NFL Playoffs 2012: Key to a New York Giants Victory vs. the Atlanta Falcons

Walker McKeoughContributor IJanuary 8, 2012

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - JANUARY 01:   Jason Pierre-Paul #90 of the New York Giants reacts after a sack in the first quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at MetLife Stadium on January 1, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons are both somewhat of an enigma.

Each team has had flashes of brilliance during the season, but also been completely embarrassed at other points.  Both teams also have explosive offenses and questionable defenses.

Ranking 27th and 28th, respectively, in total run efficiency, the Falcons and Giants both have horrible offensive lines when it comes to running the football.  On the other hand, the Falcons are seventh in pass protection, while the Giants are one spot ahead in sixth.  

With all these similarities, the game looks to be a shootout.  Or, it could have been had a healthy pass-rush of Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck not reunited to form the strongest Giants defensive-line trio since 2007.   

Last week, the Giants had Umenyiora, Tuck and Pierre-Paul healthy and together for the first time in weeks.  The result was six sacks and seven QB hits in a 31-14 Giants victory.  From this pass-rush, the Giants' secondary was able to limit a great Dallas passing attack to 289 yards and two touchdowns to one interception.

The pass-rush is the key for a Giants victory.

Against the 11th-ranked Dallas offensive line, the Giants got to Romo over and over again.  The Falcons enter the game as the 17th-best offensive line.  And even though they have given up the sixth-least amount of sacks on the season (26), this stat is extremely inflated due to the high number of holding penalties (hence, the nickname "Dirty Birds").

If the Giants' pass-rush can get to Ryan early and often, the high-powered Falcons offense will be stopped in their tracks.  Tuck, Osi and Pierre-Paul must get to Ryan to rush his throws if the Giants are going to win.  

Perry Fewell must also be aggressive with play-calling and be willing to send Mathias Kiwanuka if the pass-rush up front is struggling.  If the Giants can't get to Ryan, a mediocre linebacker corps and dreadful secondary will have to deal with Roddy White and Julio Jones. 

The Giants need to live by consistent disruption of Ryan to ease the pressure on the secondary.  If the Giants can force a few turnovers and give the ball to Eli Manning, they will have a great chance at victory.  If the Falcons have time and Ryan plays well, it's a toss-up.  

In other words, getting to the quarterback will be do or die.