Much of the focus on the Falcons-Giants first-round playoff matchup centers around New York's dominant pass rush and the performance of the Atlanta offensive line to stop it, but there's a different part of the Giants defense that could play into Atlanta's hands.
The Giants are tied for second in the NFL with 48 sacks this season, but the pass coverage the remaining seven players provides has been a weakness this season. New York has given up the sixth-most 20-plus-yard plays this season, with 60 of their 71 plays coming on pass defense.
New York's top draft pick in 2011, Prince Amukamara, missed half of the season with a broken foot, but hasn't been able to impact the pass defense positively. Amukamara missed most of training camp and the first nine games of the season.
The defensive backfield of safeties Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips and corners Corey Webster and Aaron Ross have been a big part of the reason the Giants have given up so many explosive plays. Additionally their pass defense is ranked 29th in the NFL with 255.1 yards allowed.
The Falcons believe they have the personnel to match up with the Giants in passing situations, despite the imposing pass rush. After having only 32 plays of 20 yards or more last season, they've jumped to 56 this season. With Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Harry Douglas as active targets, the Falcons figure to move the ball well against New York.
"I think we match up pretty well," White said. "They've given up 71 explosive plays. ... So we've got to go up there and get some. That's what we're looking to do and exploit those guys in different aspects with mismatches."
New York's run defense has allowed a 121.2 yards-per-game average on the ground this season, No. 19 in the league. The Falcons will look to set up the pass with an effective ground game from Michael Turner and the other running backs. With the ground game churning, the pass rush from New York will slow down and the safeties and corners will have to play with a focus on the run.
"Their secondary does a good job," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "They play a lot of man-to-man coverage. They're physical at the line of scrimmage. They try to disrupt the timing. They also do a great job, the safeties do a great job, of coming down in run support. So, I think it's a good secondary and they've got a good scheme."
Despite Ryan's appraisal of New York's secondary, White already knows what the key to the game is for the Falcons.
"That's the key to the game: play Falcons football," White said. "We run the ball and Mike (Turner) gets 100 yards. We throw the ball with efficiency. We'll win the game."
It's been a recipe for success this season for Atlanta. When Turner has paced the running game with 70 rushing yards or more this season, the Falcons are 8-2. Under head coach Mike Smith the Falcons are 14-3 when the Falcons have a 100-yard rusher.