By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) – Sooner or later the Atlanta Falcons will get their act
together outside the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome.
Whether that happens Sunday against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium
remains to be seen.
The Falcons have lost both of their road games this season in Week 2 at
Cincinnati and on Sunday in Minnesota. The Falcons have lost four in a row on
the road dating back to last season, when they went 1-7 as the visitor.
One week after lighting up Tampa Bay, 56-14, Atlanta was dealt a 41-28 loss to
a Vikings squad without star running back Adrian Peterson and with a rookie
quarterback under center. Teddy Bridgewater passed for 317 yards and running
backs Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata combined for 213 yards. Asiata scored
three touchdowns for Minnesota, which pounded the Falcons for 558 yards.
“We had a very hard time stopping them whether they ran the football or
whether they passed the football,” Falcons head coach Mike Smith said. “We
didn’t tackle well and you know you are not going to win games in the NFL if
you don’t get stops.”
The defense had no pressure on Bridgewater and it’s the third time in the
first four games of the season Atlanta has been unable to register a sack. The
Falcons are 31st with only three sacks, two more than St. Louis.
Atlanta must get the run defense and pressure going against the Giants or Eli
Manning will have a field day like the one he had last Thursday in Washington.
Running back Rashad Jennings is finding his niche, too, in his first season
with the Giants.
Falcons defensive back Robert Alford said communication is key.
“We just need to communicate better, go out there and execute more and try to
find a way to come away with takeaways,” Alford said. “We have to come in
every day and know our opponent, back and front, and execute the plays that
(Falcons defensive coordinator Mike) coach Nolan calls.”
Smith would agree and said all three levels — the defensive line, the
linebackers, the secondary — are responsible for what happens on the field.
The Falcons are near the bottom in rushing yards allowed (153.5), passing
yards allowed (276.2), points allowed (28.2) and total yards given up (429.8).
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was picked off twice against the Vikings and has
five INTs on the road as opposed to none at home. He did manage to throw three
touchdown passes for a third time in four games and had 298 yards on 25
completions (41 attempts). Ryan is second in the NFL with 1,263 passing yards
and understands this is a team game.
“We’re all in it together. Win or lose, we’re all in it together,” Ryan said.
“Different games are going to shake out in different ways and sometimes
different groups will be asked to carry the load. It’s a long year, we’ve got
to stay together, get back to work, trust in what we’re doing, and I think
we’ve got the locker room to be able to do that.”
The Falcons are still first in the NFL with 444.0 total yards per game and
second in both scoring (32.8 ppg) and passing 322.2 ypg).
The Giants are well rested after their beatdown of the Redskins at FedEx Field
on Sept. 25. Manning completed 28 of his 39 pass attempts for 300 yards, four
touchdown passes and an interception. He also ran one in for a score.
The Giants had 31 first downs, nearly 40 minutes of possession (37:17) and
racked up 449 yards against what was supposed to be an intimidating Redskins
defense. Manning was only sacked once and hooked up with rising tight end
Larry Donnell for three touchdowns.
Donnell is the first Giants tight end with three touchdown receptions in a
game since Oct. 28, 1962, when Joe Walton caught three. He will surely be
targeted by defenses for the rest of the season. Donnell didn’t save any of
the touchdown balls because he said “there is more coming.”
Prince Amukamara, Quintin Demps, Antrel Rolle and Trumaine McBride each had a
hand in making Redskins quarterbacks Kirk Cousins’ night a forgettable one
with their INTs. Redskins receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson blew up
against Philadelphia, but were held to a combined three catches for 37 yards.
Jackson had one reception for nine yards and Washington couldn’t do anything
“It was an outstanding performance by everybody, by defense up front in terms
of the pressure,” Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said. “It goes to the entire
defense. They are two outstanding football players. The week before with 11
catches and DeSean with his 81-yard touchdown. That’s something to come away
without them hurting us.”
New York has won back-to-back games after opening the season 0-2 and has
scored 75 points during the winning streak.
New York’s defense, which had three picks in Week 3 versus the Texans and
totaled six turnovers in Washington, capitalized on its opportunities and the
coaching staff put the players in position to win. It was all about technique
and applying pressure up front that enabled the Giants to come out on top.
