Giants bringing their defense to Atlanta
East Rutherford, N.J. - Giants defensive end Justin Tuck would have loved to use last year's 24-2 wildcard playoff victory as a blueprint for defending quarterback Matt Ryan and Falcons on Sunday.
But he warned Wednesday that Atlanta (11-2), which would hold the top seed if the NFC playoffs were to start this week, is different from the team that was held to a mere second-quarter safety last year in the Meadowlands.
New offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has installed a more varied offense. The Giants (8-4) expect to see it.
"They're a little bit mixed up," Tuck said. "I thought at the end of last year, they were a little bit more leaning on the pass."
Ryan can still throw the ball, of course, and Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez do their fair share of getting open. But these Falcons also heavily rely on running backs Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers, and the results show.
"On offense, they want to keep the chains moving, and they're kind of a check-with-me offense," Tuck said. "It's going to be a chess match a little more than it was last year."
Tuck and his teammates might better benefit from a look at what Carolina did to the Falcons in a 30-20 Panthers' win last Sunday. That defense sacked Ryan, the conference's fifth-leading passer, twice, hit him six times, and forced him into his 13th interception.
Ryan still managed to throw touchdown passes to White and Jones, but they didn't come until the second half, after the Panthers snared a 23-0 lead. The Falcons were held to 13 first-half snaps.
"Thirteen snaps in the first half, yeah, that would be nice," coach Tom Coughlin said. "A high-powered offense, with the other team having the ball is a pretty good way to go."
The loss to the Panthers aside, the Falcons have been able to move the ball this season quite well. Turner has 689 yards rushing, and Rodgers, the change of pace, has 295. Even Ryan has an 8.2-yard average when he runs the ball, to go along with his 24 touchdown passes.
Making this task more difficult for the Giants is the injury status of right cornerback Prince Amukamara, who sat out practice Wednesday with a strained hamstring. Reserve cornerback Jayron Hosley could move into that spot, but it is also possible that Antrel Rolle, who takes the slot receiver in passing situations, could also move into Amukamara's spot.
Whoever plays there will likely have to deal with White most of the game, while the safeties and middle linebacker Chase Blackburn try to handle Gonzalez. The 36-year-old tight end, with 81 catches and seven touchdowns, remains especially dangerous on third down, where he has averaged 9.7 yards.
"He's still got it," Blackburn said. "You can't say enough about the guy. I'd love to play as long and still be effective."
The Giants excelled on third-down chances in the playoffs vs. Atlanta, turning the Falcons back on 10 of 14 tries. They also stopped all three fourth-down attempts, including two Ryan sneaks.
Ryan said beating the NFC East leaders starts with controlling one of the best pass-rushing front fours in football. Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, Chris Canty and Tuck have accounted for 17 of the team's 31 sacks.
"The Giants are probably the best in the league," Ryan said. "They've got three top-tier pass rushers, and we know that from playing them last year. They'll present us with a difficult challenge. Their front four is very solid. For four quarters, they rush the passer as well as anybody in the league.
"You have to scheme the four guys, and keep your running backs and tight ends in good position to pass protect."
Reproducing last week's four-turnover effort against the Saints won't hurt, either.
"We just have to make sure Ryan doesn't get too comfortable back there," Tuck said. "Otherwise, it's going to be a long day for us."
MOST VIEWED MEDIA
MOST DISCUSSED STORIES