really surprise anyone if the hottest team in the NFC currently suddenly made a run to win the whole thing?

Furthermore, Aaron Rodgers proved once again today why he is unquestionably the best quarterback in the NFL. No other QB has the ability to extend plays, and deliver pinpoint accurate passes the way Rodgers does. It’s no wonder that he was the first QB to truly figure out this New York pass defense and torch the Giants as soon as he got a half of seeing the schemes under his belt.

But for the Giants, a team that spent countless resources into reimagining their fear instilling defensive identity from past championship teams, must be looking around today and wondering what exactly happened against the Packers. A team that looked untouchable defensively in the month of December was picked apart by a QB, who just a few months earlier, struggled to get anything going against the Giants.

There have to be a lot of guys headed to East Rutherford with the feeling that they could have done more against Green Bay.

Billy Nayden is an SMU Mustang from Connecticut born and raised on New York sports. Avid fan of nearly every sport from MMA to handball. His heart is in NYC, but Billy has seen games on multiple continents, and has frequented arenas ranging from high school gyms to world class meccas.