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Scouting Report: Falcons

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The Giants will play their first postseason game in three years Sunday when they host the Atlanta Falcons in an NFC Wild Card Game in MetLife Stadium. A victory over the Dallas Cowboys on the final night of the regular season gave the Giants the NFC East championship with a 9-7 record. Atlanta finished second to New Orleans in the NFC South with a 10-6 mark. The Giants and Falcons have not faced each other since Nov. 22, 2009, when the Giants won in overtime, 34-31. This is their first-ever postseason meeting. The regular season series is tied, 10-10. The visiting team won 15 of those games.

The Falcons, like the Giants, won three of their last four games and scored at least 31 points in each of those victories. They were 2-5 against teams with winning records and 4-4 on the road. Atlanta played just four outdoor games all season. The coldest temperature the Falcons played in was 43 degrees at Carolina on Dec. 11. In four seasons under Coach Mike Smith, Atlanta is 36-2 when they have a halftime lead, 33-1 when they lead after three quarters and 28-2 when they win the turnover battle. But they are 0-2 in the playoffs, including a loss last year to Green Bay as a No. 1 seed. This is the first time in Falcons history they have made the playoffs in consecutive seasons.

Offense

Atlanta ranked 10th in the NFL with an average of 376.6 yards per game. The Falcons were 17th in rushing (114.6 yards a game) and eighth in passing (262.2). They averaged 25.1 points a game, which was ninth in the league. Atlanta's plus-eight turnover differential is slightly better than the Giants' plus-seven.

The Falcons have an up-tempo offense that includes a lot of shifting and motioning. At the same time, they rely heavily on their power running game, not only to gain yards and control the clock but to set up their play-action passing attack.

Quarterback Matt Ryan threw for a franchise-record 4,177 yards and posted career-highs with 29 touchdown passes and a 92.2 passer rating (eighth in the NFL). He led the Falcons to three victories in which they trailed in the fourth quarter and has 15 such wins in his career. Ryan played his best football late in the season; in Atlanta's last four games, he completed 81 of 125 passes (65 percent), 10 touchdowns, no interceptions and a 116.9 rating. The Falcons are a big three- and five-step drop team and though Ryan is more of a short and intermediate passer, he can throw the ball downfield with success. Calm and poised in the pocket, Ryan has outstanding arm strength and velocity. He is a good ball-handler who expertly uses head and shoulder fakes and excellent running the no-huddle. Ryan's backup is Chris Redman.

Michael Turner was third in the NFL with 1,340 rushing yards. He led the NFC with four runs of more than 50 yards, including an 81-yard touchdown. The Falcons were 5-1 when Turner rushed for more than 100 yards. In Atlanta's 10 victories, Turner averaged 95.5 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. In their six losses, he averaged 59.1 yards and scored once. Turner is an outstanding tackle box runner whose unusual balance enables him to slip out of tackles. He runs hard and low to the ground. Backup Jason Snelling is a versatile player who rushed for 151 yards and caught 26 passes. Third down back Jacquizz Rodgers is a big-play threat as both a runner and receiver.

The Falcons' running game took a hit when fullback Ovie Mughelli went on injured reserve after Week 7 with a knee injury. He is one of the league's best blocking fullbacks. Mike Cox is the new starter, but Snelling will also line up at fullback.

Atlanta is a big three-wide receiver team. The leader of the group is seven-year veteran Roddy White, who caught exactly 100 passes and scored eight touchdowns. White holds the franchise records with 7,374 receiving yards and 28 100-yard games. He is big and athletic and is blessed with outstanding leaping ability. First-round draft choice Julio Jones led all rookie receivers with eight touchdown catches, despite missing three games. He caught 54 passes for 959 yards. Jones is a big, strong, physical receiver with a powerful stride. The third wideout is Harry Douglas, who is battling groin and shoulder injuries. He has quick feet and the ability to quickly switch direction. Douglas is very effective on crossing routes. Atlanta has seven rushing attempts by wide receivers this year.

All three tight ends on the Falcons' roster play. The leader of the group is future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez, who holds the tight end records for receptions (1,149), yards (13,338) and touchdowns (95). Atlanta's only 2011 Pro Bowler, Gonzalez was second on the team with 80 catches for 875 yards and seven touchdowns. Now in his 15th season, Gonzalez is still a player the defense must account for on every play. Reggie Kelly, who has 150 career starts, is now used primarily as an end-line blocker. Michael Palmer aligns all over the formation and is a good short and medium-range receiver.

