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In Wednesday’s key matchup, we look ahead to the Week 15 battle between the Falcons and the Giants in Atlanta.
Key matchup: Falcons running game vs. Giants run defense
When the Falcons run the ball and the Giants defend it Sunday, weaknesses of both clubs will be on display.
The Giants have been gashed for 142 yards rushing or more six times this season — including each of the past two games — and they rank 22nd in the league vs. the run, which is one slot below the Panthers’ 21st-ranked run defense. However, Carolina’s is the defense that just held the Falcons to a season-low 35 yards rushing on 11 carries in Week 14.
Atlanta has had trouble producing with its running game against even the weakest of the league’s run defenses at times this season, and it really cannot afford to have that be a problem again considering the Giants boast an offense that has the potential to be very explosive.
The Falcons could not get much of anything going offensively the last time they played the Giants — last Jan. 8 in the wild-card round of last season’s playoffs. In fact, the Falcons were shut out offensively in that game (their two points came from a safety). The ground game was ineffective (64 yards on 21 carries), and it put too much of a burden on QB Matt Ryan.
Atlanta was even less effective offensively in the first two-plus quarters of its loss to the Panthers. In the first half at Carolina, Atlanta ran only 13 total offensive plays. They tried to run the ball two times — both Michael Turner carries — and had no success, gaining three yards.
Will we see a repeat of the Falcons’ playoff nightmare at the Georgia Dome on Sunday?
If the Falcons dig themselves a hole for the second consecutive week, Ryan will be put into predictable situations and the Giants’ pass rushers will be able to pin back their ears and rush. That’s a recipe for disaster for any offense lining up across from the Giants’ front four.
The Falcons need a balanced approach offensively, and that means they will have to get more out of their running game, which has shown signs of life at times this season, but not as frequently as head coach Mike Smith would like. Getting Jacquizz Rodgers, who had only four carries vs. the Panthers, more involved could be helpful. With his quickness and lateral agility, Rodgers has the ability to make the Giants pay if DEs Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora get too far upfield or peek inside and leave the defense vulnerable vs. the run on the edges.
In addition, Falcons FB Mike Cox has to win one-on-one battles with linebackers to give Turner a chance to break into the second level and try to knock back linebackers. Inconsistent fullback play has been an issue for Atlanta.
Turner does not have the quickness or power that he once did, but he still can break the occasional big run, as he did vs. the Saints in Week 13 with a 35-yarder.
If the Falcons are going to send the message that they are for real to the rest of the league in Week 15, it's hard to see them doing it without attacking the Giants' vulnerable run defense.