Since then, the Giants have upset only their fans, losing in the first round
of the playoffs, the following season and then two late-season collapses that
left them out of the postseason.
But thanks to a late-season turnaround fueled by rising star Victor
Cruz, the Giants are back in the playoffs, hungry for another title and
confident they have what it takes to win one.
First up are the Atlanta Falcons, who come into Sunday's widl-card showdown
at MetLife Stadium with, as Justin Tuck said, the
reputation of "dirtbags."
That comment added a little more fuel to what should be an emotional day for
Eli manning and the Giants, and the Daily News has it all covered with this
special pullout section.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
ELI MANNING VS.
Mike Smith is a defensive-minded coach, but hardly
a defensive innovator. The Falcons play a basic 4-3 with soft zone coverage,
either a Cover 2 shell (think Bears) or the bend-but-not break approach that was
so popular five to 10 years ago. It’s built on spacing concepts where every area
is supposed to be accounted for, but where the weak spots are generally between
the LBs and DBs.
Unlike the Giants’ last two opponents, the Falcons don’t
blitz, either, although Smith will call the occasional zone blitz with DE
John Abraham dropping into coverage.
All that didn’t hold up well
against Aaron Rodgers or Drew
Brees this year, and Eli Manning, with a franchise record 4,933 yards, will
be trying to exploit a pass defense that gave up the third most plays of 40
yards or more and the fifth most of 20 or more.
Manning won’t be seeing
anything he hasn’t before. His main challenge will be to remain patient and work
underneath and in the middle of the field. A forced throw could lead to an
undercut pattern or deflection for an interception. Manning’s other concern will
be getting it into the end zone when the Giants reach the red zone. Atlanta’s
red-zone defense was second to only the Ravens.
RUNNING BACKS VS. LINEBACKERS
Curtis Lofton leads a
very good group of linebackers that excels against the run. The scheme calls for
the D-line to eat up blockers whole the linebackers swarm to the ball carrier
and they do it well. The Falcons finished the season ranked sixth-best against
the run, allowing 97 yards per game, and have allowed an opposing runner to go
over 100 yards just three times in the last 19 games.
While the Giants
rank running the football, they’ve been getting enough from the hard-running Ahmad Bradshaw and
Brandon Jacobs to
keep people honest. Fullback Henry
Hynoski, injured for part of the regular season, is a good straight-ahead
blocker and has surprised teams as a receiver. But Lofton matches up well
against power backs because of his physical downhill style. He had a career-high
167 tackles, with 10 or more in 10 of the 16 games. Like the Cowboys’ Sean Lee,
he is a playmaker who can turn a game around with an interception.
rebounded from a difficult rookie season to become a rock, usually making the
critical stops in short yardage. The Falcons’ safeties also get very involved in
defending the run.
LINE vs. DEFENSIVE FRONT
Unlike the Giants, the Falcons don’t have
much depth up front, although they do play well against the run. Scouts say the
Falcons are better at creating pressure than sacks and they will hurry Manning.
Right DE John Abraham, a grizzled ex-Jet, is their one pass rusher. Abraham came
on late in the year and finished with 9-1/2 of the Falcons’ 33 sacks. He will
challenge David Diehl, who was
moved back to LT in the last month of the season, with his explosive first
The Giants allowed just 28 sacks (seventh lowest in the NFC), but a
lot of that had to do with Manning’s ability to sense pressure and get out of
The Giants’ line had to be reshuffled because of LT Will
Beatty’s detached retina, and seemed to be better blocking for the run when
Kevin Boothe moved
from guard to center for the injured David Baas. Boothe’s
shotgun snaps were a liability and Baas returned to the lineup.
isn’t the efficient unit that spearheaded the Giants’ traditional running game
in past seasons, although the run got better later in the year when the Giants
went to their heavy package with Hynoski at fullback and center Jim
Cordle as a jumbo TE.
RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS VS. SECONDARY
The Falcons’ secondary isn’t as
porous as the Cowboys’, but it can still be taken apart. Even the Bucs’ Josh
Freeman completed 68.9% of his passes against them last week. While Brent
Grimes, the Falcons’ best cover CB, is back after missing four of the last
five weeks with a knee injury, they may not have the depth at corner to compete
against the Giants’ three-wide sets.
Grimes is athletic and has great
ball skills, but veteran Dunta Robinson has
fallen below expectations as the corner opposite Grimes, and the two safeties,
Moore and Thomas DeCoud, don’t
have great range.
Victor Cruz will be the main focus of the Falcons. In one
amazing season, the undrafted slot receiver has become one of the premier pass
catchers in the NFL. He established a franchise record with 1,526 yards, third
best in the league, and was second with five catches of 50 or more yards. He is
hard to double and can change direction quickly.
