The Atlanta Falcons are not a team that pops up on the New York Giants radar consistently. The Falcons, though, will be at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. With that in mind, our 5 questions segment this week is with Dave Choate of SB Nation’s Falcons blog, The Falcoholic.
Let’s get to it.
Ed: It’s only two games, but what are your thoughts thus far on Atlanta’s rookie head coach, Arthur Smith?
Dave: I don’t have a great read on him just yet, but you can basically separate my feelings about him between the offseason and the season. In the offseason, Smith powered through the Julio Jones trade and (by necessity) frugal spending and said all the right things about having everyone compete for positions, trying to constantly improve and getting players like Kyle Pitts in a position to succeed. Given his track record as a play caller in Tennessee, and given that we were all extremely tired of the last offensive coordinator and coaching staff, I would say he endeared himself to the fanbase pretty well.
Then the games started and things have been less sunny. Thus far, Smith has simply looked shaky, with some questionable decision-making in short-yardage and fourth down situations. His offense has only really been terrific for one quarter thus far over the course of two games, with an admittedly shaky offensive line limiting things but Smith showing little ability to keep the passing game clicking in spite of that. Given that they got absolutely thumped by another rookie head coach in Week 1 when they played the Eagles, that stung.
I’d say Smith has been a mixed bag, then. I’m a big believer that this team will make strides as the season goes on and that Smith was a good hire, and the team at least looked more competitive against Tampa Bay. It may just take a bit for him to figure things out, and he may not do so entirely until the roster’s upgraded.
Ed: Is Kyle Pitts the real deal? I know a lot of Giants fans were hoping he would somehow fall to New York.
Dave: He absolutely is. A really quiet Week 1 baffled a lot of us, and he still hasn’t been a red zone factor just yet, which is one of the bigger surprises of the early going.
That said, he was productive and sharp a week ago, is already moving all over the formation and faring well doing so, and has even shown off some quality blocking chops. His one-handed, behind him grab last week of a Matt Ryan pass over the middle was impressive enough, but what really knocked my socks off was the way he accelerated like a 2004 Madden version of Michael Vick with the ball in his hands. The Falcons need to get better at finding ways to get him the ball with an opportunity to run, but PItts’ talent and playmaking ability is not at all in doubt.
Ed: If you could take one player off the Giants roster and put him in an Atlanta uniform, who would it be? Why?
Dave: There are a lot of tempting answers, actually. This Falcons team has enough holes that a James Bradberry would provide a real lift at cornerback, a Leonard Williams would add ferocity up front for a team that’s slowly restocking its defensive line, and a Kenny Golladay or Sterling Shepard would lift a receiving corps that just needs to add more talent. I’m very tempted to say Azeez Ojulari, which would make Georgia fans reading this happy and would provide a long-term to a Falcons pass rush that needs it.
At the moment, though, I think I’d go with Golladay. The Falcons’ passing attack has been slow to get started, and the addition of a 6-foot-4 receiver with tremendous talent and a history of producing would probably help Arthur Smith and Dave Ragone scheme around their offensive line weaknesses considerably. Ask me after Sunday if the Falcons pass rush fails to corral Daniel Jones and I may switch back to Ojulari, but let me take a swing at lifting this anemic offense first.
Ed: The Giants are retiring Eli Manning’s jersey on Sunday and entering him into the franchise’s Ring of Honor. What are your thoughts on Eli? Is he a Hall of Famer?
Dave: I actually think about this a lot! I’ll give you a meandering version of my answer, which is that I probably wouldn’t put him in but think he’ll get in, at the risk of not making many friends here.
To me, Eli Manning is the classic example of a player who doesn’t quite have a Hall case, but should still come up in conversations about memorable quarterbacks who had impressive NFL careers. I’ll always be grateful to Manning as a native New Englander who isn’t a Patriots fan for his triumphs over Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in two Super Bowls, and his longevity, 2014-2015 run in particular and those rings combine with the Manning name to give him a real shot at Canton regardless of what I think.
At the very least, though, I think his contemporaries are probably more deserving. Ben Roethlisberger also has multiple rings and better career numbers, Tom Brady is obviously still going, Aaron Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks ever, and I think despite his lack of success that Phillip Rivers was the better player. I think Manning’s success will earn him strong consideration at minimum, but I think he’s either going to have to wait a bit or miss the cut, depending on who’s eligible when he’s eligible.
It’s a tricky conversation for me because I know I’m going to be fighting tooth and nail for Matt Ryan’s Hall of Fame case someday, and while they’re very different players with very different careers, he and Manning are both perceived as being toss-ups for Canton. The truth is that I expect Manning to get in eventually and am less sure about Ryan, but I wouldn’t necessarily pound the table for Manning’s inclusion.
Ed: The Falcons win if what happens? The Giants win if what happens?
Dave: Two things need to happen for Atlanta to win: They need to pass effectively for the majority of the game for the first time all year, and they need to not let Daniel Jones control this game. The first one is going to depend on several factors, including Arthur Smith calling a better game, the offensive line holding up better than it has the previous two weeks and giving Matt Ryan some time, and Ryan being able to connect with Calvin Ridley and Kyle Pitts on passes that travel further than 4 yards through the air. That shouldn’t be a tall order, but it has felt like one in the early going.
That might not even be enough if the Falcons let Jones do what Jalen Hurts did to them two weeks ago. Jones can escape the pocket and wreak havoc with his legs, which the Falcons have historically struggled with, and if A.J. Terrell is out Sunday his ability to direct an effective deep passing attack is going to be a major problem for this defense. If Atlanta can’t force him into a couple of mistakes and prevent him from doing what he does best, Jones has a very good chance to sink this team all by himself.
The Giants win if both of these things don’t happen, and frankly probably if one of them doesn’t happen. Throw off the rhythm of this Falcons passing game and get your own passing game going and it’s probably going to be enough to triumph, because this Atlanta team just hasn’t shown me enough to think they can overcome that.