NFL Preview - Atlanta (2-2) at NY Giants (2-2)
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 offensively.
"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 practice.
"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 shown."
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
10/05 07:48:33 ET