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Sunday, January 8, 2012
Halftime thoughts: Giants muscle up

By Dan Graziano

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Well, Saints-Lions this one ain't. The New York Giants lead the Atlanta Falcons 7-2 at halftime of their wild-card round playoff game here at MetLife Stadium, and they do so because they were able to crack the Falcons' defense once and the Falcons haven't been able to crack theirs at all.

It's been a defensive struggle both ways, as the Giants' defensive front has dominated the Falcons' offensive line the way it knows it needs to and the Falcons' defensive front has returned the favor against a shaky-looking Giants pass protection unit. The first points of the game were a Falcons safety when Giants quarterback Eli Manning was called for intentional grounding in the end zone while under pressure, and neither offense was able to score until Manning found Hakeem Nicks in the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown pass with 2:47 left before halftime.

The reason the Giants were able to get those points is that they found something in the run game. Manning escaped trouble and ran for 14 yards earlier in the drive (remarkable, considering he only ran for 15, total, in the regular season). And running back Brandon Jacobs' 34-yard run was the biggest play of the first half. Jacobs also converted a big fourth down just before the touchdown pass with a spin move after being stuffed behind the line.

The Giants ranked 32nd in the NFL this year with 89.2 rush yards per game. But they have 75 already in this game, and if they can keep having success on the ground, they have to like their chances.

The Falcons will get the ball back to start the second half, but as of now there's little proof that that will help them. Quarterback Matt Ryan has been pressured from the sides and especially up the middle, with Giants defensive tackles Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard having delivered big hits already. He hasn't had time to look downfield and find his big-time receivers for big plays, which means the Giants are executing their defensive game plan exactly the way they want to. The Giants have more work to do, but to this point things have gone about as well as they could have wanted them to go. They have weathered the early assault from the Atlanta front and found a way to overcome it.

Two injury situations to watch: Atlanta safety William Moore and Giants safety Deon Grant both have left the game. James Sanders has stepped in for Moore, and there seems to be little drop-off there.  But if rookie Tyler Sash has to play the rest of the game in Grant's place, the Giants' secondary could be very vulnerable. If, that is, Ryan gets enough time to take advantage of it.