Skip to content

Escape From New York/New Jersey

January 6, 2012

By Ross Mitchell

I titled this article “Escape From New York/New Jersey” as an homage to John Carpenter’s 1981 cinema “classic” Escape From New York, starring Kurt “The Original Captain Jack” Russell as Snake Plissken. If you haven’t seen it, the only thing more apocalyptic than the setting is the acting by the extras. The leads were phenomenal, a virtual all-star cast featuring Ernest Borgnine, Lee “The Man” Van Cleef, Isaac Hayes as “The Duke”, and Donald Pleasence, the psychiatrist from the Halloween movie series. You would think after four rampages by the same serial killer, the Haddonfield Police Department would consider heeding his advice.

(That’s right, Ernest Borgnine (who starred in The Dirty Dozen, The Wild Bunch, and McHale’s Navy) and Lee Van Cleef (the lead antagonist in arguably the greatest movie ever filmed (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) and co-star of For A Few Dollars More) shared the silver screen with Chef from “South Park”. Years later I saw the sequel, Escape From Los Angeles with my parents and brother. It’s highly possible we were the only ones to see it, at all.)

I chose the name for the following reason: the New York Giants (and New York Jets) play in New Jersey! This bothers me to no end. I may be the only one who is of this mindset, but a franchise’s name should represent the state the state they play in. Remember when the New Orleans Hornets was transplanted to Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina? They were forced to use the abbreviation NO/OKC. This is like when people from Naperville, Illinois think they can get away with saying they are from Chicago when Naperville is 30 miles southwest of city limits. Say where you’re from!

If fact the only professional football team that actually competes within the state of New York is the Buffalo Bills (and they only “compete” five-to-six games a season. Boom! Take that Buffalo! Thanks for Pat Kane).

Enough yammering. Onto something relevant: The NFC Wild Card tilt between the Atlanta Falcons and the New York/New Jersey Giants. Here are some things you should be familiar with:

Offensively, the Falcons (10-6, second in the NFC South) are led by Quarterback Matt Ryan, Running Back Michael Turner, Wide Receivers Roddy White and rookie Julio Jones, and Hall-Of-Fame Tight End Tony Gonzalez. Their offensive line is anchored by Pro Bowlers Justin Blalock and Tyson Clabo. They also have the services of immerging third string/slot receiver Harry Douglas (brother of Knicks point guard Tony Douglas).

(Doesn’t “Harry Douglass” sound derogatory? “Give him the Harry Douglass!” “Give him the Vladimir Radmanovic!” I‘ve compiled a list of names…I‘m not proud of it)

Atlanta ranks 8th in the NFL in passing yards per game (262.0) yet 17th in the league in rushing (114.6 yards per game) despite having the NFC’s leading rusher in Michael Turner. These are two of the more misleading stats in the NFL, a point which I will elaborate on later.

The Giants (9-7, NFC East champions) counter with the best defensive line in the NFL. Jason Pierre-Paul (16.5 sacks, good for 4th in the NFL) is a nightmare to block. Add former Pro Bowlers Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyora, and Chris Canty to the mix and the opposing quarterback is in for a long day. Linebackers Michael Boley and Chase Blackburn have struggled against the top-tiered offenses they have faced this season (Blackburn was literally picked up off the street before the Packers game), but Mathias Kiwanuka has been better than expected, particularly in pass coverage (a former defensive end who made a successful transition to linebacker, he perhaps the best pass-rushing 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFC).

The Giants secondary is best described as resilient. At one point in the preseason four cornerbacks were on Injured Reserve and/or the Physically Unable to Perform List (the PUP List!). At the time I dubbed playing in the Giants secondary “The Most Dangerous Job In America”. Heading into the playoffs however, no team has a better pair of safeties (Kenny Phillips and Antrell Rolle), and the Giants cornerbacks (namely Corey Webster, Aaron Ross, and rookie Prince Amukamara) survived a six week onslaught where they faced New England, San Francisco, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Green Bay, and Dallas consecutively.

(After beating Dallas the G-Men lost to the Washington Redskins and Rex Grossman. The three people left in the country who still believe Rex Grossman is a capable starting quarterback are myself and the Shanahans, with the later two telling themselves Rex can play as they drink themselves to sleep Saturday nights)

Eli Manning leads the New York/New Jersey offensive unit. Here’s a sign of the times: the 295.9 passing yards per game which the Giants averaged was good for fifth in the league. 65.6 yards away from averaging 300 for the season and there were four guys better than him. And that’s not including Eli’s brother, Peyton, who is arguably the best quarterback in the history of the game.

(There has been some debate as to whether or not Eli deserved to make the Pro Bowl over Matthew Stafford. It’s debatable, but here’s how I justify it; Matthew Stafford gets to throw to Calvin Johnson. Eli Manning has to throw to Victor Cruz. Not to knock Cruz, but compared to Megatron he is just another receiver.

Yes I am aware Cruz finished the season 3rd in receiving yards, but guess who was first? It’s one thing to pile up yardage when you are locked into single coverage and you beat your man, it’s another when you are the focal point of an offense and face double or triple teams every play and still average over 100 yards receiving per outing. For the record I think Victor Cruz is awesome. I do not believe he is a one-year wonder. I have been a fan of his since he caught three touchdowns against the Jets in Week 1 of the 2010 preseason (the first football game played in the new Meadowlands/Met Life Stadium). He wore #3 that game and had a jaw-dropping one handed catch in the end zone for his second score. So fuggetaboutit!)

