October 15, 2007 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version

Giants Must Limit Turnovers To Win in Prime Time
Football

BY SEAN LAHMAN
October 15, 2007
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/64564

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The Giants have rumbled back into playoff contention with three straight wins, and they can pull within a game of first place with a win in Atlanta tonight. The Falcons' season has been overshadowed by the legal troubles of quarterback Michael Vick, but that's not the only reason why the team has fallen on hard times. New head coach Bobby Petrino wanted to install a more dynamic offense and an aggressive defense. So far, neither plan has worked out, and the Falcons are just struggling to keep their heads above water. For Big Blue, it's a chance to keep their momentum going by beating up on a weaker opponent, and doing that on Monday night can provide a nice shot of confidence.

GIANTS (32) at FALCONS (14)
Tonight, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL The return of running back Brandon Jacobs gave a big boost to the offense last week. The Giants exploded for 188 yards on the ground nearly double their season average. The rejuvenated rushing attack helped the Giants reel off three long scoring drives in the second half to rally from a 10-point deficit and beat the Jets.

Quarterback Eli Manning was horrible in the first half of that game but turned things around with a solid second-half performance. An ankle injury has kept Plaxico Burress from practicing for most of the season, but he entered the weekend with a leagueleading seven touchdown passes. The task of covering him will fall to DeAngelo Hall, who is emerging as one of the league's elite cornerbacks. Rookie Chris Houston may start on the other side, a matchup the Giants should look to exploit. The Falcons will also have trouble keeping up with tight end Jeremy Shockey with safety Lawyer Milloy, which means they'll have to use linebacker Michael Boley to help in coverage.

The Falcons have switched to a 43 scheme this year under coordinator Mike Zimmer, who ran the Cowboys' defense for the last seven years. His changes have helped the Falcons improve their pass defense to 11th in the league from 29th last year. At the same, however, their run defense has fallen to 22nd from 9th. Keith Brooking has moved from weakside linebacker to the middle, and his over-aggressiveness has been a liability at times.

WHEN THE FALCONS HAVE THE BALL Two weeks ago, the Giants faced an Eagles team that was missing their starting left tackle. Defensive end Osi Umenyiora took advantage of that weakness by recording six sacks, and the Giants had 12 overall.

Tonight they'll face a Falcons team that has lost both of its starting tackles to injury and features a rookie at left guard. Atlanta has given up 18 sacks the third highest total in the league, and the Giants will be looking to take advantage of that weakness. They were tied for the league lead with 17 sacks heading into the weekend.

That's just one of the many headaches for Petrino. Another big one has been the loss of Vick. It's not simply that they miss their starting quarterback Atlanta's whole offense was designed around his playmaking ability. Since defenses don't have to devote so much energy to keeping Vick contained, they've been able to bottle up the running back tandem of Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood. The pair is averaging less than 80 yards a game and has combined for just one touchdown.

Quarterback Joey Harrington has had some great games and some awful ones. He was benched in a 2013 loss to the Titans last week, and while his numbers haven't been terrible, he has struggled to put points on the board. The Falcons signed former Jacksonville quarterback Byron Leftwich three weeks ago, and he'll take over the starting job soon unless Harrington can turn things around.

A strong Giants pass rush will make it possible for the secondary to make big plays. Rookie cornerback Aaron Ross had two interceptions last week, including one he returned for a touchdown. He uses his size to slow down opposing receivers in press coverage. That will be important against the Falcons' physical receivers Michael Jenkins and Roddy White.

KEY TO THE GAME The Giants have turned the ball over nine times in their first four games, and that's a problem they can't afford to let continue. That's a weakness that Atlanta's aggressiveness can exploit. They forced seven turnovers in their last two games, and they'll need at least three tonight to beat the Giants.

Lahman's Pick: Giants 3117

October 15, 2007 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version