At 10-6, the Atlanta Falcons have secured their trip to the playoffs with the top Wildcard spot. On Sunday afternoon, the Atlanta Falcons will take on the New York Giants in the "Meadowlands." Atlanta is taking their 3rd trip to the playoffs out of four years under the Mike Smith/Thomas Dimitroff administration.
The keys to this game are simple. Very similar to what most critics have been saying all year about the Atlanta Falcons.
1. Turner the "Burner"- Run the Ball. With Michael Turner being the third top rusher in the league this season, he needs to have a big game. In a cold weather, outdoor stadium, one of the key ways to win ball games is to stay on the ground and pound the ball through the defensive front four. Pure "smashmouth" football. Mike Mularkey has to keep feeding Michael Turner the ball to tire out the defense early and keep Eli Manning off the field. With Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers in the backfield, that also gives options so Turner can sit out a few plays. I expect them to get plenty touches on the ball as well.
2. Offensive Weapons- Much can be said about the Falcons explosive offensive weapons,. Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas. These players provide many options for Atlanta as they create long drives down the field that end in points. With the 'NO HUDDLE' offense that Mularkey likes to use with his offense, these targets will all be key in each possession to spread the ball around. With many options to touch the ball it's going to force the Giants defense to not only to rush the passer with their great front four, stop the run with their front seven, but force the secondary into double coverage on either White or Jones, Gonzalez or Douglas open to create big plays.
3. Cruz Control- Victor Cruz. With nine touchdowns this season with over 1500 yards receiving, Eli Manning is going to be looking to his "go-to" guy this year. Cruz is having an outstanding year. With his speed and ability to get open down the field, our defensive backs are going to have to step up and get him in double coverage. The Giants have struggled this year with their running game, so Manning is going to come in throwing the ball. With Cruz and Hakeem Nicks on the other side, the Falcons defense should expect the Giants to come out throwing the ball to put points on the board early.
4. Both Front Fours- Both our offensive front four and our defensive front four have been off and on all year. Our offensive line was called "dirty" this week by Giants defensive end Justin Tuck. To me that's a compliment. Would I rather have my offensive line be called soft? I don't think so. Either way, They're going to have to play their best game yet against the Giants strong defensive line and pass rush. Our defensive line has been pretty average thus far. John Abraham had a very great game last week against Tampa. I expect our defensive front to utilize the blitz in this game to get to Eli Manning, because he is going to throw the ball. Knock him around early to get him out of rhythm.
The fact that the Falcons are playing outdoors is not the main factor against us. We maybe a dome playing team, but we are not a dome built team. We are built to run first and pass second. That is how a outdoor team plays in cold weather situations. This is not the game or time to get cute with play calling. This is not the game where we should be throwing the ball every down to get the ball to Julio or Roddy. We have a winning percentage and record when Turner runs for over 100 yards in a game. That is the key. Run the ball to increase the time of possession to create long drives. That wins games. GO FALCONS!