Although no pushover, the Falcons CAN be Beaten…
1. Home field ‘dis-advantage?’
The good news is that the Giants are in the playoffs. The bad news is that they’re playing at home. We all know about their ‘Perfect Post-Season’ in 2007 when they won every playoff game on the road (including, of course, the Super Bowl). However, they got knocked out of the post season, AT HOME, in 2005 and 2008. So the first thing the G-Men have to do is win a playoff game at home.
2. “Run Forest, Run…”
It’s not a secret that the Giants finished the regular season dead last in rushing yards per game at 89.2. What you might not realize is that they have stepped it up a notch, averaging a more competitive 105.5 ypg in their last four games. They will need to continue that trend in this contest otherwise Eli will be seeing nothing but 3rd and longs all day. No easy task either as the Falcons are sixth in the league at stopping the run.
3. Get to Ryan! (ehhh no… not Rex!!)
The Giants front four; Unmenyiora, Pierre-Paul, Tuck, and Canty need to pressure Matt Ryan who has not been the easiest quarterback to sack in the league. (13 times in his last 13 games). He throws quick passes, usually from inside the pocket, to a plethora of talented recievers that include Roddy White, rookie stud Julio Jones, (touted by the Furnace prior to the regular season), and 13 year veteran TE Tony Gonzalez.
Pierre Paul has been a beast with his 16.5 sacks on the year earning him a trip to the Pro-Bowl. Umenyiora, out for a total of seven weeks with assorted injuries, has 9 sacks in 9 games. The Giants have one of the most formidable pass rushing defenses in the post season this year and need to continue building on the 11 sacks (5 on Sanchez-6 on Romo) they’ve collected over their last two games.
4. Boley on Gonzo-
Everyone knows the kind of year that WR Roddy White has had given that he holds the league record for receptions at 100, but very quietly, in his 13th season, TE Tony Gonzalez has amassed 80receptions (and 7 TD’s) and continues to be a key offensive threat with his 8-12 yard pickups through dinks and dunks from Ryan. Michael Boley, the ex-Falcon, will have the unenviable task of keeping his catches to a minimum and needs to do so effectively to keep Ryan from over-using the veteran weapon.
5. Stopping the ‘Turner Express’…
Although the Giants have not been the most adept team at stopping the run in the league, when it’s counted- they have. They showed what they can do against Shonn Greene and last week vs Felix Jones, although combined they don’t posess Turner’s talent. They will have to TRY and turn in the same performance against Michael Turner and his 11 touchdowns in the regular season. Cannot over-emphasize the importance of slowing him down. He won’t be stopped but he also cannot have his way this Sunday.
6. Those darn intangibles…
The obvious and most important intangible is the ‘home crowd’; a crowd with the same kind of enthusiam and passion as the one last week vs Dallas; a game by the way that was the most watched in Sunday Night Football’s history. The fans need to be the ’12th man’ in this game which will hopefully impede Ryan’s ability to audible sucessfully as well as increase the liklihood of false start penalties.
The Falcons have not won a Playoff game since 2004. Matt Ryan is 0-2 and has three touchdowns and four interceptions on his post season resume, a decidedly huge edge for Eli Manning.
The Giants are coming into this game on a roll, having won three of their last four games; big wins when they counted. Clearly, a key to the win would be to keep turnovers and penalties out of the game.
The final, and most subtle intangible will be the team not “winning one for the Gipper”, but continuing to win and advance for Osi. The great and popular defensive stallworth, Osi Umenyiora will be hanging them up after this season and nothing would make him or the Giants happier than to go as deep into the playoffs as possible.
Final score prediction: Giants 31-23 over the Falcons.