Friday, January 6, 2012
Final Word: Falcons at Giants
By Dan Graziano
Three nuggets of knowledge about Sunday's Falcons-Giants wild-card round game:
Matt Ryan has played much better against standard pressure in the second half of the season, throwing 12 TDs and no picks.
There's no place like home ... or is there? From 1990 to 2003, the first 14 years after the NFL expanded the playoffs to include 12 teams, home teams were a combined 41-15 in this wild-card round. But over the past seven seasons, home teams have a record of just 13-15 in this round. Will the New York Giants have a home-field advantage over the Atlanta Falcons come Sunday? Well, it'll be cold, but not horribly so. Weather.com is currently showing a forecast high of 45 degrees and a 0 percent chance of precipitation for Sunday, so about the best for which a dome team like Atlanta could hope traveling north this time of year. The Giants were just 4-4 at home this year (though they did win a "road" game in their home stadium on Christmas Eve against the Jets), and the Falcons were 4-4 on the road. So that doesn't really tell us much, does it?
Ryan versus the rush: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan isn't likely to see a lot of blitzes Sunday, since the Giants' defense relies on its four down linemen to pressure the quarterback. That's likely fine with Ryan. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Ryan has thrown 12 touchdown passes and no interceptions when the opponent rushes four or fewer over the past seven games. In his first nine games of this season, Ryan had nine touchdowns and eight interceptions in such situations. That likely means the line is blocking better for him and he's not making as many bad decisions under pressure as a result. We shall see if Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul can buck the trend.
Big-play dudes: In Julio Jones and Victor Cruz, the Falcons and the Giants have two of the best receivers in the league at making things happen after they catch the ball. Jones, the Falcons' rookie from Alabama, ranked first in the NFL this year among qualified receivers with 7.6 yards per catch after the reception. Cruz, the Giants' second-year breakout star, was second in the league in yards after the catch with 601 and third in the league with 7.3 yards per catch after the reception. Cruz was second in the league with nine catches of 40 or more yards, second only to Detroit's Calvin Johnson. Jones was tied for fourth in that category with seven such catches. That all comes courtesy of the "Next Level" stats we get every week from ESPN Stats & Information.