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What’s wrong with the Falcons? We find out in our ‘5 questions’ segment

Let’s learn more about the Giants’ Monday night opponent

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants get a second straight national TV game when they face the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football. Let’s learn some things about the Falcons from Dave Choate of The Falcoholic in our weekly “5 questions” segment.

Ed: It wasn’t that long ago that the Falcons were in the Super Bowl. Now, they are 2-4 and currently at the bottom of the NFC South. What is going on?

Dave: It’s primarily injuries, plus some disappointing play from Falcons I thought would have fared better. Losing both starting safeties and star middle linebacker Deion Jones proved to be devastating for Atlanta, a team that was more reliant on their top-flight starters than I might have hoped. Add in injuries along the defensive line, where the Falcons have struggled to put their four best players out there on a regular basis, and you have a recipe for a diminished team.

The problem is that the depth we had high hopes for hasn’t materialized, and neither has the pass rush. Takkarist McKinley and Jack Crawford have been two of the only consistent pass rushing threats, with former first rounder Vic Beasley in the middle of a disappointing season. Duke Riley has been not so great at linebacker replacing Jones, while Jordan Richards has been a disaster at strong safety. Even typically reliable starters like Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford at cornerback have had bad games as the team has utterly collapsed on defense.

And that’s the story, really. The blocking hasn’t been great and the ground game has suffered as a result, but the Falcons are 4-2 or 5-1 if they have a healthy defense right now.

Ed: I see 5 Atlanta starters on IR and PK Matt Bryant not kicking on Monday night. How much are the Falcons being hurt by injuries?

Dave: See above. It’s been borderline catastrophic for the team, which is both unfortunate and unlucky and an eye-opening sign that the Falcons need to invest in more talent on defense heading into next year. With the offensive line aging and looking kinda bad on a weekly basis, the Falcons need more additions than you might have hoped for a Super Bowl contender heading into the year.

Ed: If you could take one Giant NOT NAMED Odell Beckham or Saquon Barkley and add him to Atlanta’s lineup, who would it be?

Dave: For us, it’s either Landon Collins or Olivier Vernon. This team is desperately thin at safety right now, with 2017 fifth rounder Damontae Kazee playing very well next to a black hole at strong safety. Collins would solidify the position in a major way for this year, allowing this defense to stabilize and play better football.

Vernon would add to a punchless pass rush and give the Falcons something to harass opposing quarterbacks with, which is badly needed.

Ed: If you were game-planning fort the Giants against the Falcons what areas or matchups on both offense and defense would you be trying to exploit?

Dave: On offense, I think you get the ball into Barkley’s hand as often as he can handle. He’s a major talent and the Falcons have struggled with stopping running backs in space in the passing game and running the football, and they don’t have any reinforcements waiting. Barkley can single-handedly defeat the Falcons if he’s given the chance, and the less opportunities Manning has to throw it up to an aggressive secondary, the better off I think you’ll be, no matter how good OBJ is.

On defense, pin your ears back and rush Matt Ryan. The Falcons can hurt you through the air in so many ways that no one but an elite defense can stop that passing attack, so you want to take every opportunity you can to put Ryan on his back, force him to throw the ball away, or force a sub-optimal read. The offensive line has been bullied all year and can be again if the Giants commit to it.

Ed: Who are a couple of under the radar players Giants fans should be aware?

Dave: Ito Smith is the big one. The rookie running back has been very elusive and tough to bring down, but poor blocking has made his numbers look worse than they should be. He’s a genuine threat as the new feature back in this offense, and a player you ignore at our own peril. Look out for him in the red zone, where he’s scored three times in three weeks.

On defense, Damontae Kazee is your primary concern. He has three interceptions over the last three weeks and has shown an aptitude for homing in on poorly thrown or tipped balls. Given that a turnover might turn the tide in this one, you don’t want the ballhawking safety anywhere near Eli Manning’s passes.