In case you've missed it, the New York Giants are coming off of two consecutive convincing victories. After two bad losses to open the season the offense seems to have snapped into shape and the defense is getting pressure on the quarterback and generating turnovers.
However, marring the Giants' wins is a disturbing tendency to give up yards in chunks and touchdowns on explosive plays.
The Atlanta Falcons are coming into the game Sunday off a disappointing loss that came with several injuries to key players. Hidden in the Falcons' misery on Sunday was some good play and flashes of a dangerous offense. With the Giants' frustrating habit of giving up big plays, they need to be concerned with the Falcons' playmakers
This isn't about individual match-ups, not really. That being said, Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones needs to be accounted for. If you could build an No. 1 "X" receiver out of a catalog, he would look an awful lot like Jones. He is big, strong, fast, and can jump out of the gym.
Jones has the speed to beat a lot of defensive backs deep, but also the size to create separation right off the snap. There are very few cornerbacks who have the physical tools and technique to handle Jones one-on-one. If Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are among that number, this game gets significantly easier for the Giants.
The real match-up issues come with Roddy White and Devin Hester.
While White is a prototypical outside receiver -- he doesn't have Jones' physical tools, but not many guys do -- the Falcons like to line him up in the slot and force match-up problems for defenses. This would be much less of an issue if the Giants still had Walter Thurmond at their disposal. He has the size and ability to handle White out of the slot.
Unfortunately, they lost Thurmond for the year.
Look for the Falcons to play White inside often, where they also like using combination routes with Jones to create space for Jones or White to catch the ball cleanly, then rack up yards after the catch.
Then there's Hester. While the Giants need to be concerned with Hester's special teams ability, quality kicking can account for him there. He can't hurt the Giants on a touchback or if the ball is punted to go out of bounds. On offense, the Falcons have been lining Hester up all over the formation. Against the Vikings he lined up out wide, in the slot, in the backfield, and even at tight end.
While Hester isn't much of a threat in one-on-one situations, he is dangerous when he gets the ball in his hands and has a bit of space to work with. Against the Vikings, the Falcons tried to use screens, double moves, rub routes, and general formation skulduggery to give Hester the chance to put his return skills to work on offense.
It's plays like these, where the opportunities for mis-communications and coverage breakdowns arise, that have plagued the Giants secondary. The defense has played well in recent weeks, their tendency to give up explosive plays and chunk yardage is the only real wart on their resume.
With the Falcons' offensive line beat up, they are going to have to rely on quick plays to keep pressure off Matt Ryan. If the Giants' defense can clean up its tendency to allow big plays, they should stand a pretty good chance of winning.