Friday, January 6, 2012

Giants: Look ahead to Falcons II

After studying the Falcons a little more closely, looking at their personnel and their record, it seems to me that in a lot of ways they bear some similarities to the Cowboys. The Cowboys and Falcons both have some dangerous wide receivers and speed on the outside: Bryant and Austin for the Cowboys, White and Jones for the Falcons. Both teams have a TE that is important to their offense, but are more cut out of the cloth of old school TEs. Witten of the Cowboys and Gonzalez of Falcons are both big targets, have good hands, can get open in traffic but do not have the speed and deep threat capability that some of the new, young TEs in the league have. To support this passing game, both have QBs that are good passers and can make plays, though Romo is more athletic and more of a scrambler, while Ryan is more of the classic pocket passer. They both have good running games, but are passing dependent, with passing offenses ranked in the top 8 of the league (Cowboys #7, Falcons #8). Even their OLs are similar - somewhat leaky against the pass but solid against the run. Falcons have been having trouble with pass protection most of the year, even though they have not given up a lot of sacks.

The similarities do not stop on the offensive side of the ball. Both teams have shaky defenses, with DBs that don't cover that well, a solid front 7 with one gifted pass rusher, Ware of the Cowboys and John Abraham on the Falcons. Falcons have one good cover CB, Grimes, but he had knee surgery in December and may not be ready to play at a top level, if at all. Both teams like to blitz, with Ryan employing more exotic blitzes from every angle, with every one of the 11 guys on defense getting an occasional blitz assignment, while the Falcons do a lot of zone blitzing. Both teams play the run fairly well.

Based on this, if form holds and if Giants are solid in the OL with their blitz pick ups, it seems to me that the Giants offense should be able to move the ball against the Falcons defense and they should concentrate on passing the ball. Of course, blocking Abraham, the one real pass rush threat on the Falcons DL becomes of paramount importance. Falcons may try to take away the Giants WRs with double coverage on the outside, bracketing the WRs. To combat this, Giants should make sure to give a lot of 3 WR looks, because you can't double cover 3 guys and have enough guys to cover a back coming out of the backfield, a TE or a running game. If the Falcons do this, Manningham could become a really important player. Backum, if he gets his head out of his... I mean if he plays more loose, could also make a big play in the middle of the field. Falcons tend to play a lot of zone, so if they don't double both outside guys, Ballard, if he plays and Cruz become very important players because they are so good at finding soft seams in the zones.

On defense, Giants have a real challenge. What worked against the Cowboys was slowing down and stopping the Cowboys running game with aggressive up field push by the LBs, forcing the Cowboys to pass and then taking advantage of the holes in their pass blocking with the strong Giants pass rush. Sounds easy, but this is real football, not Madden 2012, and the Cowboys came out with a plan in the second half that muted this strategy. Cowboys started the second half with lots of short, quick passes off of 3 and 5 step drops, releasing the ball before the Giants pass rush could get there. Additionally, they ran a no huddle in that first TD drive, which keeps the defense off balance and does not let them rotate in fresh players for the pass rush. Falcons may try similar tactics to mitigate the Giants pass rush. They may also try to establish the run and hope that they will not be in 3rd and long situations, where they can stick with this short passing game.

The response to this from the Giants has to be to play aggressive tight coverage to take away some of these short throws. To stop the run, I would have the LBs playing downhill, don't be afraid to run blitz, because the Falcons running game has less speed than the Cowboys. Limit the use of Osi except in passing downs, to avoid having the mauling, "dirtbag" OL take advantage of him. Try to have Boley or J Williams on Gonzalez so the S position can give help on the outside or on the dangerous slot receivers if they are looking to throw deep. It is always important to take a lead and play form ahead, but it may be even more important in this game, or really any game this version of the Giants defense plays. If Giants have a good lead, the opponents will have throw often, throw deep and Giants DL gets a chance to dominate the game. In last game Giants deferred, but in this game it might be a good idea to accept the 1st half KO.

You are what your record says you are - truer words have never been spoken. Notwithstanding this pithy maxim, it is instructive to see who the opponents of each team are so you can evaluate the strength of schedule. It may not be revealing to analyze the individual meaningful wins against good opponents, but still useful to take a broad view of the schedule to understand its strength. For example, while it is true that the Giants defense was poor this year, it is also true that the Giants played against the best offenses in the league this year. Giants played 7 games against the top 9 passing offenses in football (not including the Giants themselves who were # 5). Falcons played 4 games against these top 9 passing offenses. Giants are also the only team in the playoffs who played all 3 top seed in the NFC and also played the top seed in the AFC. The Falcons did play two - the Saints and Packers. Falcons also did not play a lot of good defenses or teams with big pass rushes, so the hope is that the Falcons won't be able to adjust to Giants aggressive style of defense.

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