Oh what a difference a week makes! A couple of weeks ago, this game could have been looked at as an easy win for the New York Giants versus a rebuilding Atlanta Falcons team at home. But now, after just one week of football, the forecast for this game has become much murkier than it was before with the Falcons beating the Eagles soundly and the Giants coming off a devastating loss to the Cowboys. It all shapes up for one fun game that can be seen on FOX at 1:00 PM on Sunday afternoon.
Both the Giants and the Falcons have quarterbacks that are respected by their fans, but fall somewhat overshadowed leaguewide. Eli Manning has been a fantastic quarterback for 7 of the last 8 years despite his penchant for the occasional boneheaded play, which reared its ugly head when the Giants lost to the Cowboys on Sunday night. The Falcons counter with Matt Ryan, who is coming into 2015 off of his second-best season to date. While Ryan may not receive a whole lot of love as an upper-echelon quarterback, it is a known fact that if given time, he can be deadly. Ryan rarely throws the deep ball, but this limits his interception totals while raising his QBR. Both of these veterans can win a game by themselves, and on paper it looks to be an even matchup of two stellar QBs.
The running backs will likely not have as large impact as usual in a game featuring some of the NFL’s premier receivers, but it will be important for both teams to establish the running game nonetheless to set up the passing game. The Giants will lean on their 3-headed monster of Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams, and Shane Vereen while the Falcons will rely upon rookie Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman. Jennings had a good-but-not-great day versus the Cowboys, but will likely perform better against the Falcons’ inferior linebackers, while Williams and Vereen provide other options. Vereen could be an X-Factor in Sunday’s game. His ability to catch passes out of the backfield could help out Manning if his offensive line crumbles. Coleman had a good debut versus the Eagles (20 carries, 80 yards), and is looking for more in his second NFL start. The Giants’ depth gives them the edge over the Falcons’ inexperienced duo.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
This is where the game will be won and lost on Sunday, with the receivers. The Giants’ crew was subpar versus Dallas (Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle only had 4 catches each for less than 70 yards), but has the talent to gain big yards after each catch. Tight end Larry Donnell could play a large role as the Falcons look to tie up Beckham and Randle. The Falcons boast an even better 1-2 punch than the Giants right now in star Julio Jones and reliable veteran Roddy White. Jones was the NFC Offensive Player of the Week after a 9-catch, 141-yard, 2 touchdown field day versus the Eagles while White caught 4 balls for 84 yards. Behind them, Atlanta can put out ex-Redskin Leonard Hankerson and shifty Eric Weems to combine with veteran tight end Jacob Tamme. With the Giants missing Victor Cruz and Preston Parker having a problem with drops, the Falcons’ weapons are more explosive right now than the Giants’.
The offensive line was surprisingly sturdy for the Giants versus Dallas in week one; Eli Manning was only sacked once and his running backs had a few sizable gains. Despite this, there is still lots of room for improvement. Ereck Flowers and Justin Pugh are the future of the New York offensive line, but need to take fewer penalties in the present. Weston Richburg had a solid performance at center, while Geoff Schwartz and Marshall Newhouse held their own on the right. John Jerry could see time at right guard on running plays with Schwartz an eligible tight end with blocking tight end Daniel Fells injured. As for Atlanta, their line is much the same as the Giants’ right now. Jake Matthews is a young but raw blind side blocker, and Mike Person is just another person at center. The Falcons are attempting to squeeze whatever is left from aging guards Andy Levitre and Chris Chester, while 6’7″ right tackle Ryan Schraeder needs more consistency. These teams are not known for the offensive lines, but the better performer on Sunday will likely belong to the winning team.
