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What to know about Falcons - Giants before Sunday’s Week 3 matchup

Two 0-2 teams will duke it out Sunday, and if the Falcons want to get back on track, they have to be able to handle the Giants.

NFL: OCT 22 Giants at Falcons Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Falcons unexpectedly were destroyed by the Eagles and then beaten by the defending Super Bowl champions. Now 0-2, they’re on to the easiest game on the schedule thus far, which based on what we’ve seen to this point should not mean that you get too comfortable.

Still, if last Sunday’s improvement against the Buccaneers meant anything at all, the Falcons should be able to hang out with the Giants. This is a team that got smoked by the Broncos and blew an amazing number of chances against a Taylor Heinicke-led Washington Football Team, one with a deeply frustrating front office and a coaching staff that is already getting yelled at on the sidelines. As aggravating as the Falcons have been and as fleeting as their success has been in recent years, the Giants have been worse, with just one winning season since 2012 and what certainly looks like another losing campaign on the way.

That’s not to suggest they’ll be a pushover, because the Giants are one of the better winless teams in the league right now, one with a roster that certainly looks better on paper than their performance to this point. It doesn’t help that Atlanta’s on the road, either. It is to suggest that the Falcons have already blown one game that looked winnable in spectacular fashion and predictably dropped one against the toughest team on their schedule, and if this isn’t going to be yet another long and miserable season, they have to beat a team like the Giants.

Let’s get to know New York’s strengths and weaknesses a bit better and run our weekly comparison, shall we?

2021 comparison

Falcons vs. Giants

Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Surrendered
Team Record Points For Yardage For Passing Yards Rushing Yards Points Against Yardage Against Passing Yards Against Rushing Yardage Against Turnovers Created Turnovers Surrendered
Falcons 0-2 30 25 24 24 32 21 19 24 26 17
Giants 0-2 22 19 16 15 25 26 25 21 17 2

This is a matchup between two bad football teams. The question is whether the Giants are worse than the Falcons, and what that might mean for Sunday. On paper, at least, the Falcons certainly look worse.

Defensively, it’s a mixed bag for both teams. The Giants have been aggressive about adding talent on that side of the ball—we’ll get there—but still let the Broncos work them over in Week 1. The Falcons have quietly been bad but not horrendous on defense, with their points against number skewed by Matt Ryan’s two pick-sixes this past week, and showed some signs of life on Dante Fowler’s strip sack, the three sacks in total and a couple of tipped balls and a near interception. The Giants, meanwhile, have genuine talent but have been undone by costly penalties (including an awful offsides calls the league ought to apologize for) and missed opportunities, a theme we hope continues against a Falcons offense that desperately needs to get untracked.

The quarterback matchup is a legitimately interesting one here. Matt Ryan is coming off a fine game and we all know what he offers, but Daniel Jones is a different animal entirely. Where Ryan gets things done with subtle pocket movement and sharp rhythm passing, Jones offers basically zero subtlety in any facet of his game. Danny Dimes is having a solid enough start to the year and has avoided turnovers, but when pressure comes he typically either turtles or takes off running, which he unfortunately does quite well. He’s already turned 15 scrambles into 122 yards and two touchdowns in 2021, and the Falcons will have to be very careful not to let him go wild running on Sunday. As a passer, Jones is streaky and eager to push the ball downfield, which is another potential problem for Atlanta given that A.J. Terrell may not play Sunday.

The Giants ground game may be otherwise easier to bottle up. Saquon Barkley is back but isn’t quite operating at his peak performance level, as he’s a quality 14th in the league in yards after contact but is behind Cordarrelle Patterson in that particular metric. He’s not being helped by a shaky Giants offensive line and Jason Garrett-called offense that is only letting him get 1.5 yards before contact, which is 45th in the league and well behind Mike Davis (33rd) and Patterson (25th), who are operating behind a not-so-great Falcons line themselves. If Atlanta’s run defense can hold up as well as it did against Tampa Bay, a fairly one-dimensional Giants offense should be a survivable challenge.

Finally, there’s special teams. Joe Judge cut his teeth as a special teams coach and you’d expect things to be solid there, and they’re middle of the pack in terms of return yardage allowed, have been nails on field goal attempts thus far, and returner C.J. Board has looked pretty good on kickoffs in his own right. If this game comes down to special teams, something has gone awry for at least one of these teams, but it’s worth noting what the Giants are capable of.

For all that, we’re talking about two teams that don’t do a lot of things well. If it’s not a bit of a sloppy, close game, I’ll be surprised.

How the Giants have changed in 2021

The Giants, to their credit, did not sit on their hands this offseason after a disappointing season.

They started by re-stocking Daniel Jones’ supporting cast, adding talented receiver Kenny Golladay to the mix. He’s already yelling at his offensive coordinator, but Gollday is also already making an impact and will do so all season if he’s healthy. In addition, the team signed capable veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph and drafted Kadarius Toney, who hasn’t done much yet but certainly has upside as a receiver.

On defense, the team added Adoree’ Jackson at cornerback and drafted Aaron Robinson to continue to shore up a trouble spot, adding more talent to a group that already featured Logan Ryan and James Bradberry. Azeez Ojulari, drafted in the second round, already leads the team in sacks and looks like he’ll be one of the best players in this defensive front seven sooner than later.

On paper, at least, this team is certainly improved. The question is whether those pieces will gel in the secondary and whether a healthy Barkley, Jones and this coaching staff can push this offense forward. The early returns are shaky, but there’s still time for all of the additions to bear fruit. Hopefully not against the Falcons, but you know.

What to know for Sunday

This is a critical game for the Falcons for many reasons. If they fall to 0-3, we’re basically packing this thing up and just looking to see what kind of improvement and lineup changes Atlanta rolls out while biding their time for the 2022 offseason. If they win, it’s a sign that they can at least handle the weakest teams on their schedule and are making some strides, which would be a welcome sign indeed.

What makes me nervous is that the Giants are capable of attacking some specific Falcons weaknesses if they come ready with a good gameplan, which to be fair is not a given because their coaching staff is a bit shaky. Jones can scramble, which the Falcons struggled with against Jalen Hurts, and he’s played interception-free football thus far and has done so with a willingness to aggressively attack downfield. Atlanta might be without A.J. Terrell, has had a hit-or-miss pass rush thus far, and has allowed far too many easy open looks for opposing passers. If that happens again, Daniel Jones is going to punish them for it, even if Jason Garrett’s gameplan doesn’t put him in the best position to do so.

The defense is easier to attack—the Giants have not looked stellar thus far, with Washington’s unsteady effort owing somewhat to their low point total—but the Falcons have not shown a consistent ability to punish teams to this point. The fact that the Giants pass rush is not as blistering as Philadelphia’s or Tampa Bay’s is certainly going to help here, but we’re still in a position where we need to see this offense do more than a quarter of quality work. More involvement for Kyle Pitts and finally getting Mike Davis uncorked a bit would help a great deal here.

If this all sounds pretty cautious for a plus matchup, well, you watched the same two games I did. There’s no question in my mind that the Falcons have the talent and ability to beat the Giants and at least get this ship pointed in the right direction, but it’s far from a given that they’ll take advantage of their opportunity.