Following a dramatic 26-24 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, Dan Quinn leads the new-look Atlanta Falcons to New York for the second time this year. A balanced offensive attack and ultra-aggressive defense has reinvigorated a stale franchise. Despite being the quintessential pick to win the NFC South, many pundits classified Atlanta as the best of a flawed division. That may change from defeating a darkhorse Super Bowl contender like Philadelphia.
Consistency is vital for Atlanta's progression into validating themselves as a legitimate threat. They beat a pre-season Super Bowl favorite last year in New Orleans, before being humiliated by an A.J Green-less Bengals squad. With far superior talent defensively and more insightful coaches, Atlanta's early success doesn't appear to be fluky. They need to avoid a major letdown against an injury-riddled Giants squad. Here are the key components to watch for on Sunday.
Golden opportunity for the defensive line
When it comes to overrated stats, sacks will surpass almost any other major statistic. It doesn't provide the ultimate indicator between determining an efficient or inefficient pass-rush. Despite not recording any sacks, Atlanta's defense hit Sam Bradford eight times. O'Brien Schofield led the way with three hits to continue his strong play. Besides last year's victory in New Orleans, Atlanta failed to hit an opposing quarterback more than five times during the 2014 season. The pass rush was firing on all cylinders without relying on blitzes. An actual four-man front was generating pressure, which has to be considered a revelation following two dreadful seasons.
They have a prime opportunity to rattle Eli Manning and New York's below average offensive line. Ereck Flowers and Marshall Newhouse are both liabilities at the tackle positions. They both struggle against speed rushers, which bodes well for Vic Beasley and Schofield. Dan Quinn's implementation of stunts has already resulted in game-changing plays. William Moore's interception resulted from Grady Jarrett coming off a stunt and forcing Bradford into an errant pass. With a lack of cohesion through the Giants' offensive line, Atlanta's high-motored pass rush should continue to cause havoc. Manning has a tendency of immediately forcing the ball to his first option under pressure. That negative habit has led to three twenty-interception seasons and constantly hovering around the high-fifties to low-sixties in completion percentage. Atlanta's pass rush needs to continue to produce following a promising start.
Matt Ryan taking charge on the road
Besides Julio Jones, there isn't a more dependable player on this roster than Ryan. It seems odd to include him on this list. His efficiency and pocket presence always inspires confidence that he can keep Atlanta competitive against nearly any opponent. That being said, he struggled on Monday night and played a role in Philadelphia's comeback. Ryan seemed to misplace several key passes, particularly Devonta Freeman on a well-executed wheel route. Kiko Alonso's exceptional interception benefited from a poor underthrown pass. Let's not discount his key throws in the first half and making intelligent adjustments at the line of scrimmage.
There will always be elevated expectations for Ryan. Two interceptions and leaving far too many points on the field marks an underachieving performance. Ryan has notoriously struggled in Metlife Stadium, although circumstances have certainly changed. He won't be facing the likes of Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, and Osi Umenyiora. This should be a comfortable game for him to go through his progressions and decimate a below average defense. It would be disappointing for Ryan to underwhelm in consecutive games. From never winning a game at Metlife (at least against the Giants) to Atlanta possibly going 2-0 for the first time since 2012, Ryan has multiple streaks to break on Sunday. It will be on his arm to assure Atlanta's continued success against the NFC East.
Continuing to stay persistent with the running game
Besides the "fast and physical" play from Atlanta's defense, Kyle Shanahan's prerogative of staying balanced stood out the most from Monday's victory. Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman combined for thirty carries. That was extremely surprising, considering Atlanta's style of being pass-heavy and Philadelphia's questionable secondary. While the running game wasn't fully productive, they kept Philadelphia's defense on their heels and eventually Coleman broke open with multiple big gains.
They need to continue their balance against a Giants' front-seven lacking playmakers. If they can run the ball, that makes utilizing play-action even more dangerous by creating one-on-one opportunities for their talented cast of receivers. Landon Collins and Brandon Meriweather are two safeties that thrive inside the box and want to punish opposing players with vicious hits. They both lack range to excel in coverage. A productive running game will keep both safeties guessing, due to their coverage deficiencies and willingness to hit. It would be positive for Freeman to get more involved in a productive manner. He was on the receiving end of several hopeless situations, where multiple Eagle players were already at the line of scrimmage to meet him. Both running backs can be difference makers through gaining tough yards and making defenders miss in the open field.
Attempting to contain Odell Beckham Jr.
Nobody can go through a preview against the Giants without mentioning Beckham. The superstar receiver will certainly make his plays. Defenses can only hope to contain him like Dallas did last Sunday night. Atlanta would be wise to have Moore or Ricardo Allen offering constant support to stifle Beckham, although they possess something that Dallas doesn't have within their defense. A top-level cornerback such as Desmond Trufant shadowed the likes of Josh Gordon and Antonio Brown last year. Quinn didn't fully declare Trufant would shadow Beckham throughout Sunday's game.
Following Beckham's emergence and destruction of Robert Alford last year, it would be wise for Trufant to constantly shadow the incomparable wide receiver. If they can provide him with safety help, that should limit Beckham from taking over like last year. Mike Nolan foolishly left Alford in man coverage against Beckham. Two holding penalties and a 15-yard touchdown from Beckham should eliminate the possibility of that matchup repeating without safety help. Trufant has embraced covering the opposing team's number one wide receiver. While Trufant faces Beckham, Quinn needs to shore up the coverage issues in the middle of the field. Shane Vereen may not be as explosive as Darren Sproles, but he's one of the most capable receiving backs in the league today. They need to force other Giant skill position players to beat them instead of Beckham torching them. With Victor Cruz liking out this week, it would be wise to challenge players such as Reuben Randle and Preston Parker to beat them. Both receivers have failed to develop into difference makers.
Offensive line continuing to gel as a unit
Despite the lackluster opponent, the offensive line will be a weekly topic throughout the season. Based on how many line changes have occurred over the past five weeks, everyone will be watching which players have provided a legitimate upgrade. Improvement will be needed from lineman such as Andy Levitre and Mike Person. Neither player was completely overwhelmed on Monday, but they struggled as expected. Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan constantly created penetration against them to force Shanahan to call even more outside runs.
Robert Ayers and Johnathan Hankins are capable of generating solid pressure. It will be vital for Levitre and Chris Chester to contain Hankins following last year's debacle. Harland Gunn was no match for the rising star. The offensive line will be judged on a weekly basis. Nobody quite knows what to expect from a makeshift unit featuring untested, young, and declining players. If they can provide Ryan with protection similar to Monday night (one sack, three hits), they'll allow Shanahan more freedom with the playbook. Ryan seemed relatively conservative against Philadelphia. That could change through being allowed more time in the pocket.