EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Hey Matt, Duck!
The way the New York Giants' defensive line has played the past two games, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan better be ready to run away — often — this weekend.
After a season of waiting and hoping that their D-Line would wake up, the Giants have seen their front go into high gear with the season on the line, getting 11 sacks against the Jets and Cowboys in making the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Ten of the sacks came from the front four, with Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, Chris Canty and Osi Umenyiora doing most of the damage.
It puts Atlanta in a tough spot heading into its wild-card game on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
Who do the Falcons double? Who do the chip? And what happens when the Giants play musical chairs up front and have their ends play tackle or throw in some other variation?
"As No. 10 goes and as we go, the team goes," backup defensive end Dave Tollefson said Wednesday after the Giants held their first practice for the Falcons. "That's pretty obvious. They correspond with each other. We get after the quarterback and No. 10 throws the ball well, we have a pretty good chance of winning."
No. 10, of course, is Eli Manning and he has been the constant for the Giants (9-7) in this season marked by inconsistency.
The defense, however, has been the group that put it all together in the final weeks, and must come up with another big performance to stop Ryan and the Falcons (10-6).
The easiest way to slow down the pass rush would be for Michael Turner to run the ball well, and that's a possibility considering he gained 1,340 yards this season, including 172 in the regular-season finale against Tampa Bay.
"I think we're always better off when we run the football well and Mike had a great game last week," Ryan said. "That's something we'd like to carry over into this week and it's not going to be easy. It's a very good defense we're going against, a very good front four. But our offensive line has done a great job and I think our running backs have done a great job."
The Giants' line is peaking. Pierre-Paul has emerged as one of the top defensive ends in the league with 16 1/2 sacks and Tuck is finally started to show his Pro Bowl form of a year ago after a season marred by shoulder, toe and groin injuries. Umenyiora had two sacks in the all-or-nothing game against Dallas last weekend after missing four games with a high ankle sprain.
"We're doing what we are supposed to do," Pierre-Paul said. "We are stopping the run first and getting to the quarterback second. We have to stop the run first. If you don't stop the run, you can't get to the quarterback."
The Giants limited Dallas to 49 yards rushing on Sunday night and making the Cowboys' offense one-dimensional resulted in 13 hits on Tony Romo, who spent much of the night ducking.
Falcons coach Mike Smith said the Giants do an excellent job of moving around their linemen.
"Some of the stuff that they do is going to be a little exotic," he said. "For example, Pierre-Paul can line up at defensive end on the right side or left side, DT or nose tackle or in a standup position. There are some things that you are not accustomed to seeing a lot of times, so it is going to be very important for us to do a good job of identifying and not having free rushers."
Pierre-Paul smiled when asked about the interchangeable parts on the defensive line.
"From our side of the ball when we do it, the quarterback doesn't know where we are going so he has read coverages and he doesn't know if we are dropping or rushing," Pierre-Paul said. "That a good thing for the defensive ends and the whole defense to confuse the quarterback."
Defensive tackle Rocky Bernard said opponents never know who is going to be lining up in up in front of them. A guard could just as easily face Tuck or Pierre-Paul as he would Canty or fellow tackle Linval Joseph.
"The last two weeks things have just gone our way," Bernard said. "As a defensive lineman we know that when we are producing and playing well, the team goes that way too, it's been going that way."
Atlanta should present a challenge. After giving up 13 sacks in the first two games, it allowed 13 in the final 13 contests. The key was getting Todd McClure back at center and having Will Svitek take over at left tackle for Sam Baker. Some changes to the offensive scheme also helped.
"I think we've worked together hard, we've focused on technique and we've taken pride in protecting Matt," Svitek said. "I think it's everybody working together. It's progressed well. Obviously this week is a great challenge because this defensive line probably gets after the quarterback better than anybody else. So we've really got to focus on that."
NOTES: Starting tight end Jake Ballard worked on a limited basis after missing the last two games with a sprained right knee. ...Rookie LB Mark Herzlich, a former teammate of Ryan at Boston College, is making progress with his sprained ankle but he still did not practice. ...The Giants had five players on their injury report, 15 less than the Falcons.
AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Flowery Branch, Ga. contributed to this report.
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