The Atlanta Falcons came into the game only 1.5 point in most sports betting sites over the New York Giants. Even then most of the national media picked the Giants to win outright and tear the Falcons apart. I saw where one analyst said the Giants would ‘squish’ the Atlanta Falcons. To be completely honest, I didn’t have many really positive feelings about the game coming in. After the 2011 playoff game between these two teams, it’s really hard to not believe that the Giants are a bad matchup for the Falcons. But that’s why you play the game.
The Falcons haven’t gotten the job done in the trenches on both sides of the ball for most of the season, and it was very hard to predict that Atlanta would figure things out against the Giants. New York had done a terrific job of protecting Eli Manning offensively, and have an All-World defensive line that strikes fear in their opponents. It looked to be a very tough game for the Falcons.
From the second play from scrimmage of the game, it was hard to feel like the Atlanta Falcons weren’t putting their best foot forward. On that specific play, Manning dropped back and attempted a short pass for Hakeem Nicks. Covering Nicks was Asante Samuel, a player who is as familiar with Manning as any defensive player in the NFL. Whether it be through film study preparation, riverboat gambling, or intuition, Samuel jumped the route and came down with an interception of Manning. It was a colossal play, as it really helped the Falcons by giving them the ball in very good field position, and keeping the ball away from a hot Giants offense.
What happened on the ensuing possession was just as important. I stated yesterday that the Falcons needed to be able to run the ball effectively to keep the New York pass rush at bay. Well, on their first offensive possession, Atlanta jammed the ball down the throats of the Giants, primarily with Michael Turner. They converted on short yardage, and were even able to punch the ball into the endzone with Turner from about a yard out. It was a great feeling to have the Falcons be able to run the ball well, and get the Giants d-line thinking about the run right off the bat.
It seemed that from there, things snowballed for the Falcons, and against the Giants. New York couldn’t get anything together offensively, and looked out of rhythm. On the only true scoring opportunity they had, New York kicker Lawrence Tynes missed a field goal wide left. That was the best opportunity the Giants had all day to score, and they botched it.
To completely illustrate how poorly the Giants offense operated, the Giants first half possessions ended as follows: Interception, missed field goal, punt, interception, turnover on downs, and another turnover on downs. Those turnover on downs situations came when New York was already down 17-0. They were forced to go for it, and had a hard time generating anything with how exceptionally well the Falcons defense was playing.
Atlanta’s front seven was smothering. The Giants broke a couple 15-yard or so runs, and had a couple decent gains in the passing game, but for the most part were held in check. The d-line kept Manning on edge, worried about where pressure was coming from, the linebackers did an exception job fitting the run and not letting plays get past them, and the defensive backs did a great job playing the pass as well as coming up to play the run. Of Manning’s first 10 passes, he only completed three of them. That’s tremendous. The most spectacular thing is that the Falcons didn’t allow the Giants to do a whole lot in big situations. When they really needed a stop, they got it. New York was 4-10 on third downs, but also 0-3 on 4th downs. Huge stops in huge situations for Atlanta’s defense.
As well as the Falcons defense played, the Atlanta offensive line was just as good. I was absolutely shocked at how well the offensive line both opened holes in the run game, as well as protected Matt Ryan. The Falcons were able to run for 129 yards, and while they only had 3.4 yards per carry, the key is that they were able to surge ahead and consistently get positive yardage when they decided to run. It really kept the defense on their heels, and allowed a pretty clean pocket for Ryan and the passing game.
Look, I thought that Ryan would get hit several times especially by Jason Pierre-Paul, and that if both offensive tackles would struggle with the Giants defensive ends. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. New York’s defensive ends had no sacks, and only two quarterback hits on Matt Ryan. As a matter of fact, Ryan was only hit three times total, and the only sack came towards the end of the first half in a blatant passing situation, and he was sacked by defensive tackle Chris Canty. It was a phenomenal performance by the offensive line to open holes, and protect Ryan.
What did great play in the trenches allow? It allowed the Falcons skill position players to simply do their thing, and execute plays. Ryan ended up completing 23 of his 28 passes for 270 yards and 3 touchdowns. Julio Jones reeled in 6 of those passes for 74 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Tony Gonzalez did a great job on his red-zone touchdown, and also consistently moving the chains for the offense. Simply put, a great job in the trenches by the offensive line allowed the offense to really get rolling.
What more can be said? The defense executed when they needed to, and didn’t allow a single point. The offense was able to generate 34 points, and both the run and pass game looked great. If you can allow zero points and put up 34 of your own, you’re going to win a bunch of ball games. The Falcons finally looked like a 12-2 team against the defending Super Bowl champs.