Giants, Falcons on similar paths in November

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Such is the significance of the game. Falcons veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez did not want to call it a "must win," but he said "both teams realize the importance of it."
Losing, Gonzalez acknowledged, "would hurt us but, at the same time, it doesn't mean that the season's over."

Said linebacker Mike Peterson: "I'm sure they're going to be excited about getting things turned around and likewise in this locker room."

One of the most interesting comparisons in the game is at quarterback, where the Falcons' Matt Ryan has come under criticism for throwing 10 interceptions in the last five games, including two costly ones in last week's 28-19 loss at Carolina.

Similarly, the Giants' Eli Manning was, as Giant head coach Tom Coughlin said, "lights out" for the first five games, but after suffering an injury to his heel Manning threw six interceptions in the first three games of the Giants' losing streak. He had an average quarterback rating of 54.7 in those games.

Here is how their statistics compare: Ryan has completed 59.7 percent of his passes for 2,008 yards with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for a 78.8 rating.

Manning has completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,070 yards with 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions for a rating of 89.5 -- the essential difference being four more interceptions by Ryan.

"He's gone through this little thing with his foot and then he played well against the Chargers [on Nov. 8] and he's on his way to feeling good about his game," Coughlin said.

Manning appears to have climbed out of his slump with a rating of 112.6 in his most recent game. Ryan is still attempting to get out of the hole. Many -- like Gonzalez and Roddy White -- have stressed Ryan is still only in his second year playing the most difficult position in professional sports.

Ryan admitted to a learning curve and has shown he remains upbeat.

"There are some plays you'd like to make differently at those times, but I feel like I haven't been making the same mistake twice," he said. "I've just been making mistakes throughout games and you just have to learn from that and get better from that. I think I've been doing that and I'll continue to do that."

One of the big question marks entering the game that could affect Ryan and the offense as a whole is the status of Falcons' Pro-Bowl running back Michael Turner, who sprained his ankle last Sunday. Turner had three straight games of more than 100 yards and had averaged 9.1 yards per carry in that span.

Turner did not participate in Wednesday or Thursday's practice. If he cannot play, the Falcons will call upon Jason Snelling, Aaron Stecker and possibly Jerious Norwood, who has missed the last four games with an injured hip flexor muscle but returned to practice for the first time on Thursday.

"It felt real good running today and being able to run and cut again," Norwood said. "I'm just glad to be back on the field. We'll have to wait until (Friday) and see what the soreness feels like or whatever it may be. We'll just go from there."

Smith said Norwood "looked good."

"You see that speed," he said. "And you see Jerious' smile out there breaking in out of the huddle."

As a result, the Falcons appear confident in their running game even if Turner cannot play, but the bigger question might be the Falcons' ability to stop the Giants' running attack. The Falcons are 2-4 against teams that rank 15th in the NFL in rushing or better.

The Giants rank seventh in the category.

Smith was blunt in his comments about opponents' 54 percent success rate against the Falcons on third down, which is a reflection, he said, not just of third-down defense.

"We're not very good," Smith said. "It's plain and simple statistically. We have to do a couple of things better. First thing is we have to play better on first and second down. We're in way too many third-down-and-shorts and third-down-and-mediums and when you're in those situations you're putting yourself at a big disadvantage on third downs, so I think it's very important that we stress that we have good first- and second-down pay to get us in those third-and-longs."

To defend the Giants' run, Smith said, the Falcons have to be "gap sound" and "swarm to the ball and play with leverage."

"If we eliminate explosive plays in the running game then I think we'll enhance our chances," Smith said.

Besides Norwood and Turner, left tackle Sam Baker (ankle) and wide receiver Brian Finneran (knee), both of whom missed last week's game, are injuries the Falcons' offense has suffered. Until last week, most of the team's major injuries have come on defense: starting tackle Peria Jerry (knee), the Falcons' 2009 first-round pick, and starting left cornerback Brian Williams (knee) are out for the season.

Also, '09 second-round pick William Moore (hamstring) has been placed on injured reserve, making him ineligible for the rest of the season. Earlier in the week, Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff called the losses of Jerry and Moore "a major blow" in an interview on AM 680 The Fan in Atlanta.

Similarly, the Giants have had significant injuries on defense. Undrafted rookie free agent Bruce Johnson has had to start at cornerback in place of Aaron Ross, who has missed the entire season with a hamstring injury, and strong safety Kenny Phillips, a first-round pick in '08, was placed on injured reserve after two games.

Linebacker Michael Boley, the former Falcon, missed four games with a knee injury. Defensive tackle Chris Canty, a major free agent signing for the Giants, missed seven games with a calf injury and fellow tackle Jay Alford was placed on injured reserve after season-ending knee surgery.

The Giants' Coughlin is hopeful that Ross, who practiced on Wednesday but was limited, can return soon.

"We started the year off and were missing a couple of guys and played short a little bit and had some success playing short, to be honest with you, and developed a guy by the name of Bruce Johnson who's played really well for us," he said. "…But if Aaron comes back, we'll have another quality football player that we can address some of our issues with."

Ryan was asked about the Giants'injuries in the secondary.

"They've had some guys nicked up this year, but, really, when you break it down and watch it on tape they do such a good job with their pass rush and covering that guys have made plays but that's the opportunities you get when you have some one-on-one coverage."

The Falcons' own secondary will have to deal with a young Giants' receiving corps that has emerged this season. Steve Smith, a third-year man, ranks seventh in the NFL in receiving yards with 719. Mario Manningham, in his second season, has 491 yards despite missing a game and rookie Hakeem Nicks is averaging 17.7 yards per catch for a total of 407 yards.

It's a big challenge, especially with the Falcons 1-4 on the road.

"We've gone against some really good teams on the road," Gonzalez said. "It's not like we're going against chumps. I like the way we've played on the road, we just haven't pulled it out. I think once we start making those plays that opposing teams are making --because we're in a lot of these games; maybe we should've won it but for one play here or there or whatever -- their team stepped up you've got to give them credit.

"That's what we've got to do."

MORE FALCONS-GIANTS COVERAGE:

SCOUTING REPORT:Major details about Sunday's game at Giants Stadium * FALCONCAST:J. Mike and Matt preview Sunday's matchup against the Giants * INTERVIEWS AND VIDEO:Game week multimedia from AF.com * GAME CENTER:More preview content from the NFL.com Game Center * WHAT TO WATCH: Key stats and other topics to get you ready for Sunday * INJURY REPORT:Falcons and Giants injury updates from Piedmont Helathcare * NOTES AND COLORS:Interesting notes and connections from Falcons-Giants * FORUMS:Talk about the game with other fans on FalconsLIFE * J. MIKE'S MISSIVES:Thoughts on the game from the AF.com managing editor * COMMUNITY:Finneran named Falcons nominee for Man of the Year award * ADDITIONAL STORIES:Additional headlines concerning the Falcons-Giants game

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