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Big plays could highlight Falcons-Giants

Sunday’s early playoff game features the 9-7 New York Giants, making their record 31st postseason appearance, playing host to the 10-6 Atlanta Falcons.

These teams got to the playoffs on their strength of their offenses, as both team’s defenses ranked outside the top 10 in points and yards allowed this season. So let’s break down the offensive matchups for this game.

Under Center

The Giants pass rush is the strength of their defense, as they finished tied for the third-most sacks this season in the NFL. However, they might want to consider bringing extra pressure against Falcons QB Matt Ryan.

In his last seven games, Ryan threw 12 touchdowns and no interceptions against four or fewer pass rushers. That was a change of pace from the first nine games, when Ryan threw nine touchdowns and eight interceptions against such pressure.

Most 4th Quarter Pass TD
Single Season in NFL History

The Giants do routinely get after the passer with just four or fewer rushers, with 34 sacks this season when sending such pressure, the second-most in the NFL.

But if this game comes down to the fourth quarter, Eli Manning could take over.

Manning threw for 4,933 yards this season, with nearly 35 percent of those yards coming in the fourth quarter, a league-leading 1,715. Manning also set an NFL record by throwing for 15 touchdowns in the final quarter.

Going Deep

These teams feature two of the best big-play receivers in the NFL, Atlanta’s Julio Jones and New York’s Victor Cruz.

Passing This Season
On Throws 21+ Yards Downfield

Manning has had a big advantage over Ryan throwing downfield this season, with 38 completions when throwing 21 or more yards downfield compared to 11 for Ryan. Manning was at his best going to Cruz in those situations, going 13-21 to Cruz and 17-53 throwing to other wide receivers.

Jones was the main big-play target for Atlanta, with seven receptions of 40 or more yards this season, tied for fourth most in the NFL. The rest of the Falcons had three such receptions this season.

Roddy White, the Falcons other top target, unexpectedly struggled this season, with an NFL-high 14 drops. Last season, White dropped just three passes.

In the Backfield

The 2007 Giants, who went on to win the Super Bowl, were fourth in the NFL in rushing during the regular season. Conversely, this season’s Giants enter the playoffs averaging 89.2 rush yards per game, fewest in the NFL, and the lowest by a Giants team since 1999.

Michael Turner

TurnerSo the advantage here goes to the Falcons and Michael Turner. The magic number is 100, as the Falcons are 22-3 when Turner rushes for at least 100 yards.

Watch for Turner to run to the left side. He averaged 5.6 yards per rush this season running to the left side, and just 4.0 when going up the middle or to the right. He could find room running left Sunday too, as the Giants allowed 4.7 yards per rush in that direction, 22nd in the league.