After missing out the last two seasons, the Giants are back to a place they are familiar with: the playoffs. Sunday’s matchup with the Atlanta Falcons looks to be a game featuring two teams with similar styles and personnel.
The Falcons are a well-balanced group led by quarterback Matt Ryan, who is maturing into one of the league’s best quarterbacks. Ryan has a wealth of options on offense to turn to. Once again, this game has the makings of another shootout.
So, as we head into Sunday’s game, here are five things to watch for in the Giants’ playoff bout with the Falcons.
How will running game on both sides shape game?
A lot of this game’s outcome will be decided on how the two teams run the ball. The Falcons have the clear edge in the run game, as they boast one of the most reliable and consistent running backs in the league in Michael Turner. Turner is third in the league in rushing yards(1,340 yards), while collectively, the Giants are dead-last in rushing yards (89.2 YPG). While the Giants will of course rely on their pass game to put points on the board, the Giants will need a boost from Ahmad Bradshaw and/or Brandon Jacobs to spark the team. While, not getting many rushing attempts, Bradshaw has been playing well lately, scoring four rushing touchdowns over the last three games (with a receiving TD to boot). So to get some balance and open up the play-action pass, it’s is critical for the Giants to set a tone rushing the ball, despite the Falcons placing sixth in league in rushing yards against.
Whose receiving corps will step up bigger: Atlanta or New York?
This matchup gives us a nice showcase of elite young receivers with the Falcons trotting out the dependable Roddy White and emerging rookie sensation Julio Jones while the Giants counter with the studly duo of Hakeem Nicks and breakout star Victor Cruz. White and Jones combined for 2,255 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns whereas Nicks and Cruz have combined for 2,738 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. Where the Giants have the edge is in their home field, as Cruz and Nicks are used to the elements of playing outside on a consistent basis, while White and Jones are used to playing indoors. Not to be overlooked is the steady contribution veteran Tony Gonzalez gives the Falcons. Although Gonzalez is 35-years-old, he is still a threat in the receiving game as he recorded 80 catches for 875 yards and seven scores this year. To combat that, the Giants will at least likely have the services of Jake Ballard back. While he is no Tony Gonzalez, Ballard gives Eli Manning a presence in the middle of the field. Ballard’s presence could be an X-factor.
Pass rush anyone?
If the Giants have any thoughts of winning this game, they have to get some pass rush on Ryan. If Ryan is given time to stand in the pocket, there is a good chance the Giants’ secondary will be shredded. With the way the Giants have been rushing the passer (getting 11 sacks in the last two games); they could force Ryan into some costly mistakes. While Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora are bit banged up, they should have enough adrenaline to have an effect in this game. We all know that Jason Pierre-Paul will be ready to go. The Falcon’s O-line is legit (although if you ask Tuck, they are ‘dirty’). The Giants will have to remain patient, stick to the game plan and rattle Ryan’s cage.
Will the weather affect the Falcons?
With the temperature forecasted to be in the mid-40’s with sunny skies, weather won’t play as much of a factor as Giants' fans had hoped. Ryan has certainly played well outside before, so he should have no trouble passing the ball. As I said earlier, the Falcons are a well-balanced team and they’ll run the ball as much as they pass the ball, despite what the weather calls for.
Will Eli have to rescue the Giants?
We all know how well Manning has played this season and his penchant for coming up big in critical games. After having a disappointing showing in the 2008 playoffs after his Super Bowl glory the previous year, you know Manning is licking his chops at delivering the Giants some more playoff glory. As previously mentioned, a shootout could be in the works, which puts Eli in his comfort zone. This game could go down to the wire and whoever has the ball last should have the edge.
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