Atlanta Falcons vs. New York Giants: 4 Things to Watch for on Sunday
The Atlanta Falcons are headed into New York for their third consecutive trip to the playoffs.
They have lost the previous two, but their chances against the Giants seem to be pretty good. The Falcons have yet to meet their full potential this season, and there is no better time to play well than the postseason.
Atlanta has the talent to fight their way through the playoffs, but they have to play better than they did in all of 2011. The Giants, on the other hand, have played well at times, but looked horrible in other games.
Both teams have the talent to win this game, not to mention the hunger. Each of these teams are not considered favorites, or possibilities even, to win the Super Bowl. However, I am sure that Mike Smith and Tom Coughlin would disagree.
The first game that the teams will have to play will be a tough one. The Giants focus on passing and the Falcons can run or pass. Both teams play good defense in different areas, and special teams is decent for both clubs.
However, there can obviously only be one winner. There are many matchups in this game, but four will ultimately decide the winner of this playoff game.
Let's take a look at four things to watch in the Falcons vs. Giants NFC Wild Card game.
Falcons' Pass Rush vs. Eli Manning
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The winner of this playoff game will depend highly on how much pressure the Falcons are able to put on Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
Manning and the Giants have passed the ball very well all year, and the Falcons have not done a good job at putting pressure on the quarterback. If Atlanta wants to win, then they will need to get some blitzers in Manning's face to throw off the passing attack.
The Giants, on the other hand, will need to make sure that they can protect Manning because they do not have the running game to divert Atlanta's attention.
The Falcons defense has the players to get after Manning, but they will need to perform to their potential and really get after the quarterback early in the game. The Giants have the advantage in this matchup because it will be tough for any team to stop their passing attack.
Atlanta will already be fighting an uphill battle in this playoff game, and they need all the help they can get from their blitz packages. If they can pressure Eli into some mistakes, then they may be able to walk away from the Wild Card Round with a victory.
Falcons' Offensive Line vs. Giants' Defensive Line
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This could potentially be the most important part of the game in a couple different areas.
The offensive line from Atlanta is playing pretty good football in 2011. They have blocked well for Matt Ryan and the passing game, as well as Michael Turner and the running game. The Falcons have the ability to run or pass the ball with great intensity.
The Giants' defensive line has arguably been the best in the NFL this year, and shows no signs of slowing down in the postseason. Jason Pierre-Paul has blossomed into one of the most destructive defensive linemen in the league, and he will surely cause problems for the Falcons.
If Atlanta wants to win against the Giants, then they will need to block this dominating defensive line from New York very well. The Falcons have not allowed many sacks on Ryan in 2011, but he has been hit more than most quarterbacks. If that trend continues on Sunday, then the Falcons may be one-and-done for the second straight postseason.
The Giants will need to get pressure on the Falcons because if they don't, then Ryan is good enough to find targets like Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez in the passing game. They have gotten pressure all year, and at this point, the Giants depend on it.
I expect this battle to be about even. The Falcons cannot stop the Giants' defensive line for the entire game, but they should buy Ryan enough time to get rid of the ball. New York will have opportunities to bring Ryan down and they have to capitalize when those chances come.
The overall winner of this matchup could end up being the winner of the game.
Falcons' Running Game vs. Giants' Front Seven
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This is a situation that will probably not be looked at with much importance entering the game. However, this could definitely turn out to be the single most important factor of Sunday's Wild Card game.
The Falcons play much better when they can get Michael Turner, Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers going out of the backfield. A good run game helps Matt Ryan in the pocket and takes pressure off of the offensive line in the passing game.
Atlanta has the talent to be threatening in this area, but they have rarely taken advantage of that in 2011. The Giants have been average, at best, in stopping the run this year. The defense of the Giants has stepped up the last couple of weeks, playing well against the Cowboys and Jets, but that could falter on Sunday.
New York will definitely come into the Wild Card game with a heavy pass rush planned, and that could lead to some easy lanes for the Falcons. Turner is still one of the best backs in the NFL and he can hurt a team if given the chance.
The Giants will try not to give up any opportunities, but if the Falcons see blood, then it will be difficult to stop them. They ran early and often against the Buccaneers in Week 17, and ended up running for more than 170 yards in that game.
The winner of this matchup will benefit greatly in Sunday's game.
If the Falcons are able to run the ball well, then that takes a ton of pressure off the rest of the offense. If the Giants can stop Atlanta's running game, then that makes the Falcons nearly one-dimensional and creates a much easier day for New York.
Falcons Secondary vs. Giants Receivers
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It will be interesting to see how well the Atlanta Falcons' defensive backs can perform against the New York Giants' receiving corps.
Victor Cruz and company have been great in 2011 and, for the most part, have carried the Giants to an NFC East division crown. Eli Manning has been fantastic, but he has received a lot of help from his wideouts.
The Falcons secondary is a talented group, but they are also another group that has not played as well as expected this season. Atlanta has great corners, and quick, young safeties. These players can hang with the Giants receivers, but the question is, for how long.
If the game turns into a shootout, then the secondary of the Falcons will need to force a turnover to stay in it. I believe that Atlanta will not be able to keep the Giants out of the end zone throughout the game, so they will have to steal a possession away at some point.
The Giants are definitely favorites in this matchup heading into the game, but they have been stopped before in 2011. In Week 15, the Giants were held to less than 300 passing yards and zero touchdowns by the Washington Redskins.
The blueprint is there for the Falcons, but now they just need to put it into action. The Giants know they can pass the ball, but they have to avoid a flop similar to the one against Washington a few weeks ago.