If there was one given on every New York Giants’ defensive down last week, it was that you would be hard-pressed to find anything resembling a pass rush on every single play. The absence of injured Jason Pierre-Paul hurt the Giants immensely, as Robert Ayers Jr., Cullen Jenkins, Jonathan Hankins, and Markus Kuhn couldn’t generate pressure on Tony Romo. With Kuhn injured, expect to see more players get a shot this week, including George Selvie, Kerry Wynn, Damontre Moore, and Jay Bromley. While the Giants have a question mark for their D-Line, the Falcons have an exclamation point. First-Round Pick Vic Beasley Jr. is an electric starter that can rush with his 5-fingered hand in the dirt (take that, JPP!) or as a standup outside linebacker. Across from Beasley, the Falcons have Adrian Clayborn, Tyson Jackson, and Kroy Biermann as proven options. On the interior, young Ra’Shede Hageman teams up with veterans Paul Soliai and Jonathan Babineaux to stop the run. Once again, injuries and inexperience kills the Giants in this category. Expect the Falcons to have a field day with the Giants’ so-so line.
If injuries robbing the Giants of a starter and exposing a rookie seemed like a common theme, that’s because it is. The same old narrative rings true at linebacker, where captain Jon Beason is doubtful to play with a knee injury. In his stead Uani’ Unga recorded 12 tackles and an interception, but was victimized numerous times on the Cowboys’ final drive, including the clinching touchdown. Unga is the best option the Giants have right now, but that isn’t saying much. On either of his sides the Giants have a dependable linebacker in Devon Kennard or J.T. Thomas III, but the Falcons’ stellar weapons will be difficult to bring down. Atlanta has a bit of an issue at linebacker, but they all played well against the Eagles in week one. Veteran Justin Durant was sturdy in stopping the run, while middle man Paul Worrilow was anything but worrisome, notching 13 tackles versus the shifty Eagles backs. O’Brien Schofield, a New York Giant for 5 minutes, is a converted down lineman that can and will blitz frequently. While we are devoid of big names with these team’s linebackers, they are gamers who bring their best effort every day. The Falcons’ experience gives them the edge here.
What if I told you that the Giants’ secondary wasn’t so bad versus the Dallas Cowboys? That’s actually a shocking but true statement. Cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara are as good a 1-2 punch as anybody, as they rendered Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams useless. Both are also stout run defenders. The safety position wasn’t even as bad as expected, as rookie Landon Collins and hard-hitting veteran Brandon Meriweather played well, limiting yards after catches and even forcing a fumble. Even so, if Jones or White gets by the corners’ grasp, look out. For the Falcons, it all revolves around third-year corner Desmond Trufant. Trufant has gotten his hands on 34 balls in 2 seasons and intercepting 5 more. Robert Alford is his counterpart, and is a decent corner in his own right. Ricardo Allen is inexperienced at safety, but his interception sealed the Falcons’ win over the Eagles in week one. Veteran William Moore rounds out the secondary. The teams match up quite evenly in regards to their secondaries, making an edge a moot point.
Boy, are we in for a special teams showdown on Sunday! The Giants’ kicking and punting is sound thanks to trusty Josh Brown and newbie Brad Wing. Long Snapper Zak DeOssie is also as steady as they come. The Giants actually made tackled on special teams for the first time in years versus Dallas, providing hope against the Falcons’ dangerous return men. Devin Hester is out with turf toe, but the greatest return man in NFL history has a solid backup in Eric Weems, he himself a dangerous kick and punt returner. The Falcon’s kicker, Matt Bryant is still automatic at age 40, while Matt Bosher handles punting and kickoff duties. Even with Hester unavailable, the Giants need to make their special teams tackles. If they do so, chalk up an edge for Big Blue.
Boy are these two teams evenly matched. Knowing this, a prediction for this game is a tricky one to conjure. However, I believe that the Giants team that we witnessed for 58.5 minutes versus Dallas is a good enough one to beat a Falcons team that, while coming off of a huge win, was ticketed for a last-place finish as recently as last week. It won’t be pretty (it never is for Giants fans), but Big Blue will win their home opener for the fans.
Final Score: 27-17 Giants