By Tom Canavan
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - In the seconds following each New York Giants snap, receivers Amani Toomer and Plaxico Burress are going to play an intense game with Al Harris and Charles Woodson that might decide the NFC championship.
Burress calls it hand-to-hand fighting. Toomer thinks it's a little more cerebral. Harris and Woodson say it's the press technique at its finest, while Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride says the defense that the Green Bay Packers cornerbacks play borders on the illegal.
If you want to be entertained today without looking at Eli Manning backing away from the center, watch the matchups with the Giants receivers and the Packers cornerbacks at the line of scrimmage.
Harris and Woodson did a great job of preventing the Seattle Seahawks receivers from getting into their patterns last weekend in Green Bay's 42-20 win in the NFC divisional round matchup.
Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck completed 19 of 32 passes for 194 yards and one touchdown. His longest pass on a snowy day went for 22 yards. If there was a lasting memory, it was the quarterback and his receivers complaining to the officials about them being held.
"They grab and hold, and they're going to be up on the bump-and-run, and they're going to test the legality of illegal contact on each and every play," Gilbride said. "Our players know that; they know that's part of the game. We have to do everything we can to not let that be a factor that affects us negatively, and hopefully we'll get some calls.
"Certainly there will be some opportunities for some calls to be made," Gilbride said.
Toomer and Burress are veterans and are used to the tactics. They faced Harris and Woodson earlier this season in the Packers' 35-13 win at Giants Stadium.
Burress, who has been bothered by a sprained ankle all season, had two catches for 32 yards and a touchdown in a game in which he reinjured the ankle.
Toomer had two catches for 48 yards. Manning, who had sprained his shoulder in the season opener the previous week, finished 16-for-29 for 211 yards, the TD and an interception.
In that first matchup, Harris followed Burress everywhere.
"Al has extremely long arms. I do, too," said Burress, who led the team with 70 catches and a career-high 12 touchdown catches. "When the ball gets hiked, it's almost like who can get whose hand on who faster. It's that type of game, trying to get guys' hands off you so you can get into your routes. It's going to be a battle."
While there is a lot of pawing at the line of scrimmage, Toomer said patience is just as important. He will line up most of the time against Woodson, a former teammate at Michigan.
"You have to figure out what he is trying to take away," Toomer said. "Once you figure out what he is trying to take away, then you can figure how to attack it. Sometimes, they line up on the inside and take away the outside and then they do it the other way. It's like a mini chess match getting off the line of scrimmage."
The problem can be when the play calls for the receiver to go to the outside and the defender is taking that away.
That's when the trickery starts.
"You try to make him think you are going one way and figure out how to get where you want to go," said Toomer, who has team-highs of 11 catches, 154 yards and three touchdowns in the postseason. "They are going to be grabbing and holding, but we've played them before and we know what to expect."
The Packers are going to press to the limit, and safeties Nick Collins and Atari Bigby are going to look for a couple of big hits in case Burress and Toomer shake off the cornerbacks.
"That's just the way we play," Woodson said. "On the outside with the corners we want to be in the receivers' face almost all the time, and you see last week our safeties took it upon themselves to go out there and really lay the big hit on the receivers."
With all that said, it will be up to Manning to deliver the ball. He has completed 32-for-45 for 348 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions so far in the postseason, with the most impressive number being the zero.
No turnovers. No problems.
The Packers' press defense, however, puts more pressure on Manning.
"It can affect the timing of your routes," Manning said. "We like to drop back five steps, get the ball out, where you might have to hold it another half a count just so the receivers get their depth or get off the press. But I think we should be OK.
"I think if you think of our receivers, they're pretty physical receivers themselves, Plaxico and Amani, bigger guys where they're going to get pressed up and that's fine with us. We have our answers, and we should be able to be physical with their corners also."