Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and the offense was shut out when they last faced the New York Giants in the wild-card round of the playoffs last season.
With a revamped offensive line and wide receiver Julio Jones now fully integrated into the offense, the Falcons need a better showing in order to secure at least a first-round playoff bye and possibly the top seed in the NFC.
In the previous game, Atlanta’s Will Svitek played left tackle and Joe Hawley played right guard in a shuffled offensive line. With Sam Baker back at left tackle and Peter Konz at right guard, the Falcons are hoping to better handle New York’s outstanding defensive line rotation of seven players.
Here’s a brief Q&A with Ryan and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter.
Q: Is there a revenge factor for this game after the loss in the playoffs last year?
A: It’s one of the motivations that pushes you when you fall short in the playoffs. But we’re a different football team than we were last year and they’re a different football team than they were in the playoffs last year.
Q: What’s the game plan against their defense?
A: We need to play well. Obviously, it’s a very good defense. I think they’re second in the league in takeaways. They do a good job of creating turnovers. I think it starts with their front four. They do a great job of rushing the passer. … We’ve just got to find ways in terms of scheme and with our effort and with the way we play to negotiate their front four. Then we have to win our one-on-one matchups when we have them on the outside.
Q: What’s your assessment of the Giants secondary?
A: They’re aggressive. They make plays. They create turnovers. I think a lot of it has to do with how good their pass rush is in the front four. They pressure quarterbacks to get the ball out faster than you would like to, but their guys on the back end know that and they play to that. I think it’s a good mesh between the two.
The Falcons have a chance for a Manning Brothers Sweep.
They picked off Peyton Manning three times and went on to defeat the Denver Broncos 27-12 on Sept. 17.
Now New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who has guided the Giants to two Super Bowl titles, and is the X-factor for Sunday’s game.
Eli Manning said he planned to call his older brother for some tips on how the Falcons disguised their coverages and baited him into some ill-advised throws.
Manning led the Giants to a 24-2 victory over the Falcons in the wild card round of the playoffs last season. He’s also won his last four meetings with the Falcons. He has studied the Falcons defense, which is under the direction of coordinator Mike Nolan this season.
“It’s a little bit of a different scheme than last year,” Manning said. “They are still a four-down [linemen] team but kind of more of a 3-4 style. Their safeties have been playing outstanding and getting interceptions. John Abraham has always been a strong pass rusher. It seems that they are very aggressive on defense and are doing a good job getting turnovers.”
The Falcons have an ample amount of respect for Manning.
“He’s able to figure out coverages and what the defense is doing before the snap,” safety Thomas DeCoud said. “But I feel like our disguise packages have been able to confuse quarterbacks of his caliber. I feel like if we can keep doing that and then make sure that we are disciplined in our disguises, that we can confuse him as well.”
Even the best disguises might now work against Manning, who trusts his receivers and will throw the ball into tight spots. His pass to Mario Manningham in double coverage in the Super Bowl last season was a thing of beauty.
“He definitely has the gumption and the trust in his receivers,” DeCoud said.
Over 77 regular season games under coach Mike Smith, the Falcons have dropped back-to-back games just three times.
After losing to Carolina 30-20 last Sunday, the Falcons are in jeopardy of losing consecutive games again when they play the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants on Sunday at the Georgia Dome. Smith and his resilient team are on the hot seat for a pivotal game that has serious playoff implications.
“It’s the mindset that you try and get the guys in after (losing) the ballgame,” Smith said. “You want to stop the streak at one when you don’t get the outcome that you want. That’s what we’ve talked about from the very beginning.”
The Falcons have dropped back-to-back games with Matt Ryan at quarterback twice, but those losses were all on the road. Ryan has won 32 of his first 36 starts at home, the best mark by quarterback in the Super Bowl era. He’s shooting for his 11th consecutive home win.
In 2009, Dallas beat the Falcons 37-21 on Oct. 25 at Cowboys Stadium, followed by a 35-27 loss at New Orleans on Nov. 2. They also lost at Carolina 28-19 on Nov. 15 that year and at the Giants 34-31 in overtime on Nov. 22.
Overall, the Falcons have not dropped back-to-back games since Games 12 and 13 of the 2009 season. With Ryan out with a turf toe injury, they lost to Philadelphia (Dec. 6, 2009) and New Orleans (Dec. 13, 2009) with Chris Redman in Ryan’s place.
“You’ve got to flush the previous game out as quickly as possible,” Smith said. “You’ve got to make your corrections, move on, flush it out and get prepared. Don’t let the last game have an effect on the next game.”
Giants linebacker Michael Boley was selected by the Falcons in the fifth round (160th overall) of the 2005 draft. He played four seasons in Atlanta before signing with the Giants as a free agent in 2009.
Other connections include:
A big factor in Carolina’s upset of the Falcons last weekend was the Panthers’ domination on third down.
Offensively, the Falcons were 2-of-8 (25 percent) on third down conversions against the Panthers. Defensively, the Falcons allowed the Panthers to convert on 9-of-15 (60 percent) of their third downs.
By winning on the key downs, the Panthers were able to keep Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense off the field.
Offensively, the Falcons were 1-of-11 in the previous game against the Saints, making them a disturbing 3-of-19 (15.7 percent) over the last two games.
Ryan said the solution is not a simple. It’s not just a matter of teams blanketing Roddy White or Tony Gonzalez on third down.
“It’s different every third down,” Ryan said. “Each play shakes out differently. If it was one thing, I think we would pinpoint it, be done with it and move on.”
Overall, the Falcons offense is tied for second in the league on third down conversion at 45 percent (74-of-166). They trail New England 52 percent (96-of-183) and are tied with Dallas at 45 percent (80-of-178).
The Giants have the 17th ranked defense on third down at 39 percent (60-of-153). The Falcons are 24th in the league at 41 percent (65-of-160).
“I need to get to the quarterback,” defensive end John Abraham said. “We have to play like we’re supposed to play on third downs. We are getting them in third downs like we want to, but we’ve got to get off the field.”
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