Oct 122006
 
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Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Atlanta Falcons, October 15, 2006: Personally, I think the next two games against the Falcons and the Cowboys are going to tell us a lot about the 2006 New York Giants. Are the Giants serious contenders? Are they teases? Or are they also-rans? At the very least, the Giants need to keep pace with the Eagles, who currently have a game and a half lead in the NFC East.

The defense – as we all know – played very well last weekend, but one game does not make a trend. The defense needs to continue to improve.

Atlanta is a very solid team and they play well at home. But this is a game the Giants can and should win. Coming off the bye, Atlanta may be a little sluggish to start the game. New York needs to hit them in the mouth early.

Giants on Defense: The Falcons are averaging 234 yards a game on the ground. Obviously, the biggest defensive key is to shut down the Falcons’ ground game. The Atlanta rushing attack is a three-headed monster – HB Warrick Dunn (365 yards, 4.5 yards-per-rush average), HB Jerious Norwood (217 yards, 8.3 yards-per-rush), and QB Michael Vick (333 yards, 8.8 yards-per-rush). This year, the Falcons are allowing Vick to go back to his collegiate roots and run the ball more. Indeed, one new staple of their ground game is an option play where Vick is allowed the freedom to either hand the ball off to the back or keep it himself and bootleg in the opposite direction if the backside defense pursues too aggressively on the running back. Obviously, the defensive ends and outside linebackers must play disciplined football. What makes this play also difficult to defend is that the Falcons can have Vick run play-action to the back and then roll out in the opposite direction in order to pass the football – thereby putting stress on both the secondary in addition to the end and backer. If I’m the Falcons’ offensive coordinator, I use play-action early in this game in an attempt to take advantage of a Giants’ defense looking to play run on first and second down. The Giants need to be careful of this.

Vick is going to get his ground yardage. It’s going to happen because when a play breaks down and he starts improvising, you can’t game plan for that. What the Giants need to do – and they have the athletes up front to do this – is maintain disciplined pass rush lanes. We may see more of Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka on the field this week in obvious pass-rush situations because they are two athletes who can run. But to get Vick and the Falcons into these obvious pass-rush situations, the Giants need to stop Dunn and Norwood. These two guys are the key – not Vick. Dunn has a history of causing the Giants problems and the Falcons employ the same cut-blocking, zone-blocking offensive line scheme that the Broncos employ. The line tries to get the defensive players on the ground with low blocks, enabling the backs to do damage on the cutback. It’s a technique-oriented system – the Falcons don’t have a bunch of maulers up front. The Giants can really disrupt the running game simply by out-playing their opponents. This is a game where the Giants need their high-profile players in the front seven (Strahan, Umenyiora, Pierce, Arrington) to make an impact. Umenyiora faces LT Wayne Gandy and this is a match-up that really favors the Giants. RT Todd Weiner is a good pass blocker, but an ordinary run blocker. The interior trio of LG Matt Lehr, OC Todd McClure, and RG Kynan Forney are all undersized. They could have problems with Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield inside. Gandy and Forney are coming off of shoulder injuries. The Giants can out-muscle this group and certainly be more physical and aggressive. Get penetration and guard against those cutback runs. The linebacking corps of Pierce, Short, and Arrington may be too big and tough for Atlanta (though the Falcons do have two good blocking fullbacks). The Giants need to stop Dunn and Norwood at the line because they can break long touchdown runs if they get into the open field.

As Antonio Pierce alluded to earlier this week, I don’t think the Giants will put a spy on Vick. I don’t think they have anyone who can really keep up with him in the chase position. However, the Giants do have a lot of good athletes and if they stay disciplined, they can really limit his opportunities. One key will be to hit him. Vick will turn the ball over.

When the Falcons pass, keep Vick in the pocket. He’s far less dangerous as a pure pocket passer. My biggest worry, as I mentioned, is play-action. The Giants’ defensive back seven is not far removed from letting guys run free in the secondary. While the defensive backs and linebackers must be cognizant of Vick scrambling (and that’s why I think we’ll see mostly zone coverage on Sunday), they can’t be too aggressive. The guy to really focus on in coverage remains TE Alge Crumpler. While the Falcons have some good athletes at wide receiver (Michael Jenkins, Roddy White, Ashley Lelie) who can really run, Vick is still not very consistent getting the ball to his outside targets. What the Giants’ defensive backs need to avoid is giving up the cheap play deep…keep everything in front of them. Vick does throw a nice deep ball.

Watch for play-action early. Be strong and aggressive against the run. Don’t allow any cheap big plays in the passing game. If the Giants do these things, they should do alright defensively.

Giants on Offense: The Falcons have been very good against the run so it will be interesting to see which Giants’ rushing attack shows up – the one that played well against the Colts and Redskins or the one that was disappointing against the Eagles and Seahawks. The strength of the Falcon defense is their defensive line. LT Luke Petitgout will have his hands full with DE John Abraham, a fine two-way defender who can really get after the quarterback. So will RT Kareem McKenzie against DE Patrick Kerney. Petitgout and McKenzie did well against the speed rushers of the Colts, but not the Eagles so we really can’t anticipate what kind of game we will get out of them. Inside, mammoth run-stuffer Grady Jackson plays nose tackle, while the smaller, but very quick and disruptive Rod Coleman is the under tackle. The interior offensive line trio will also have their hands full. Really, this is where the Giants’ offensive success will be determined – in the trenches. Ideally, the Giants want to run the ball and then use play-action for the big play.

It will be interesting to see if MLB Ed Hartwell returns this weekend. He has been bothered by a knee. Hartwell is a very good run defender. If not, Keith Brooking may start inside again. Michael Boley plays on the strongside and Demorrio Williams has subbed on the weakside while Hartwell has been out. The linebacking corps is very active with Williams, Brookings, and Boley leading the team in tackles.

LCB DeAngelo Hall is a shutdown corner and if the Falcons keep Hall on Toomer, don’t expect much of a game from Amani this weekend. I’m guessing the Falcons will roll their coverage to Plaxico’s side as Plaxico is a mismatch for RCB Jason Webster. However, they could have Hall follow Burress. Lawyer Milloy is a headhunter at strong safety. Chris Crocker is the free safety. Both safeties are better against the run than the pass. Nickel corner Kevin Mathias is ordinary. Look for Tim Carter here.

The real key is that the Giants must be able to run the football. If they can’t, then the Falcons’ defensive line is going to tee off on Manning. The Giants may want to take a shot early while the Falcons are looking run. Screen passes and draws might also be productive. This is a game where I would like the Giants to use some no-huddle.

Giants on Special Teams: The Giants’ special teams played much better last week. Because the Falcons have so many good athletes on their team, they have good special teams units. Returner Allen Rossum, who has been bothered by a hamstring, can break one.

My gut tells me we are going to see a big positive from the Giants here this weekend. Look for a big return by Chad Morton or a blocked punt by David Tyree.

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Eric Kennedy

Founder and owner of BigBlueInteractive.com, which is now entering its 20th season. Follow Eric on Twitter @BigBlueInteract.

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