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Falcons playoff primer

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By PFW staff

PFW examines the Falcons as they prepare for the playoffs, identifying the keys to the offense and the defense, a player to watch, and what they have to do to win the Super Bowl.

Atlanta Falcons
13-3 / First place in NFC South

Keys to offense: QB Matt Ryan is coming off his first Pro Bowl season, but the running game, led by RB Michael Turner, is still the force driving the Falcons' attack. They have a 12-0 record when they have more than 25 rushing attempts, and all three of their losses in '10 came when they ran the ball 25 times or fewer — Turner was held to 48 rushing yards or fewer in each of the losses. Turner is punishing and tough to bring down, but he benefits from playing behind a physical and gritty offensive line, which also has done a good job of protecting Ryan. He mostly targets Pro Bowlers Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, and the passing game could struggle to adjust if defenses are able to blanket those two.

Keys to defense: Playing zone coverage and rushing  just the front four for the majority of the time worked well for the Falcons throughout the season, but continuing to show the kind of flexibility that they did against the Saints in Week 16 could serve them well. DE John Abraham and DT Jonathan Babineaux are capable of knocking offenses out of rhythm by getting into the backfield without a blitz, but the Falcons came after Saints QB Drew Brees over and over again with extra pass rushers in Week 16, and it proved to be quite effective at times. They most likely will get back to doing what they know best in the playoffs, but offenses know they have to be prepared for a surprise.  

Player to watch: Ryan is tough and can take a hit, but he has been sacked a career-high 23 times this season, and the pressure is often coming from his blind side. OLT Sam Baker struggles against speed rushers, and defenses will try to expose that vulnerability in Atlanta's protection.

They'll win the Super Bowl if ... they limit turnovers, run the ball well and hold teams to field-goal attempts when they get into the red zone. Having home-field advantage along the way won't hurt — Ryan has a 20-2 record as a starter at the Georgia Dome.

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