It’s important to recognize the most crucial performances and key players in every Falcons victory. This victory by the Atlanta Falcons over the New York Giants is particularly sweet and means a lot. As a result, there are a lot of Falcons who ‘earned their wings’ in the 34-0 win over the Giants:
Atlanta Falcons Offensive Line: Everyone likes to talk about two things when they mention the New York Giants. The first is Eli Manning, and the second is the Giants dominant defensive line. And for good reason, as the Giants have a lot of really talented d-linemen, and are good as a unit. I was concerned about the Falcons ability to protect coming into the game. But over the course of the game, the Falcons offensive line blocked very well in the run game, and protected Matt Ryan extremely well. I was particularly impressed with offensive tackles Tyson Clabo and Sam Baker playing against New York’s great defensive ends. This unit only gave up 3 QB hits, 1 sack, opened holes for the run game to rush for 129 yards, and allowed deep routes in the passing game to develop. Tremendous performance by Atlanta’s offensive line.
LBs Sean Weatherspoon & Stephen Nicholas: ‘Spoon and Nicholas had fantastic days against the Giants. Neither made particularly highlight reel plays, or created any turnovers, but they were as solid as it gets. The pair of linebackers consistently played good contain against the run, filled the gaps in the run game, and generally contained the rushing attack. One third down play in particular stood out, where Weatherspoon stayed along the line of scrimmage, kept his shoulders square to the running back, held the back in place, and Nicholas came in to finish the tackle. They worked independently, in tandem, and produced overall.
Quarterback Matt Ryan:Ryan was absolutely as sharp as could be, and he really didn’t begin to be dominant until the second half. In the first half, he was solid on short-to-intermediate routes, got the ball out quickly, checked to good run plays, and generally moved the chains. He had the beautiful TD pass to Tony Gonzalez. But in the second half, Ryan really took over, and was firing on all cylinders, including two beautiful passes to Julio Jones (one of which was a beautiful goal-line fade). Everything was on target, and really allowed the Falcons offense to succeed. Ryan completed 23 of his 28 passes for 270 yards and three touchdown passes. That’s good for a 142.6 passer rating en route to a Falcons victory.
Wide Receiver Julio Jones: I said in my weekly matchups post that Jones would have to step it up what with Roddy White not being 100%, and that he needed to produce in the short and intermediate passing game to become a more complete receiver. Well, he certainly responded. He had 6 catches for 74 yards, two receiving touchdowns, and a rush for 18 yards. Jones’ first touchdown was a 40-yard bomb from Matt Ryan. His second was a beautiful goal-line fade where he adjusted perfectly to the well-thrown ball from Ryan, and made the 3-yard touchdown catch. Jones really stepped up from a production standpoint, and showed that he can really be the #1 option in Atlanta’s passing attack. It’s also huge that he passed 1,000 receiving yards for the first season in his career. His two touchdown catches were his first two in home games all season long.
Defensive backs Asante Samuel, Thomas DeCoud, and Chris Hope: Samuel is a veteran of the NFC East, and has faced Eli Manning many times, so perhaps that is what gave him the ability to know when to break on the ball and create the interception. There’s no doubt that was a huge play. But he also had a huge pass breakup on a 4th down. Thomas DeCoud had an interception, his 6th of the season. He was also stout playing the run. The third member of this trio, Chris Hope, had a massive day. Like Weatherspoon and Nicholas, he didn’t have any particularly huge plays, but he didn’t need to. Filling in for William Moore, I was more than a little concerned. Instead, Hope didn’t hesitate once to get in on every play, and was really good playing the run. He wasn’t a liability in pass coverage, and he was a huge part of slowing down and stopping the Giants offense early. Big performance from all three of these players.
Falcons defensive front-7: The Falcons didn’t necessarily have huge sacks all over the place, and it wasn’t like they didn’t allow the Giants to run for a single yards. But they were clutch when they needed to be. The Falcons only had 1 sacks and 2 QB hits, but they consistently got good pressure up the middle and around the edge on Manning, forced him off the spot and to throw early, and really disrupted New York’s passing attack. The Falcons also played extremely stout against the run, and were able to get the initial surge necessary to stop New York on early downs, as well as in short yardage situations. Outstanding play in the trenches by the Falcons front 7 allowed everything else to fall in place.