After hosting the Falcons, New York returns to NFC East action with matchups
against Philadelphia and Dallas. Atlanta is 11-10 all-time against the Giants
and the two teams met once in the playoffs, a 24-2 victory for the G-men in
2011. The Falcons, though, won the last meeting, 34-0, on Dec. 16, 2012, when
Ryan posted three TD passes, two of which went to Julio Jones.
Manning threw for just 161 yards and was intercepted twice.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Falcons veteran defensive lineman Osi Umenyiora spent the first nine years of
his career with the Giants and will face his former team for the first time.
He won a pair of Super Bowls in New York, then signed with the Falcons prior
to the 2013 season.
Umenyiora played in all 16 games in 2012 and 2013 — his first in Atlanta —
and left the Giants with 430 tackles, 75 sacks and 31 forced fumbles over 129
career games. He had 7 1/2 sacks last season and is still searching for his
first of 2014. Umenyiora set an NFL record with 10 forced fumbles in 2010 and
a Giants’ franchise record for sacks in a single game with six, set in 2007
against the Philadelphia Eagles.
One person on the Giants is looking forward to facing Umenyiora and that left
tackle Will Beatty. Beatty and Umenyiora often battled in training camp and
“Being my mentor coming in here, I know this is going to be a good week for me
just to show him how far that I have come and thank him for it,” Beatty said.
“He was a guy that, if you could pass block him, you knew that there’s nobody
that could beat you outside on the edge because of his speed and what he’s
Umenyiora is a year older and perhaps a step slower, but it will be
interesting to see how his “homecoming” goes.
“He’ll be fired up,” Manning said of Umenyiora. “Osi and I had a great
relationship when he was here, but I know, as a defensive end, they always
want sacks. In practice he was in the backfield quite a bit, could have hit me
a number of times, but you can’t hit the quarterbacks. Hopefully, our guys
will do a good job and keep him away. He’s a tremendous player and can still
get to the quarterback.”
Also, Giants cornerback Jayron Hosley is eligible to return after serving his
four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on substances abuse.
The Giants played exceptionally well in the secondary against Washington and
will be tested again with Jones and Roddy White coming to town.
White just tied Terance Mathis for the franchise lead in receiving touchdowns
with No. 57 against the Vikings. He had four catches for 73 yards and trails
Michael Turner (61) for the franchise record for overall touchdowns.
Atlanta has some issues on defense and its secondary has the challenge of
stopping Donnell and Victor Cruz. The Falcons could also face rookie Odell
Beckham Jr., who has yet to see action because of a hamstring issue suffered
during training camp. Beckham, New York’s first-round pick in May, said he’s
ready, but doesn’t have final say. Manning hopes he can be a nice addition.
“I hope that he can be a big weapon for us,” Manning said. “He definitely has
a little burst of energy, a burst of speed. He can be a deep threat, can win
on some underneath stuff. Can get him, hopefully, throwing some short passes
and he can break it for some big plays.”
Speaking of injuries, Atlanta’s offensive line took a hit Sunday and lost
center Joe Hawley and right tackle Lamar Holmes to injured reserve. Guard
Justin Blalock sustained a back injury and was replaced by Gabe Carimi. The
team made some moves to patch up the line and signed tackle Cameron Bradfield
and guard Harland Gunn to the active roster.
Carimi will start at right tackle and Peter Konz at center.
Safety William Moore (shoulder) is on IR as well with the option to return to
the practice field after six weeks and then to the active roster after eight
weeks. Moore has 16 tackles this season and his leadership will be needed
during his recovery. Moore took over as the vocal leader when linebacker Sean
Weatherspoon was lost for the season in OTAs.
“We’re going to need his leadership, much like Sean,” Smith said of Moore.
“Sean is with us in the meetings. We expect that William will do that, as
well. He’s designated to return, so he’s a guy that’s definitely going to be
back before the season’s over. So he’s a guy that can help us win games.”
Kemal Ishmael is expected to start at safety for Moore.
Manning has the tendency to lay an egg after a thrilling performance, but this
won’t be the week. However, don’t expect four TD passes and a rushing score
like he had in Washington. Donnell is on the rise for the Giants and has the
advantage Sunday against a porous Atlanta secondary. Look for a Jennings
sighting at the Meadowlands and more turnovers from Ryan in another road loss.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Giants 27, Falcons 17