The bye is a ponderous thing. It can be a blessing, allowing a sliding team to rest, regroup, and refocus; or it can be the kiss of death, interrupting a group's rhythm or allowing losses to fester.
The Atlanta Falcons got theirs out of the way right away, but they've been unable to escape the bye week's effect since then: They've drawn three teams coming back from their Sunday off as of the end of Week 10, and are about to play yet another rested squad.
Not to sound overdramatic or anything, but this one is singular in its importance to the rest of our season, as we're facing the wild card of the NFC Wild Card contenders, the New York Giants.
Did they get their minds right on their sabbatical, or were their four straight losses before it just the beginning? How soon will the fickle Big Apple turn its collective back on the Boys in Blue? Is one of these injuries going to turn into something serious?
And finally, say it with me now: Will the real Eli Manning please stand up ?
I won't be so pretentious to answer these questions, nor will I be so groan-inducing as to quote Eminem again. I will, however, give you the standard DDDB rundown for this pivotal matchup.
New York Rush Offense vs. Atlanta Rush Defense
Last week's debacle was just not funny for us. If you read my preview, you know I was expecting us to give up more on the ground in our second meeting with the Panthers than in our first, but good gosh .
Great news, fellas: It gets barely (if any) easier on Sunday. A third-ranked unit drops to a seventh-ranked, but the two-back style persists, as does the general power.
And any concern about missing Derrick Ward's production following his departure to the Sunshine State? Gimme a break, I knew Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs could do it all on their own.
Blocking and play-calling are exceptional when it comes to running up in East Rutherford. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride plays to his strengths (read: shoves it down people's throats), frequently going old-school and employing fullback Madison Hedgecock or the off running back as a lead man, but mixes it up just enough to keep defenses guessing.
I'll admit that I like to see the G-Men have no triple-digit yardage rushers in the past four games, but then again, we didn't allow anyone over the century mark last week, and look how that turned out. Maybe it was because we had two different guys coming at us, but we didn't seem to know where to meet the ball carrier, which obviously portends poorly.
Since day one, I've lauded Mike Peterson and Curtis Lofton's ability to come up and make a tackle at the line without leaving the middle open. But that didn't happen last week. A return of the usual swarming activity is really the only way NY doesn't ring up 150 total.
I hate to be so down on the line, but John Abraham looks disinterested out there, Kroy Biermann is all about the sacks, and it's become, at best, a two-man rotation at tackle, though we can seemingly only get one guy to pay attention to the play per down.
Atlanta Rush Offense vs. New York Rush Defense
I smiled for the majority of the first two quarters this past weekend, despite the score. Michael Turner was back, or more specifically, his monster production was back.
I could say it with certainty, as he beasted for three games in a row and looked like an indestructible...
Too soon? Too soon.
Never has the sprained ankle of a man I've only exchanged a nod with been such a concern to me.
Reports are all over the place, so I'm not going to try to add my guess as to the probability that he'll play this weekend. Suffice it to say if he does, one shouldn't expect more than 70 yards, as he'll need to take it easy.
This means we'll be relying on Jason Snelling, as we did for more than half of the Carolina game, and not to a terribly bad effect. Dude will never be a starter somewhere (did people ever say that about Burner?), but he's got power and finds his holes a lot better than I once thought he could.
Jason gets the treat of going up against an absolutely sick line. They're firmly in the middle of the pack when it comes to yards allowed per game, but when it comes to touchdowns given up (four) and rep, there's nary a team that's better. Good luck pulling these rocks, Harvey Dahl and Justin Blalock!
This means we'll need even more skill-position blocking. The receivers have done admirably in appeasing me—it seems my weekly mentions result in weekly improvements, as both Roddy White and Michael Jenkins had memorable chip-ins last week—but we're going to need even more.
Luckily, I've got an idea. Allow me to regale you with another one of my tales of observation that led me to my crackpot plan: Last week, Verron Haynes made a horror of a block downfield on a Snelling run. It led me to think: We need more of this grittiness.
I say put in Haynes and Justin Peelle, blue-collar type guys, in exclusive blocking roles with Snelling in the backfield. It sounds strange, taking out the big names like Tony Gonzalez in exchange for some third-stringers, but clearly we need an alternative when Turner, Jerious Norwood, and Ovie Mughelli are all questionable.
New York Pass Offense vs. Atlanta Pass Defense
Perhaps recalling Marshall Mathers' 2000 hit was a little harsh for the Giants' quarterback. In truth, he's been steady the past three games, though his team has lost all three (two of them at home).
He's just not the guy who went into Dallas and chucked 330 yards, ensuring a key divisional win. He seems more his pre-2007 self: The younger brother, the guy who can't take a team to the top, or whatever else they used to think of him.
To think that he'll play this middling way the rest of the campaign would be a mistake, of course. Will it be this game that he turns it around? I'll just note that his best two '09 performances have been on the road, where the Giants are somehow more confident than at home.
But getting to specifics, to think that we'll pressure him much come Sunday would also be a mistake. The Giants have allowed him to go down just 13 times, and the line's 15 total sacks allowed is good enough for seventh place in the league. Maybe we've been looking at the other side of the trenches too much?
Out in the flat, though, the worry that dominated the preseason—which wide receiver would emerge in Plaxico Burress' absence—is still a worry. This other Steve Smith has nabbed five scores and managed a nice chunk of yardage due to being targeted so much, but I'm fairly confident in saying that Chris Houston can lock him down, considering he's not prototypical size.
Get beyond that, and I'm only feeling better. Yes, most of the time I hate to analyze how our other corners will play the No. 2 and No. 3, but I'm not feeling Mario Manningham, let alone baby Hakeem Nicks.
They'll get a chance to prove themselves, considering Eli will have his usual amount of time in the pocket, but unless we really crap-out in coverage, we should be able to contain.
Atlanta Pass Offense vs. New York Pass Defense
What I assumed was just a few fluky passes is becoming a trend. While I would never turn my back on Matt Ryan and it pains me immensely to even criticize him, something must be done about interceptions.
Over and over again, likely to reader's nausea, I talk about how ice-cold Ice is, how he never looks shaken. I'm starting to realize he might just be a very good actor; he looks sure throwing the ball pretty much no matter what, but these passes are more inadvisable than he's letting on.
The timing of his second pick last week just couldn't have been worse. There's just no way he can give the Giants, the second-best pass defense when it comes to yards per game, more than one chance at taking one, let alone more than one actual INT.
The unit may only have eight picks among them to this point, but the other numbers don't lie: C.C. Brown and Terrell Thomas have 72 solo tackles between them, and Michael Johnson and Corey Webster have 27 apiece.
To keep things safe, Dr. McCurdy would prescribe a steady and consistent diet of Gonzo. Long sideline passes to Roddy can come now and then—it seems like it's crossing routes that freak Ryan out, anyway. The bottom line would be that we've got to use the guys with size and strong hands to decrease the likelihood of turnovers.
The bad news is that New York has some size in the defensive backfield to counter ours in the corps. Webster is tall for a corner (though he luckily doesn't play overly physically), and Michael Johnson is a man's man.
Of course, they're more about blowing guys up after the catch, and we're more worried about what's going on with the ball in the air. Back to that point, routes need to be run sharply, and Matt needs a bail-out option, even if it's Snelling for no gain.
Prediction: Giants 24, Falcons 21
You know I'm going to predict a loss as a close loss, right? I think the Giants will have the lead from start to finish, but that my Dirty Birds will never disappear from the rearview mirror.
The G-Men's week off couldn't have come sooner. If 14 days without a chance at redemption for their four-game skid doesn't get these guys fired up, then we'll have a great chance, but they can't possibly come back and not have an energized attitude.
A win would take tremendous amounts of pressure off down the stretch, considering we'd be bumping down one of our Wild Card opponents, but I'm afraid we're going to be relying on the four home games (and trips to a couple of teams with Super Bowls much farther behind them) to get our playoff spot and, more importantly, second consecutive winning season.
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