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Falcons vs. Giants: Three Matchups to Watch For

The Falcons’ 1 p.m. kickoff is just hours away. As we get closer to the game we’ve all been waiting for, here are three matchups to watch for this afternoon.

1) Falcons’ O-line vs. Giants’ D-line

We all know New York’s defense has been anything but stellar this season, but their pass rush has been the one bright spot that has stood out throughout 2011. The Giants finished the year with 48 sacks, good enough for third best in the league.

The Falcons’ offensive line was the epicenter for the majority of criticism early on this season, as they were making Matt Ryan’s life a living nightmare in the first few games. As the season progressed, though, they settled down and managed to do a much better job of protecting their star. Ryan was actually only sacked 26 times in the regular season.

Justin Tuck managed to stir up controversy several days ago when he labeled the Falcons O-line as “dirtbags.” Even though Atlanta found no truth in those claims, it’s something that will be in the back of everyone’s mind on the field. The Falcons need to go out there and stick to what they’ve been doing recently. New York often only rushes four men, so if the offensive line can take care of the Giants front four, Matt Ryan can take advantage of their dismal secondary.

2) Secondary vs. Eli

It’s no secret Atlanta hasn’t been able to handle elite passers. Aaron Rodgers absolutely torched their secondary last year in the playoffs, and Drew Brees had a field day against them two weeks ago. There’s always been an argument as to whether Eli Manning should be considered among the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, but if you l0ok at his numbers this season, he fits somewhere up there.

Manning finished the season fourth in total passing yards. The Giants rely on him to carry their offense constantly, so we can anticipate the same situation today. New York ranks dead last in rush yards per game, and Atlanta has fared well against opposing ground games for most of 2011. All indications point towards a huge workload for Manning today. The question is, will Grimes and the boys be able to slow him down?

Grimes has been held out of practice this week, but he is expected to be in the lineup come game time. He will likely be covering Victor Cruz wherever he goes. Cruz can fly, this guy has ridiculous speed when he gets out in the open. Grimes did a solid job covering Megatron 1-on-1 back in Week 7, so we know he can hang with the best. All of Atlanta’s secondary has to bring their A game Sunday if they want any shot at winning their first playoff game under Mike Smith.

3) Michael Turner vs. All

The NFL’s third best rusher will be a clear point of interest for the Giants’ defense, but they aren’t the only ones who can slow Turner down. I’m talking about the very team he plays for. The Falcons have been quick to abandon the run at times this season, which goes against their basic formula for success.

When Turner rushes for 100+ yards, the Falcons almost guaranteed a win. They are 22-3 when Turner hits the 100-yard mark. Yet, when they fall behind early or have some difficulty getting the ground attack going, they give up on it. In their Monday night blowout against New Orleans Turner was only given 11 carries. If Eli manages to build a lead early, Atlanta can’t quit on The Burner.

New York averages giving up 121 yards a game to opposing runners, so we know Turner can find room against this defense. The Falcons have to give him at least 20 carries. It will take pressure off Ryan, and hopefully open up some big plays downfield to Roddy or Julio.


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