It's been over a year since the New York Giants won back-to-back road games during the regular season. But you might recall a stretch in January in which they won three straight games outside of Jersey, with the third coming over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.
A herculean effort was required then, just as in 2008 when New York won all three of its playoff games away from Giants Stadium en route to another Super Bowl victory.
Now, they'll need to find some of that magic once again, because if they can't beat the playoff-bound Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens on the road the next two weeks, there's a decent chance they won't survive to see January football.
The focus, first, is on Atlanta. Here's my proposed game plan for Sunday's matchup with the best the NFC South has to offer.
Let David Wilson loose
Sometimes it's as simple as favoring the hot hand, and Wilson might have a chance to start in place of the banged-up Ahmad Bradshaw after the rookie put up his first 100-yard effort last week against the Saints.
It's especially convenient to do so when you're going up against a defense like Atlanta's, which has struggled a bit against the run this season. The Falcons are surrendering 4.9 yards per carry on D, ranking 31st in the NFL.
They had trouble against Cam Newton through the air last week, but Newton was giving them fits on the ground, and they were missing veteran Asante Samuel in the defensive backfield. This week, Eli Manning is lethal through the air, but Samuel is expected to be back, and there's a chance safety William Moore will be, too. Plus, Manning won't trip up this defense with his legs.
When you consider that Atlanta has the personnel to do a good job against Victor Cruz (Robert McClain's been superb in the slot and Thomas DeCoud has been good in coverage), and that Hakeem Nicks is dealing with another injury, the Giants will have to work for their opportunities to make big plays by establishing balance early with Wilson and/or Bradshaw.
Wilson is a crucial weapon, mainly because it's late in the season, and there's lots of tape on almost every key player in this game except him. The Falcons don't know what to expect from a rookie back on a pass-first team.
For Kevin Gilbride, that's good news.
Add reinforcements to the pass defense
The Giants get beat deep too often, and while Roddy White is hobbled by a knee injury that has kept him out of practice this week, the Falcons still have a huge advantage through the air against a New York secondary that is in rough shape.
Corey Webster is having a terrible season, and Kenny Phillips and Prince Amukamara are both hurting. Amukamara should be in charge of Julio Jones, but he'll need help, especially if that strained hamstring prevents him from being 100 percent against the dangerous Jones.
The pass rush can help, of course. That's how Big Blue survived to make a Super Bowl run last year. But they aren't getting to the quarterback often this season. They had just one sack against Drew Brees and the Saints last week, but they were able to pressure Brees often. This week, it'll be tougher against an offensive line that is in better shape right now.
Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown will again have to play large roles, while rookie corner Jayron Hosley should get some more opportunities coming off his best game of the season in Week 14 against New Orleans.
If the Giants approach this game with a bend-but-don't-break mentality, they'll be successful. This run defense is good enough to stop a struggling Michael Turner without help. Over the last five weeks, the Falcons rank dead last in the league in rushing yards per game and 30th in yards per carry. Turner has clearly hit a wall, and the pressure that's put on Matt Ryan and the passing game has hurt the offense right across the board.
Perry Fewell has to keep five or six defensive backs on the field, and let the front five or six take care of business without any help.
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