Every football game has matchups that will decide the outcome of each game. Those are the sort of things to look at in the context of the game as a whole. For the Falcons hosting the Giants tomorrow, here are the matchups I feel will be the most crucial for Atlanta to win:
Falcons LT Sam Baker vs. Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul: This is the most critical matchup for the Falcons in this game, and possibly the most important matchup all year long. Baker struggled in 2011, but has bounced back with a fantastic 2012 campaign. He will have to have the best game of his career if he is going to stop the Giants All-Pro defensive end. The Giants boast a very active and productive defensive line, and generally only rush four players. I would think that the Falcons would assign 4 linemen to work the 3 other Giants linemen, and use a tight end or a running back to help Baker with a chip block. Baker probably won’t be able to completely stop Pierre-Paul, but he must not struggle in clutch situations. That will be the real key.
Falcons Linebackers vs. Giants RB David Wilson: Unlike the game against Carolina, the Falcons don’t have to worry about containing an extremely mobile quarterback. That means that Sean Weatherspoon, Akeem Dent, and Stephen Nicholas will be able to focus on playing the running backs and tight ends. It will simplify their game significantly. However, they will have to really play well to contain Wilson, who is coming off a 100-yard 2-TD performance against New Orleans. Ahmad Bradshaw is out, so Wilson will be asked to carry the load. The Atlanta linebackers need to first stop him from getting anywhere on the ground, and then try to make him cough the ball up, something Wilson has been known to do.
Falcon WR Julio Jones vs. Giants defensive secondary: Roddy White is questionable for tomorrows game, and even if White does play, Jones will have to step it up. If White doesn’t play, Jones really needs to step it up. Jones has been solid for the Falcons, but he doesn’t always get great initial separation from defensive backs in the short and intermediate routes. Against a team like New York who rushes the passer extraordinarily well, Jones will have to get open immediately on short routes (like slants), and will have to do a great job setting up DBs to make a break and get open on intermediate routes. We all know he can run deep, but if Ryan doesn’t have time to throw deep, that doesn’t do much good. Jones will have to use his speed, size and strength to get open on every single route.
Falcon CB Asante Samuel vs. New York wide receivers: Samuel spent several years up in Philadelphia, and there are few defensive backs in the entire NFL who are as familiar with or have the same amount of experience against Eli Manning as Samuel. Now, Asante has long been known as a gambling type of corner, but that gambling style could play huge dividends against the Giants. If Asante can at least jump one route and create a turnover or at least bat down a couple passes, it will be a huge boost for Atlanta’s defense.