The Giants/Falcons storylines this week have consisted primarily of a Michael Irvin interview with Roddy White and Julio Jones from week four of the NFL season in which Roddy answered in the affirmative when asked if he and Jones are a superior WR tandem than Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, and the Falcons two point implosion against the Giants in the playoffs last season. This Sunday, the Falcons have an opportunity to capitalize on the short memories of NFL analysts and fans alike and possibly silence the critics, for a few minutes at least, with a win over the Giants in the Georgia Dome.
Sunday’s game will come down to fundamental issues. On offense, priority one has to be protecting Matt Ryan from the Giants pass rush, which is pretty formidable, with 31 sacks on the season. Unfortunately, protecting Matt Ryan has not been Atlanta’s forte in recent weeks. Atlanta’s offensive line has allowed 24 sacks this season, along with 34 hits and 106 hurries.
The Falcons are currently ranked 28th in the league in rushing yards, and by now we should all be resigned to the fact that the run game is not magically going to be effective. A perfect storm of factors, from lackluster run blocking, to Michael Turner’s natural decline as he ages, to the stubborn refusal to stop sending Turner up the middle for what is certain to be no gain are contributing to the run game woes. The good news is that the Falcons don’t need to put up a ton of rushing yards. They just have to be effective enough to keep New York’s defense honest.
New York’s secondary is ranked 27th in the league, allowing 253 passing yards per game on average, but they also have 20 interceptions on the season. Atlanta’s receivers will need to get separation, and Matt Ryan will need to have a quick release before the pocket collapses on passing downs. The Falcons can’t sustain drives unless they can be more effective on third downs. Surprisingly, the Falcons are currently ranked third in the league, converting 44.58% of third downs overall this season, however, over their last three games they have converted just 34.38% of third downs, and against the Panthers, they converted just 25%.
On defense, Falcons are facing a Giants team that is third in the league for points per game, and putting up 372.9 yards of total offense per game. Atlanta’s defense can’t afford to have a slow day, and must consistently pressure Eli Manning. Manning’s overall quarterback rating for the season is 86.4, but his rating drops to 56.5, with two touchdowns and six interceptions, under pressure. The Giants have several receiving threats, with slot receiver Victor Cruz leading the team in yards and receiving touchdowns. The Falcons will need to establish and maintain solid coverage to give the pass rush time to work.
As much as Atlanta’s offense needs to convert third downs and sustain drives, Atlanta’s defense needs to get off of the field on third downs. The Falcons are allowing their opponents to convert 40.62% of third downs, and allowed the Panthers to convert a wholly unacceptable 60%.
‘Tis the season to be overwhelmed with injuries, and both teams are dealing with some notable players on their respective injury reports this week. For the Falcons, William Moore was sidelined Wednesday and Thursday with the hamstring injury that kept him out of last week’s game against the Panthers, and Roddy White has also been held out of practice with a knee injury, and will be a game-time decision. Jonathan Babineaux and Harry Douglas are both limited with rib injuries, and Asante Samuel is still working to get that shoulder right.
For the Giants, cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring), linebacker Michael Boley (back), and running back Ahmad Bradshaw (knee/foot) were all held out of Wednesday and Thursday practices. Hakeem Nicks (knee) and Jason Pierre-Paul (back) were limited in practice. With key players from both teams banged up, injuries could have a tremendous impact on the game.
Many fans, and analysts, are calling this game a "must-win" for the Falcons. The analysts say that if the Falcons can’t beat the Giants, it will prove they are frauds. We’re all tired of being condemned by sports journalists everywhere to another one-and-done playoff scenario even though the regular season is not yet finished. But, with the division, and a playoff spot, secured, this game is not a must-win for the Falcons. At this point of the season, ensuring that key players are healthy enough to be effective in the playoffs has to be a bigger priority. Sunday’s game is, however, a must-win for the Giants, with the NFC East far from decided. If the Falcons win, New York’s playoff hopes are in jeopardy, with the Cowboys and the Redskins both just one game back, and both with better divisional records than the Giants.
The last time the Falcons faced this kind of pressure--a team that everyone said they couldn’t beat, a team that was supremely motivated knowing their playoff hopes would be dashed by a loss--the Saints came into the Georgia Dome and Atlanta’s defense broke their little hearts, like so many eggs against the side of a team bus. Yes, the Giants rolled the Saints last weekend, but they lost to the Redskins the week before. The Falcons will have to limit mistakes, and they will have to execute, and if key players are too injured to participate, the "next man up" will have to perform, and the fans will need to do their part and ensure that the Giants can't hear anything at the line of scrimmage. The Falcons can win this game, and that's what I expect them to do.
What are you expecting from Sunday’s game against the Giants?