To beat Giants, Falcons must be in ‘Cruz’ control


Regardless of what Justin Tuck says about the Falcons, this man is Public Enemy No. 1 (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

I’m only going to say one thing regarding this whole “ESPN New York vs. the City of Atlanta” thing that happened today with writer Rob Parker bashing Atlanta fans.

The article that has been placed at the top of every Atlanta sports fan’s bulletin board was done entirely to get you to click on the link and get cheap page views. He wanted to enrage you enough to read the article and leave a comment. Nothing more, nothing less. He can say he stands behind what he said, but there are holes all over the emotional piece he wrote, and we all know the Falcons and their fans deserve a victory Sunday as much as the Giants and their fans do.

He doesn’t really believe what he said. But you clicked on the link and read his story, and I’m willing to guarantee you’ve never done that with a Rob Parker article before. I’m not saying what he did was journalism, but neither was a lot of the past articles that he has written. I always say the same thing when a shock piece comes out — the talentless have to be shocking. He’s done it in spurts his whole career. He writes in a town that calls the Mets home, so his glass house from which he throws stones was only built to irritate you.

Now, let’s get on to real-life matters: how in the world will the Falcons stop breakout wide receiver Victor Cruz?

It all starts up front with the Falcons’ defensive line. Eli Manning is not Drew Brees, and he’s not Aaron Rodgers. If you get to him, you can really disrupt the offense. But the Falcons have struggled severely with putting pressure on quarterbacks in 2011. That can’t happen on Sunday if they want to shut down the passing game — there has to be pressure coming from different directions on every play, and there has to be a reckless abandon with getting to Eli early and often.

It’s high-risk, but high-reward as well. In six games this year where Manning has been sacked at least three times, he has thrown a total of nine interceptions. Turnovers are key, because in a road game with a hostile environment, it can be necessary for swinging momentum and giving the New York fans that “Here we go again” feeling. Remember, the Giants lost three of their last four home games to finish the regular season.

I’d have to imagine Cruz will see a steady diet of cornerbacks Brent Grimes (who expects to play Sunday) and Dunta Robinson, and it will fall on them to stay between the ball and Cruz while waiting for the chance to make a big play on a Manning mistake. Robinson has his good days and his bad days and Grimes gambles on interceptions a lot. No matter what, there is no excuse to allow Cruz to score long touchdowns (he has TD catches of 99 and 74 yards the last two games, and is quickly becoming known for lengthy touchdown receptions). The longer the drive lasts, the better the chance that Manning will make a mistake, so if the Giants score, it needs to be a long, drawn-out drive and not some 1-play, 99-yard strike.

No matter what the Falcons do, they’re going to be outmatched in the passing game unless Manning is on the run all day. Cruz is just half of the two-headed monster of great receivers — Hakeem Nicks had his own solid season with seven touchdowns and almost 1,200 receiving yards. Outside of that, the Falcons can stick one man on tight end Jake Ballard and send everyone else to pressure Manning.

But the secondary will have to devote their entire afternoon to slowing down Cruz and Nicks. That duo will be the key to a New York victory when the Falcons’ No. 6-ranked rushing defense gets rolling and slows down running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs.

It’s crucial. It’s vital. It’s Giant.

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