BERGEN COUNTY, N.J.– The Atlanta Falcons will host the New York Giants in week seven Monday Night Football action. Kickoff from the brand-new Mercedes Benz (domed) Stadium is set for 8:15pm Eastern. The 1-5 Giants are reeling (and are in crisis mode) after being embarrassed on national television by the defending Super Bowl Champion (and division rival) Philadelphia Eagles. At just 2-4, the Falcons are experiencing a let-down season as well, but are encouraged by a week six win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In this game, quarterback Matt Ryan threw for 354 yards and three touchdowns (zero interceptions).
NEW YORK GIANTS KEYS TO VICTORY
- Score points. Duh, right? The Falcons enter play having scored an average of 27.8 points per game (ninth best in the league), yet allow an average of 32 points per game (31st in NFL). Comparatively, the Giants average 19.5 points per game (twenty-seventh in the league), and are only slightly stingier on defense, allowing an average of 27 points per game (24th in the league). For the Giants to keep pace with the Falcons’ high powered offense, they must simply put points on the board (which has been quite tough in recent weeks). A timely and momentous stop from the Giants’ defense would obviously benefit the cause.
- Make Atlanta run the ball. Davonta Freeman is scheduled for groin surgery Thursday in Philadelphia. His season, after being placed on the Injured Reserve list, was over before it really even began.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn says kicker Matt Bryant (hamstring) and RB Devonta Freeman (groin) are likely both out this week.
— Dan Graziano (@DanGrazianoESPN) October 15, 2018
Freeman had played in two games this season and had 68 yards on 14 attempts. As a result of his absence, the Falcons’ ground game has been in a tailspin. They are among the league’s worst in almost every statistical category: total rushing yards (T-27th), yards per attempt (27th), average yards per game (29th), and fumbles (T-7th). For New York to win this game, they must dare Atlanta to beat them on the ground. The Giants should be happy execute this game plan because they’ve added Olivier Vernon (back from injury) into their defensive mix. In his first game back last week, against the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles, he was the Giants’ highest graded defensive player, according to Pro Football Focus.
— PFF NY Giants (@PFF_Giants) October 12, 2018
Coach Shurmur: @oliviervernon54 creates pass rush….when you add a player like that back he’s disruptive. Hopefully he can build on that performance from last week.
— New York Giants (@Giants) October 18, 2018
A game plan to force the Falcons to run the ball would be right in the Giants’ wheelhouse, especially with the way in which Landon Collins guards against it.
— PFF NY Giants (@PFF_Giants) October 17, 2018
3. The Impact of Evan Engram’s Probable Return: Head Coach Shurmur says he is “hopeful [he’ll] be back and ready to roll on Monday.” Logically, the return of tight end Evan Engram (one of the dynamic players in the core of the Giants’ offensive weapons) will need to draw defenders a little tighter than his replacement- third string Scott Simonson (2 receptions for 31 yards). That, theoretically, will free up coverage on Odell Beckham, Jr., the $95 million man, at least for an instant. Manning needs to recognize a coverage mismatch at the line of scrimmage, anticipate the split second window in which Beckham, Jr. will be open, and hit him in-stride. Beckham, Jr. has game-altering playmaking ability… so just give him the damn ball.
ATLANTA FALCONS KEYS TO VICTORY
1.Matt Ryan. Assuming the Falcons will play (in week seven) to the same standard that they have set forth in their running game this season, the outcome of this game falls squarely on the shoulders of quarterback Matt Ryan. Ryan is totally capable of the challenge: he is among the best in the league in a multitude of different quarterback statistical categories: QBR (4th), total yards (3rd), touchdowns (T-4th), interceptions (T-31st), and yards per game (5th). The Giants enter play with the league’s 23rd ranked passing defense. The Falcons are hoping for a week six repeat performance from Ryan, who seems to be hitting his stride in 2018.
3️⃣rd – passes of 25+ yards
4️⃣th – Passer Rating
4️⃣th- Touchdowns#MattyIce❄️ is dealing through the first 6 games.
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) October 17, 2018
2. A) Exploit the Giants’ Offensive Line: Though the Giants seemed to have found the right combination for their offensive line, the statistics do not lie. Though week six, they rank at the bottom of the league in a few of the most important statistical categories.
60.6 Pass Blocking Grade (31st)
74.5 Pass Blocking Efficiency (T-28th)
2.30 Avg. Seconds to Pressure (29th)
— PFF ATL Falcons (@PFF_Falcons) October 16, 2018
2. B) Pass Rush: Following the Falcons’ game against the Saints earlier in the season, Head Coach Dan Quinn told gathered members of the media: ““I think we’re not where we’re going to be in that department yet.” Sure, “take advantage of the Giants’ offensive line”, but the Falcons’ pass rush has left much to be desired. According to Pro Football Focus, “The Falcons defense only pressured QB Drew Brees on …23.5% [of his dropbacks]. Leading edge rushers Vic Beasley and Brooks Reed each forced just two pressures in a pass heavy game in which they had a combined 88 pass rush attempts. Beasley and Reed rank 83rd and 102nd respectively in pass rush productivity this season among 105 qualifying edge rushers.“
There is hope, however, after Quinn reported that disruptive defensive tackle Grady Jarrett will practice on Thursday after being sidelined for weeks due to an ankle injury. Furthermore, defensive end Derrick Shelby will also return to practice Thursday after suffering a groin injury four weeks ago. Remember: the game is on Monday night, so there is an extra day of rest built-in.
Grady Jarrett is expected to return to practice.
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) October 18, 2018
THE BOTTOM LINE
Is this the shoot-out style game that will (finally) awaken the Giants’ highly touted, yet grossly underachieving offense? If that means scoring above their 19.5 points per game average, sure. Those points will not be enough to beat the Atlanta Falcons, though. Both of Atlanta’s wins came at home and, this week, since the Falcons will be donning their black uniforms, they are calling for every fan to wear black. The point being: Mercedes Benz Stadium is a tough place to play as an opponent. Even without Freeman, Ryan, the catalyst to the Falcons’ offense, will lead his team to victory. Just like Odell Beckham, Jr. threw a double-pass touchdown to Saquon Barkley, keep an eye on Mohamed Sanu, who has the same capability. The point spread has stayed constant throughout the week: the Giants are 5.5 point underdogs. My prediction is that they will lose by 4 points.
Final score prediction: Falcons 27, Giants 24
I discussed this game, in depth, on my sports talk radio show 60 Minute Overtime (#60MinOT on social media). Click to listen!