Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons throws a pass against the Jacksonville Jaguars at the Georgia Dome on December 15, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
In advance of Sunday's NFC Wild-Card playoff game between the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, we reached out to our cohorts at SB Nation Atlanta for some information on the Falcons. Regional editor Jason Kirk answered our questions via online chat, and the results of our conversation with Jason are below.
SB Nation New York: Tell me a little about the season the Falcons had. A 10-6 record and we know some of the names, but we don't really know a lot about the team.
SB Nation Atlanta: In one sense, the Falcons this year were exactly who they were supposed to be. They beat bad teams, lost to good teams, and very rarely veered from that course.
They were supposed to be this whole new thing, with the addition of Julio Jones and other playmakers -- Jones had a good year, and Matt Ryan broke the club passing mark, but the offense looks pretty much the same as it ever did.
I like our defense a lot. OLB Sean Weatherspoon, MLB Curtis Lofton, SS William Moore and CB Brent Grimes lead the young guys who've turned the D into a top-10ish operation, but on both defense and offense there are big scheme questions that will probably lead to FARRRR THE COORDINATOR talk pending another one-and-done in the playoffs.
SB Nation New York: So, I think Atlanta has been to the playoffs twice with Matt Ryan at quarterback and has yet to win a game. If I'm wrong on that correct me. The question, though, is how do you feel about the matchup this week in New Jersey against the Giants?
SB Nation Atlanta: Two things I fret about as a Falcons fan: good opposing defensive lines and wide receivers. The 2011 line has done a better job as of late keeping Ryan clean than it did at the outset, thanks to some personnel switch-ups, but I've been impressed by the Giants' defensive line depth for years now.
And this Victor Cruz guy is an individual I'd rather have no part of. He will get two touchdowns on Sunday, I'm confident.
That said, after a quick look at the numbers it seems the Giants can be run upon, which fits what Atlanta prefers to fall back on anyway.
Now, about this Giants secondary ... shouldn't it be better, given that pass rush?
SB Nation New York: Well, that's a sore point. There are several issues there. The biggest one, I believe, is that they have been mis-used by defensive coordinator Perry Fewell for much of the year.
The Giants have guys like Corey Webster and Aaron Ross, who were drafted as press man-to-man cover guys and that is what they do best. Fewell is a softer, zone scheme, try to outstmart the opposition guy when it comes to his secondary. That has gotten the Giants burned a number of times this season. First of all, it's not what his players do best. Second of all, with six corners on IR there has been a lot of shuffling and communication breakdowns.
The other issue is that the Giants safeties, notably Deon Grant and Kenny Phillips, are just not fast enough to plug all the holes in Cover 2 and other zones.
The Giants have been much better the past two weeks as Fewell has FINALLY relented, simplified the coverages somewhat and just let guys play.
I wanted to ask you about Matt Ryan. We talk so much around here about what makes an "elite" quarterback. We consider Eli Manning elite. Do you consider Ryan to be elite?
SB Nation Atlanta: That's a popular debate around here, actually. It's easy for us to forget how young he still is. For the first few years of his career, going back and looking at young Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and even Dan Marino proved instructive, as we really were expecting too much of him too early. Now, even with a conservative offense and top target Roddy White leading the league in drops, he's broken a franchise yardage record that was set in June Jones' run-and-shoot scheme.
I think he's got a few years to go to become elite, but I'm more comfortable saying now that he'll get to that Super Bowl-winning level than I would've been a year or two ago.
SB Nation New York: OK, one more Ryan question. Minute and a half to go down four, you need to go 75 yards. Sitting there watching do you feel good about Ryan's chances of taking your for the winning score? We've watched Eli win six games in the fourth quarter this season and set an NFL record for fourth-quarter touchdown passes.
SB Nation Atlanta: Yes, absolutely. Last year, I think the Falcons had something like five or so late-game comeback wins. They weren't quite as fortunate in close games this year, but I think most Falcons fans feel great about our chances in that scenario. Which is something we haven't been able to say about any quarterback since, like, the early '80s. I was two.
