Football teams are defined by what they do in the playoffs. That’s why Sunday’s game in New York is so important for the Atlanta Falcons.
They’ve done well since this new era of Falcons football started in 2008. Thomas Dimitroff came in as general manager. He hired Mike Smith to be the head coach. They then drafted Matt Ryan to be the quarterback.
Atlanta has been the fifth most successful NFL team in the regular season the past four years, but the Falcons have yet to win a playoff game.
They lost to Arizona three years ago and then to Green Bay last year. Another loss may make people wonder if this group can ever get it done in January.
That’s why it’s time for the Falcons to win now.
The matchup with the Giants is interesting. It creates all sorts of questions that make you believe we could see a pretty good game.
New York’s defense can make things difficult for opposing quarterbacks. The trio of Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul likes to punish quarterbacks like Ryan. That’s going to make the Falcons’ offensive line a key. The linemen have to protect Ryan and give him enough time to get the ball to his very dangerous threats.
Atlanta’s no-huddle offense could give the Giants trouble. Perhaps it will wear them down and make it easier for Ryan to do his thing. New York’s secondary is not as good as its front four, so the Falcons are going to want to test that by getting the ball down field.
Dimitroff gave up a ton of draft picks for Julio Jones, and there’s no doubt the wide receiver gives Atlanta a tremendous weapon. This is the time Jones can silence the critics who believe the Falcons gave up too much to get him. This is where Jones can prove he’s a star player.
It took awhile for Falcons’ offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey to find that comfort level with Jones on the offense. It was tempting to just let Ryan throw the ball deep down the field. But recently the Falcons have found more of a zone with Ryan throwing shorter passes and letting Jones and Roddy White use their speed for big gains.
Mularkey cannot afford to get too cute. He has to test that New York secondary, but the Falcons cannot forget about the running game. Michael Turner can help wear down the Giants defense, as well, so Atlanta must keep the ball on the ground, and that will open up Ryan’s passing game.
Despite the great pass rush, New York had the fourth worst pass defense in the NFL this season. So the Falcons are going to want to take advantage of that. They just can’t disregard the run game to do it.
Defensively the Falcons will have to get to New York quarterback Eli Manning. Perhaps it will be like the old days when players like Buddy Curry and Fulton Kuykendall used to punish Eli’s dad, Archie. Now the Falcons need defensive end John Abraham to step up, be the leader and put Manning on his back.
The Giants have a huge weapon in wide receiver Victor Cruz, who came out of nowhere to have more than 1,500 receiving yards. He’ll probably do something big Sunday, but the Falcons can’t let him get out of control and have a record-setting day.
Just like the Falcons prefer to run the ball, they also know that stopping the run is critical for success. So stopping New York’s Ahmad Bradshaw on Sunday will be pivotal. Expect Atlanta’s Corey Peters to have his name called a lot if he can stop Bradshaw up the middle.
This is Atlanta’s time. We’ll worry about next week next week. Maybe simply getting one playoff win is the next step. But the Falcons are in position to finally break through and win a playoff game. And at least then we won’t have to hear the question, “Will they ever be able to win in the postseason?”
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com.