Maybe the Giants just don't like being favorites. In their 2007 miracle season, they entered the playoffs as a 10-6 wild card, unable to win their division. They knocked off favored opponents on the road in three consecutive weeks to reach the Super Bowl, where they found themselves two-touchdown underdogs to the unbeaten Patriots. We all know what happened next.
This year, they waited until Week 17 to finally win a deeply flawed NFC East, and enter the playoffs having won only three of their last eight games. But they remain a dangerous commodity in the postseason. Is this the beginning of another miracle run?
We talked to Glenn Warciski of Ultimate NYG, a New York Giants blog on the Bloguin network, to get an inside look at the Giants wildcard matchup and what needs to be done to return New York to the top on the NFL.
TGS: The story of the Giants' 2011 season has been their baffling inconsistency. Are they showing signs of finally getting in gear, now that we're in sudden-death mode?
Quite frankly, after losing to the Washington Redskins at home, I thought their season was over. A week earlier, down by 12 points late in the fourth quarter, the Giants led by Eli Manning overcame a 12 point deficit. A thrilling win against the Cowboys in Jerry's Palace. After that incredible win, the Giants took over control in the meager NFC East. Then, inexplicably, they lay an egg against the lowly Redskins. In my opinion, a good team does not lose this game at home. Because of their listless performance at HOME to Washington, the Giants had to win two in a row against the Jets and Cowboys.
The difference over the last few weeks is the Giants are making plays. Victor Cruz's 99 yard TD catch and scamper changed the whole complexion of the Jets vs Giants match up. Before Cruz's electric play, the Jets were in control of this game. Then last week against Dallas, it was Cruz again who put the Giants in the lead with his 76 yard TD. This was the first time all year the Giants took an early lead in a game. And with DE Osi Umenyiora coming back to the lineup and Justin Tuck playing much better, the Giants defense has played better.
Despite finishing the year with a 9-7 record, the Giants do appear to be on the right track.
TGS: How does this Giants team compare to the 2007 version that shocked the world?
Two different teams. The 2007 Super Bowl team won because of Steve Spagnuolo's defense. In addition, Eli Manning played his best football in the post season. This year's team has a suspect defense. Before the last two weeks, the Giants defense could not cover anybody, and could not stop the run either. On offense, Eli Manning had his best regular season.
If it was not for Eli, the Giants do not win nine games. Think about this. Despite having the worst running game in the NFL, Eli put up excellent numbers. Eli's yards per attempt were the highest of his career at 8.4 yards.
To put this stat into perspective, according to former head coach Tony Dungy:
"It doesn't matter how often you throw, if you're throwing and having great success... that's a determining factor. There are times in every game when you have to throw the ball, and if you're throwing it efficiently, you're going to win most of the time."
According to Dungy, a defining yards per pass attempt is SEVEN. So with an 8.4 yards per attempt, Manning threw the ball with effiency. This is one of the major reasons the Giants won nine games.
TGS: What do the key playmakers (Eli, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Justin Tuck) have to do to give their team a chance of winning?
For Eli: Continue to play mistake free football. If Eli does not force things, I believe he will have a good game against the Falcons. Can the Falcons cover Cruz and Nicks? After watching them play New Orleans twice, the Falcons had trouble covering Saints receivers. Unless the Falcons make the Giants one dimensional, I do not think they can contain Cruz and Nicks.
If Tuck can play like he has over the last two weeks, it makes the defense much better. If Atlanta cannot block Tuck, they have to deal with a ferocious JPP. JPP has been the defensive MVP. A healthy Tuck makes JPP much better. And do not forget about Osi. He has played in nine games and has recorded NINE sacks. In addition to these fierce DE's, Mathias Kiwanuka can also rush the passer. With these guys all playing, the Giants have ELEVEN sacks in the last two games.
TGS: Who are the unsung heroes who will have to step up?
The linebackers. The Giants philosophy has been spending enormous resources on the defensive line and secondary. Unfortunately, in my opinion, they have neglected the linebacker corps. Yes. They have had injuries. Jonathan Goff and Clint Sintim suffered season-ending injuries in the preseason. But the linebacker play especially with Michael Boley out has been suspect. And Kiwanuka is a defensive lineman who was forced to play linebacker because of the injuries. Over the last few weeks, Kiwi has played much better. This could be due to the defense playing well overall.
Boley, Kiwi, Jacquian Williams, Chase Blackburn have to step up their game. The Falcons, most likely, will line up with base personnel. (2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB or 2 WR, 1 TE, 1 FB, 1 RB) This being said, the Falcons will want to establish the run. Can the Giants linebackers shed their blocks? Will they be able to contain Falcons RB Michael Turner? This will be a key matchup. If the Giants can shut down the Falcons ground game, they are going to win this game.
TGS: What is your game plan against the Atlanta Falcons?
On offense: Sustain drives. Get Eli Manning into a rhythm early. My colleague at UltimateNYG.com, Andy Furman, wrote about using small ball to keep the chains moving. They must have good mixture, run and pass. Most importantly, do not turn the ball over.
On defense: Stop the run. Force Matt Ryan into 3rd and longs. And then let the Giants pass rush go to work. I do not think the Falcons can block the Giants pass rushers.
Lastly, win the special teams battle. Win the war of hidden yardage.
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