The Falcons have used four starting offensive line combinations this season. Sam Baker and Garrett Reynolds are former starters who are now reserves. It is a tough, physical line that plays without the chippiness that marked previous Falcons fronts. Right tackle Tyson Clabo is 6-6, smart and experienced. Guard Joe Hawley is not as big, but gives great effort on every play. Center Todd McClure is a solid anchor in both the run and pass games. Left guard Justin Blalock is probably the Falcons' most talented lineman, a powerful and athletic player who opens many holes for Turner. The left tackle is Will Svitek, an intelligent player with a high-running motor.

Defense

Atlanta was ranked 12th in the NFL in total defense, allowing 336.6 yards a game. The Falcons were sixth against the run, giving up 97.0 yards a game, and 20th vs. the pass (236.6). They were 18th in scoring defense, surrendering 21.9 points a game.

The Falcons' defense is a bit undersized, but the players on all three levels are fast and fly to the ball with great effort.  Under Smith, Atlanta is 19-1 when holding its opponents to fewer than 300 yards. The Falcons allowed only 16 points on 16 opening drives in 2011.

Atlanta has an extremely athletic defensive front that goes eight players deep. Right end John Abraham, a four-time Pro Bowler, is the Falcons' best pass rusher and led the team with 9.5 sacks, including 3.5 in a Week 15 victory over Jacksonville. Blessed with exceptional quickness, he will cover tight ends on occasion. Ray Edwards, a free agent acquisition from Minnesota, chases the ball hard, despite being limited to one practice a week because of a sore knee. Tackle Corey Peters quickly reads schemes and is a rugged defender against the run. Justin Babineaux has good quickness at the snap and plays nose tackle or defensive end in select packages. The backups all make important contributions. Lawrence Sidbury is tied for second on the team with 4.0 sacks. Kroy Biermann has 17 career starts and plays hard every down. Former first-round draft choice Peria Jerry gets most of his snaps in the base defense. Vance Walker is another fighter who will chase the ball.

The Falcons might miss productive strongside linebacker Stephen Nicholas, who has been inactive four of the last five games and did not practice Wednesday because of a toe injury. He is not expected to play. Nicholas' replacement is Spencer Adkins, a tough, aggressive run-and-hit linebacker. In the middle is Curtis Lofton, who led the team with 159 tackles (95 solo). When the linemen occupy blockers, Lofton makes tackles all over the field. On the weak side is Sean Weatherspoon, Atlanta's first-round draft choice in 2010. An every-snap backer, he has 125 tackles (84) and plays with speed, athleticism, aggressiveness and outstanding range. Weatherspoon missed practice Wednesday with a head injury.

The secondary is also dealing with an injury to a key player; left corner Brent Grimes hurt his knee vs. Minnesota and was inactive for four of the last five games. Although he's only 5-8, Grimes has the movement and ball skills to be a successful corner. Dominique Franks, normally the nickel back, has started for Grimes. When he does, Chris Owens is the third corner and Franks moves inside in the nickel. On the other side is Dunta Robinson, Atlanta's most explosive back end player. He is quick to open his hips and is strong in coverage.

William Moore is one of the NFL's most aggressive and hard-hitting safeties. He plays with a mean streak, goes all-out on every play and brings a physical presence to the defense.  Moore has played at a Pro Bowl level. The other starter, Thomas DeCoud, leads the Falcons with four interceptions and has contributed 108 tackles (75 solo). He has good downhill speed and will frequently blitz in the sub packages.

Special Teams

Eric Weems does a little of everything for Atlanta on special teams. He was seventh in the NFC with a 9.8-yard punt return average and 11th in the conference with a 23.5-yard kickoff return average. Weems is also second on the Falcons with 12 special teams tackles. The leader with 19 is backup linebacker Akeem Dent. The kicker is former Giant Matt Bryant, who has made 27 of 29 field goal attempts – 14 of 15 on the road – with a long of 51. Rookie Matt Bosher is the kickoff specialist, holder and punter, where he has a 42.7-yard gross average and a 38.9-yard net average.

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