Any New York Giants fans watching Monday night's game between the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles was likely torn between their various emotions. On the one hand, it's always good to see a division rival like Philadelphia going down, but on the other, it's a little scary to think about having to face that Falcons offense the next week.
With Matt Ryan using Julio Jones and Roddy White to pick apart a supposedly improved secondary and a surprisingly improved ground game, the Falcons pose a threat. Are the Giants in trouble for a second week in a row?
The battle starts up front and that may be the initial problem. Fletcher Cox recorded Philadelphia's lone sack as the Falcons' line somewhat held its own in Monday's game. The box score looks better than the tape does, but don't forget that Atlanta had one of the worst blocking units in the league last year, and at one point and were so diminished with injuries that they played a tight-end at right tackle. It was bad. So, it's a little scary to see such a sudden turnaround against Philadelphia; a team that had one of the most fearsome pass-rush departments in 2014.
In Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys, the Giants didn't do much at all in this area, and if Atlanta can keep their quarterback clean, it will be a long day for New York. Robert Ayers needs a second strong showing, Damontre Moore needs to see the field more, and someone else needs to step up -- whether it's Cullen Jenkins, Kerry Wynn or George Selvie it doesn't matter -- they just need someone to hit home. Last week, the team pitched what the 'Around The NFL' podcast call a 'Dirty Peter' (which is a somewhat juvenile, if genuinely funny, way of saying they didn't tally a single sack). Two weeks in a row cannot happen.
Atlanta's blocking improved, but shouldn't be able to generate much running room for any of their young rushers. The Giants' D-line could barely touch Tony Romo last week, but they did bottle up the run, holding the Dallas ground game to its lowest yardage total since 2013. In theory, this should be an easier test for Big Blue, but since when has football on paper ever translated to game day?
Right now, the Falcons are probably hard at work studying game-film from the Giants-Cowboys game in an attempt to formulate an attack strategy. Well, they won't have to look very far, because the linebackers are the clear weakness in Steve Spagnuolo's defense. Sunday night was filled with short crossing routes, dump offs and quick passes. Romo went 21-of-23 on first-down passes. The fact that he had that many first-down pass attempts -- let alone completions -- should be a warning sign.
Jon Beason is primed to make it two-for-two in missed games, so it looks like Uani 'Unga will be taking his place once again. 'Unga was responsible for two notable plays in Sunday's loss; an interception (positive) and an allowed touchdown to Jason Witten (very seriously negative). An inexperienced linebacker dropping back in Cover 2 with the game on the line is dumb. Let's hope they can manage the game better to put 'Unga in a position to deliver on the potential he showed in the preseason.
Watch for the Falcons offense to utilize swing passes to speedsters like Devonta Freeman to try and draw a linebacker in coverage. He's quicker than anyone in the front seven so containing those plays -- and believe me, Kyle Shanahan's offense has them -- will be tricky.
The Falcons may have White and Jones, but the Giants have shut them down before, and have the tools to do it again. The pair were impressive in Week 1, but so were Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. This right here, this will be story of the game.
I suspect the Falcons will try align Jones to Rodgers-Cromartie and have White go up against Amukamara. It won't be every play, and they may have other ideas, but these are the optimal matchups for Atlanta. Amukamara is very good at keeping everything in front of him so a possession receiver like White would be better used on that side, letting Jones go to work opposite him.
To combat this, the Giants will likely roll a safety towards Jones' side of the field in the belief that White may chip away with underneath routes, but nothing too big should get past Amukamara. Landon Collins excelled against the run last week, so look for his hard-hitting counterpart, Brandon Meriweather, to get the job of middle-field enforcer.
I'm expecting this offense to put up huge yardage, but not necessarily a lot of points. The Falcons would be wise to employ a similar game plan to that of the Cowboys; one consisting of shallow passes and linebacker exploitation. This is Shanahan's offense now. Expect the weird tricky stuff that made him a success with Robert Griffin III and earned him the job of installing a Johnny Manziel-friendly playbook in Cleveland. This is by far the best personnel he has ever had at his disposal and he knows he is probably one or two good years away from a head-coaching gig. It's imperative that the Giants don't allow any blood in the water. Any old wounds -- emotional or otherwise -- need to be patched up quickly because they will not be spared come Sunday.