I’m not going into detail about the New York/New Jersey rush game because the Giants coaching staff never did. They averaged 89.2 yards per game, “good” for last in the NFL. Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas ran for a 91-yard touchdown on one play against Wisconsin during the Rose Bowl. On his second carry (and only other carry of the game) he busted a 64-yard score. 64 yards was his shortest run of the afternoon…he’s a freshman. Of course this comparison isn’t relevant, but neither are the Giants on the ground.

Defensively Atlanta resides on the pass rush of John Abraham, Ray Edwards, and Kroy Biermann; the stout linebacker play of Curtis Lofton and Sean Weatherspoon; and a good but not great secondary that includes cornerback Dunta Robinson, nickel back Frank Grimes, and safeties William Moore and Thomas DeCoud. Atlanta’s defense as a whole is often deemed “underrated“. I disagree. Which of those previous listed players strikes fear in your heart? John Abraham is the best of the bunch but a good offensive coordinator can stop him with an effective scheme.

Everyone else is just “a guy”, or roll player. Most championship caliber defenses have six or seven difference makers and four “guys” whose games are elevated because they play alongside better talent than their own. Atlanta is the opposite, seven “guys”, four difference makers (and even that is a stretch). Enjoy guarding Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, and Mario Manningham “guys”.

I’m picking the Giants to win 28-17. I think they are battle tested, having been in playoff mode for the better part of two months. The Falcons too have been involved in a multitude of must-win contests, but their competition has been far lighter.

Furthermore, we all know Mike Smith and Matt Ryan are nearly unbeatable at home (26-4 overall record since 2008, Ryan’s rookie season and Smith‘s first season as Atlanta‘s head coach). In the Georgia Dome Ryan’s numbers are impressive (49 TDs, 17 INTs, 68.8 completion percentage, 98.3 QB rating). On the road however they have been pedestrian, even sub-average. The Falcons as a team are 17-15. Ryan himself has thrown 46 TDs, 29 INTs, 58.1 completion percentage, 81.0 QB rating. But here is what we should look at; Ryan’s yards per game are higher on the road (217.5 at home, 241.4 on the road). Of course this is likely because they are behind more often, hence the nearly .500 record. But Ryan has attempted 295 more passes in road games. In other words, he struggles on the road. He also struggles in big games. In his two playoff appearances he has accumulated 385 yards, 3 TDs, and 4 INTs, total. While he does have a completion percentage of 66.7, his total QB rating is 71.2.

But why is this? Is Ryan simply a head case who cannot produce under the spotlight? Is he doomed to wilt under playoff pressure? Or is it something else?

It is. As I alluded to earlier, the Falcons have two fatal flaws. They are as follows:

1. Dome teams stink in cold weather. Add in the history the Ryan led Falcons have in away games to begin, and this is a recipe for disaster. One of those playoff contests did take in the Georgia Dome, but it was last year against the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.

2. Mike Smith wants to pass. Mike Smith is going to pass. Hook or crook, hell or highwater, Matt Ryan is going to sling it because there is no way the Falcons are going to back down from a shootout. Not against the Saints, not against the Packers, not against the Saints again.

Again, Michael Turner led the NFC in rushing yards. He finished third in the entire NFL. Doesn’t matter, Matty Ice is Mike Smith’s guy. The Falcons defense has been torched by the elite offenses in the league, they lose nearly every track meet they enter, willingly or unwillingly. Slowing down the pace of the game not only makes sense, it is the logical course of action. But don’t tell Smith that, he isn’t having it. Lets compare two numbers from the Falcons losses this season. The first is Ryan’s passing attempts, the second is Turner’s rush attempts:

Week 1, @ Chicago: 47/10
Week 3, @ Tampa Bay: 47/11
Week 5, vs. Green Bay: 32/16
Week 10, vs. New Orleans (OT): 59/22
Week 13, @ Houston: 47/14
Week 16, @ New Orleans: 52/11

In only one of those games Turner had more than twenty attempts.

(Week 10 against the Saints, or as you better remember it, when Mike Smith went for it on 4th and 1, from his own 33 yard line. After Falcons were stuffed the Saints kicked a field goal to win the game, then drove down Martin Luther King Boulevard and bought a lottery ticket)

Yet in the 10 wins, Turner averaged 21.7 carries per game, including sub-19 carries once (and that was Week 17 against the Bucs when he received 17 carries in the first half). In those ten wins Matt Ryan averaged 26.3 attempts per game. What’s the correlation? A balanced diet leads to a Falcons victory. When teams force the Falcons to pass, the Falcons lose. Tom Coughlin is fully capable of exterminating the run. Expect him to put the onus on Ryan.

(One of my favorite phrases is “put the onus on…”. You’ll be reading it a lot…hopefully.)

Let me summarize, because at this point I feel I’m beating a dead horse. The Falcons are on the road, in a game played outdoors. This season Atlanta beat 1 playoff team (the Lions, in Atlanta) and one team with a record over .500 (the Lions, in Atlanta). It is going to be cold (the forecast for Sunday is a high of 44-degrees, a low of 32-degrees) and potentially windy. The New York/New Jersey crowd will be hostile. It’s former Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning and Super Bowl winning head coach Tom Coughlin versus Mike “Jay Peterman’s twin brother” Smith and Matt “Never won a significant game in the NFL” Ryan.

Seems cut-and-dry to me. Then again, if Snake Plissken can be injected with two microscopic capsules containing a fatal heat-sensing charge, traverse the wastelands of what was once New York City, rescue the President of the United States and a top-secret cassette tape containing intelligence vital to world peace in under 22 hours, anything is possible.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: