So now the road to the Super Bowl has been set and the playoff bound Atlanta Falcons have captured the 5th Seed. The “Birds” will be heading to New York to take on the Giants, next Sunday at 1:00 PM. The Giants are coming off a NFC East Division clinching 31-14 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. Atlanta, who beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers handily 45-24, will be looking to take this momentum to the “Big Apple”. New York has been an up and down team all year. Offensively they are led by quarterback Eli Manning. Manning has over 4,900 yards passing this season and 29 touchdowns. His favorite target has been Victor Cruz, a virtual unknown until this season. Cruz along with Hakeem Nicks have both gone over 1,000 yards receiving. Despite the elevated passing numbers the Giant Offense is still centered around the ground game. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs have combined for over 1,200 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns. Schematically, the Giants are similar to the Falcons in that they want to establish the run to set up the downfield passing attack.
Traditionally on defense the Giants have been one of the upper echelon teams, but they have suffered several injuries that have caused this unit to take a step back. Injuries to 1st Round Draft Pick at cornerback Prince Amukamara along with nagging injuries to defensive end Osi Umenyiora have caused the New York Defense to rank in or near the 20’s in every major statistical defensive category, including 19th in rushing yards and 29th in passing yards given up. Make no mistake however, the Giants still have a formidable pass rush with Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, and Umenyiora who has returned from injury. This pass rush played inspired against Dallas and this entire team is a “battle tested” unit. The keys to the game for the Atlanta Falcons are the following;
1. Maintain a balanced offensive attack. The Giant pass rush is their strength. If Matt Ryan is forced to throw the ball in high numbers he may not survive the game.
2. A huge dose of the run or running concepts such as the screen game is needed. The Giants are in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards given up so Michael Turner should be featured in this game.
3. Defensively the Falcons must tackle. The Giants will use the two-headed monster of Bradshaw and Jacobs to “soften up” the defense. If the “Birds” do not tackle, New York does not mind continuing to run it.
4. The secondary of the Falcons must prevent the “big” play. Victor Cruz has been torching secondaries all season and this is not the time for him to create a highlight tape.
5. This time of year is why you traded up to get Julio Jones. The team wanted more explosion……….now it is time for combustion!!!!
This game will be hard-fought because the teams are very similar in build. Which ever team can stay away from the costly mistakes and can achieve more offensive balance will win.