I wonder about quarterbacking as well! Eli Manning throws a lot of interceptions. What's going on there?
Or I should say, they're down quite a bit this year, but still among the highest in the league.
SB Nation New York: Well, I think that's a bit of a misconception. He threw 25 interceptions last season (4.6 percent of his passes), but was way better this season with 16 (just 2.7 percent). That's well below his career average and a really good number considering that the Giants running game stunk, he threw more passes than he ever has in his career and he was seemingly always trying to bring the Giants from behind.
Eli will never be Aaron Rodgers in terms of throwing the ball with perfect accuracy every time. He is a bit of a gunslinger and he will take some chances and trust his receivers to win some jump balls. Sometimes that turns into disaster. Sometimes, though, it turns into Victor Cruz salsa dances
SB Nation Atlanta: So not looking forward to Victor Cruz. Pretty sure he's good for 150 yards.
How are the Giants at tight end coverage?
Atlanta's sole Pro Bowler, Tony Gonzalez, has been better in 2011 than he has in years, so it's of high interest.me: Tight ends?
SB Nation New York: You mean it's legal to use them? And it's legal to cover them?
Actually, the guy who likely will shadow Gonzalez is a guy you should be very familiar with ... Michael Boley. They guy has had a really good year for the Giants and did a great job on Jason Witten last week. Jacquian Williams is also a good cover linebacker. Traditionally, this has been a Giants' weakness, but these two guys are pretty good at it.
Tell me a little about the Atlanta defense. I know you have a couple of quality linebackers. What about the pass rush and the coverage guys?
SB Nation Atlanta: The pass rush comes and goes, and other than John Abraham there's not a whole lot to count on. Medium-money free agent Ray Edwards hasn't amounted to much -- backup Lawrence Sidbury actually has a half-sack more than he does. The Falcons have traditionally done a lot of zone blitzing, though, so even Abraham isn't coming on every play. I feel our defensive tackles make for Atlanta's strongest unit overall.
In coverage, I love the right side of the field. Brent Grimes is my favorite player in the league. He doesn't get beat, he baits quarterbacks into bad throws just by being incredibly short, and he's the best athlete the Falcons have had since Michael Vick. Strong safety William Moore finds the ball and makes big hits. Top cornerback Dunta Robinson can be beaten and will miss a tackle on Sunday, but he hits like a linebacker, which usually gets him in trouble. Free safety Thomas DeCoud seems to get in frequent communication mishaps with Dunta, and we never really know who to blame there.
SB Nation New York: OK ... my favorite question, and the one that really tests your knowledge of the Giants roster. If you could take one player off the Giants and put him in your lineup, who would it be?
SB Nation Atlanta: Adding Victor Cruz would be greedy, as the Falcons already have two ace receivers, so I'd have to go with Jason Pierre-Paul. I'd assume he was a player the Falcons eyed coming out of the draft, as he's the kind of "urgent" athlete Thomas Dimitroff loves, but they'd had their heart set on Sean Weatherspoon for a long time.
How about the same question for you?
SB Nation New York: First, let me congratulate you on your answer. Anyone who does not say 'give me Pierre-Paul is nuts. He's phenomenal. He can run over tackles, around them, can jump, has huge arms and LOVES to be on the field.
I would opt for defense, and would take either Sean Witherspoon or Curtis Lofton. The Giants could really use one more impact linebacker, and I know Witherspoon is a guy a lot of fans wanted the Giants to take a couple of years back.
SB Nation Atlanta:Sounds like a RE-DRAFT (though we're both clearly happy with the guys we got). Score prediction?
SB Nation New York: I have to go with the Giants in a close one, 21-20.
SB Nation Atlanta: I, too, see a close one, looking at all the near-misses and comebacks the Giants have had this year. Lot of offensive opportunities on both sides though, so put me down for 31-28, Falcons.
-- Thanks to Jason for taking the time to educate us about the Falcons