Except for Cruz, who has
foiled every defensive strategy, the Giants receivers have had problems escaping
press coverage, but the Falcons’ corners play off of receivers most of the time.
That should free up Hakeem Nicks. Mario Manningham
is a great option on those little hitch routes, where he can use his quick feet
to beat the first tackle. TEs are always good to attack Cover 2 teams, but Jake
Ballard is a long shot to play
WHEN THE FALCONS HAVE THE BALL
MATT RYAN vs. DEFENSIVE SCHEME
career seems to be paralleling how Eli Manning’s progressed. Ryan ended the year
with a franchise record 4,177 passing yards, but is still looking for his first
playoff victory. He doesn’t have a big arm, but he can make all the throws and
knows Mike Mularkey’s thick
playbook, letter for letter.
He gets the ball out fast and loves throwing
inside the numbers on slants and crossing routes, where the Giants’ Cover 2,
man-under approach can be exploited. If the running game is working, he is
superb at play action, where he sees the mismatch pretty quickly.
mismatches will abound if the Falcons protect him. Defensive coordinator Perry
Fewell’s scheme is all about pressure from the front four, so what he lacks
in individual cover ability, he makes up in numbers.
One thing to watch is
how the Giants fare against no-huddle sets. That will force Fewell to pick a
defense and stay with it because he can’t sub personnel. Fewell could use his
nickel package with an extra safety on the field, but that would open up the
Giants to the run, which is where the balance of the Falcons’ offense comes into
Ryan is 0-2 in the playoffs, where untimely interceptions under
pressure have been his downfall, but he comes in hot. Over the last four games,
he completed 65% of his passes and threw for 10 TDs with no
RUNNING BACKS vs.
The Giants LBs face a huge test against RB Michael
Turner and a team whose entire approach is based on a power running game
that eats up clock and allows Ryan to get one-on-one matchups for his talented
receivers. Soft against the run for much of the year, they got a break the last
two weeks when the Jets and Cowboys fell behind and had to throw, but Turner,
who led the NFC in rushing with 1,340 yards, is the best back they’ve faced
It’s going to take a lot to get the Falcons out of their game
plan. They were second in the league with 33 TD drives of 10 plays or more,
averaging 3:54 in time of possession per play and eight plays per drive. They
love running out of the I-formation or with a two-TE set, and they can be
effective in a spread out of the no-huddle.
Turner is a handful at 5-10, 247
pounds, and runs with what some scouts call a “choppy” motion. He has good
balance and, because the Falcons have kept him fresh, he seems to get better as
the game goes on. He breaks tackles and turns short runs into big plays, a
problem the Giants have had earlier this season.
The Falcons will be eager to
test former teammate Michael Boley, who
has good range but isn’t strong at the point of attack. Chase Blackburn has
played credibly since the Giants re-signed him, but he hasn’t seen a rushing
attack like this. The key will be to prevent Turner from squaring his shoulders
and to get him to move laterally, where he can be chased down.
coordinator Mike Mularkey doesn’t over-use Turner. He does a good job spelling
him with Jacquizz Rodgers
vs. DEFENSIVE FRONT
Here we have the ballgame in a nutshell, the
so-called dirtbags trying to prevent sacks from what the Falcons feel is the
best front four in football. It has certainly looked that way over the last four
games when the Giants have picked up 15 of their 48 sacks, tied for third-best
in the NFL.
The return of Osi Umenyiora and the
resurgence of Justin Tuck have given the D-line the kind of versatility it had
under Steve Spagnuolo in
2007, with Fewell using his rotation to create mismatches. That has allowed him
not only the threat off the edge with the sensational Jason
Pierre-Paul, but the ability to collapse the middle of the pocket when he
moves Tuck or Pierre-Paul inside, even standing them up to attack the gaps, or
using lanky LB Mathias Kiwanuka
as a blitzer.
The Falcons play with a nasty edge, hence their reputation,
with everything based on their ability to control the line of scrimmage. They
have gotten better at it since a disastrous start to the season. Of their 26
sacks allowed, 13 came in the first three games, but that was when Sam Baker was
still at LT and Todd McClure, their
veteran center, was hurt. In the last four games, Ryan was sacked four
The Giants’ heads will have to be on swivels when the Falcons run,
which is often. The Falcons love to kick out linemen and get them down the field
to cut-block. DTs Chris Canty and Linval Joseph have
done a better job lately and were able to squash the Cowboys’ few running
attempts on Sunday night. They also must be disciplined in their rush lanes not
to be burned by the quick hitter.
WIDE RECEIVERS & TIGHT ENDS vs.
The Falcons are different than other explosive offenses in
that they’re not looking to throw first, but their receiving corps still stacks
up as one of the most dangerous in the NFL with Roddy White, Julio