It's gameday, folks. The New York Giants are currently sitting one game above the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East, without the benefit of holding a tiebreaker on either of their pursuing rivals. As Big Blue heads down to Atlanta to take on the Falcons, the team will be playing for control of their own destiny in 2012. The Falcons are 11-2 on the season, including a perfect 6-0 record from inside the Georgia Dome.
However, the Dirty Birds are coming off an ugly 10-point loss to the Carolina Panthers in Week 14. The Falcons may have the best record in the NFC, but their shaky performances over the last five weeks have led many to question their ability. The Giants have a chance to win this game, even without the likes of Prince Amukamara, Ahmad Bradshaw and Kenny Phillips. Let's take a look at what Big Blue must do in order to leave Atlanta with the divisional lead for at least one more week.
Get David Wilson Involved Early
We've heard the concerns about David Wilson coming out of Giants camp all season. He fumbles too much, he has problems in pass protection and he's just not reliable enough to have a prominent role in the offense. However, we saw No.22 break out of his shell last weekend to break the Giants franchise record for all purpose yards in a single game. He scored three touchdowns and was a primary contributor to Big Blue's crucial victory over the New Orleans Saints.
The Falcons are ranked 23rd in the NFL in rushing defense and just gave up 195 yards on the ground to the Panthers last Sunday. Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon will match up well in coverage over the middle of the field, but the Giants are going to win this football game on the ground. David Wilson has game changing, big-play ability and is a threat to score a touchdown every time he touches the football.
The Giants need to get him involved early for the offense to be able to operate efficiently late in the game. Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks will get their chances, but David Wilson must be effective early on to keep Atlanta's defense on its heels.
Eli Must Be Elite
Eli Manning has been a bit of an enigma this season. He's had some throws where you are reminded why he is the proud owner of two Super Bowl MVP trophies. However, he's also made some throws that give fans flashbacks to 2004. By in large, Manning has had a productive season thus far with a banged up offensive line and wide receiver corp.
That said, Manning's shortcomings in 2012 can not solely be blamed upon the personnel around him. While throwing to the sidelines this season, Manning has thrown nine of his 13 interceptions and has completed just over 54 percent of his passes. Compare those statistics to the one interception and 68.8 completion percentage on passes thrown over the middle of the field. Ten of Manning's interceptions have come on passes thrown 20 yards or less.
Passes towards the sidelines are generally the toughest throws to make in the NFL. We can't expect every throw from Manning to be like the throw he made to Mario Manningham in Super Bowl XLVI. However, for the Giants to have a chance to win on Sunday, Eli has to make accurate reads and make plays based upon what the defense gives him. If he tries to force the ball into coverage, there is a good chance Atlanta's talented secondary will make him pay.
This game is going to be won or lost by the right arm of Eli Manning. It's imperative that he plays one of his best games of the season for the Giants to emerge victorious.
Play the Matchups on Defense
While examining the offenses that the Giants have truly struggled against this season, there is a common thread that unites each unit together. The Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Redskins and Pittsburgh Steelers all have the ability to run and pass the football effectively with a single personnel group. The Giants have trouble matching up with teams that possess that capability.
For example, the Cowboys can lineup in an I-Formation with DeMarco Murray in the backfield Jason Witten down on the line and appear as if they are going to run the football. The Giants would normally match this personnel with Chase Blackburn in at middle linebacker and a single-high safety. However, if Tony Romo drops back to pass ,he would probably find Blackburn covering either a tight end or running back 15-yards down the field. This would normally end up in a big play for the offense.
Teams can create mismatches against the Giants by situationally exploiting the linebackers. Jacquian Williams is not a run stopper, Chase Blackburn doesn't cover well in the open field, Keith Rivers is relatively inexperienced, and the list goes on. There have been issues in the secondary all season as well. But Michael Boley aside, the Giants don't have any three down linebackers on the roster.
Fortunately, the Falcons are going to heavily tip their hand based upon the personnel they send out onto the field. If Michael Turner is in the game, chances are he is not going out for a pass. If Jacquizz Rodgers is on the field, there is a good chance he's not going to run his 5'6" frame up the middle of the defense.
Barring injuries, the Giants are going to be able to have the right players on the field to matchup with the Falcons' offense for the entirety of the game. This should prove valuable for the defense.
Giants Receivers vs. Atlanta Secondary
Atlanta has speed at both linebacker and in the secondary. Similar to the Giants, the Falcons use their safeties in a variety of different coverage schemes that can cause confusion at the line of scrimmage for a quarterback. However, for the Giants to have an effective offense today, there is a relatively simple formula for the wide receivers: win the individual matchups.
Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks are two of the most dynamic receivers in the NFL. Martellus Bennett has come alive as of late to make big plays on offense. Domenik Hixon is reliable when healthy, and even Rueben Randle has shown big play ability. The Giants must get open down the field and make big plays for the team to win this game. Easier said then done, as Big Blue is playing an 11-2 team on the road. But, it's what has to happen for the Giants to come away with a win.
Big Game Alert
We saw the Giants rookie phenom explode onto the scene last weekend with a huge game. Wilson has the unique ability to change the game every time he gets the ball. We've always known about his speed in the open field. However, last weekend we saw a physicality from Wilson that was not evident in his first several games. Wilson broke tackles and punished every Saints defender that attempted to bring him down.
If he runs with the same physical style that we saw last weekend, we could see another big game from Wilson. All it takes is for one hole to open up for him to break a long touchdown run. Wilson brings big play ability to the Giants rushing attack, which is an aspect that has not been consistently present in this offense since the early days of Ahmad Bradshaw.
The Falcons are a good football team, but they could be playing without Roddy White and Harry Douglas in this one. That would limit the weapons that Matt Ryan can make plays to, while putting an incredible amount of pressure on a rushing attack that garnered just 35 yards a week ago.
If the Giants offense is clicking, the defense should be able to stop an Atlanta offense without arguably their best receiver and a pathetic rushing attack. This is going to be a close, competitive game right down to the very end. However, the Giants don't lose very many football games in December and especially not when their backs are against the wall like they are this weekend. Look for Big Blue to rise to the occasion and hold onto first-place in the NFC East.
Giants 27, Falcons 23
Also…Ahmad Bradshaw, Atlanta, Chase Blackburn, David Wilson, Domenik Hixon, Eli Manning, Football, Jacquian Williams, New York, New York Giants, NFC East, NFL, Prince Amukamara, Roddy White, Victor Cruz