EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Anyone looking for the big play this weekend, the coast-to-coast catch and run, should turn on the NFC wild-card game with the Atlanta Falcons and New York Giants.
There's bound to be a few of them at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
Start with the Falcons (10-6) and Matt Ryan. While halfback Michael Turner and receiver Roddy White move the chains, Ryan has developed a big-play chemistry with rookie receiver Julio Jones. The two have combined on eight touchdowns. The shortest has been 17 yards and there are four over 48 yards.
The big combo for the Giants (9-7) is Eli Manning and rising second-year star Victor Cruz. The two have combined on five touchdowns of 68 yards or more, including a league record-tying 99-yarder against the Jets two weeks ago.
The big-play nature of the two offenses isn't surprising in an NFL that has been dominated this season by the quarterbacks and the offenses. A record 11,356 points were scored, with games averaging 44.4 points, the highest average in 46 seasons (46.1 in 1965).
"A lot of times, you do what you have to do," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "You make the adjustments and so-on and so-forth. I think we've had four or five games in a row where we've had pretty good balance and that's the way we like to play. In circumstances where it wasn't so obvious that we could run, we'd do whatever we had to do. The quarterback naturally has responded very well to that."
While Ryan and Manning have both had career seasons, the big-play nature of their play this season has been unexpected.
Much of the credit for that goes to Jones and Cruz.
Atlanta moved up to No. 6 in the NFL Draft this spring to grab Jones, a burner from Alabama. They haven't regretted it. His 54 catches for 959 yards and eight TDs led all NFL rookies.
Having Jones has forced opposing defenses to pick their poison. They can double any receiver, but they can't double everyone. That helps White, who had an NFC-high 100 catches, and Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez.
"When you have Julio on one side, Roddy on the other, Tony in the middle, and then you add another guy like Harry Douglas who has had a great season as well, somebody is going to have one-on-one matchups and I think it is primarily because we added Julio this year that defenses have played us this way," said Ryan, who finished the regular season with a career-best 29 touchdown passes.
Jones admits there was an adjustment period, including learning how to deal with injuries that forced him to miss three games.
"Once I got the hang of that, everything feels like it's coming naturally to me again," Jones said.
While concerned about Jones, Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said everything starts with slowing down Turner, who rushed for 1,340 yards. If New York can do that, then it can put pressure on run with a front four led by All Pro defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora.
"It's well documented that when he goes over 100 yards, they win," Fewell said. "It's going to be vitally important that we control him, that we have to come up with a body part on that guy. He's a big strong guy. When I say big, strong guy, he's like Maurice Jones-Drew in that he's very powerful. We've got to do a great job of wrap tackling."
The Falcons don't have to worry about the Giants' running game as much. New York finished last in the league in rushing, averaging less than 90 yards. That's forced Manning and the passing game to step up and he's had a spectacular season.
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