Giants, Falcons seek to shore up their weak links
ATLANTA (AP) — Something has to give when the Atlanta Falcons’ porous defense faces the New York Giants’ sluggish offense on Monday night.
The Falcons rank last in third-down percentage, second-worst in scoring average and third-worst in average yards allowed. They’ve been hit hard by injuries and won’t get their defensive captain, middle linebacker Deion Jones, back for another four weeks.
New York struggles to sustain drives behind 37-year-old quarterback Eli Manning. He has been sacked 20 times, third-most in the NFL. Star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has complained about the scheme and wants more touches. Injuries have caused problems, too.
“None of us have played or coached well enough to be where we want to be, so we own that,” first-year Giants coach Pat Shurmur said.
“Outside the building, it’s always giving praise and assigning blame. That’s the noise that happens outside the building. We correct each play specifically, each situation specifically, each event in a game specifically, with the idea that if a mistake is made, you correct it and move on. The goal is to not have it happen again. That’s where it is.”
The Falcons (2-4) lost starting safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen to season-ending injuries by the third game and were so lacking in depth last week that they lined up star receiver Julio Jones in the secondary on the final play of a narrow win over Tampa Bay.
It’s a good thing they did. Jones ran toward Jameis Winston after an 11-yard gain and forced the quarterback to lateral. Three more Bucs touched the ball before it bounced out of bounds near the goal line as time expired.
For takeaway-starved Atlanta, it was a rare fumble for a defense that’s forced just one this season, a ball that bounced out of bounds two weeks ago at Pittsburgh. The team’s only fumble recovery came on a fumbled punt return in the opener at Philadelphia.
“For us it has to be a mindset,” linebacker De’Vondre Campbell said. “Right now collectively, we’re not getting the job done.”
The Falcons had two interceptions last week, but they’ve struggled to bring steady pressure all year. It will help that defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is expected to return from an ankle injury that sidelined him for two games. Atlanta can’t afford to keep waiting, though, to knock the ball loose.
“It just has to be more at the front of our thinking and when we get our chances to own them, we’ve got to make sure we do that,” Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said. “The ball in the passing game — we’re making progress there with making interceptions — but we’ve got a ways to go in terms of forcing fumbles and getting them.”
New York (1-5) has lost three straight. Despite an outstanding start to the season by rookie running back Saquon Barkley, the Giants were held to 13 points in their previous game, a blowout loss at home to Philadelphia.
The team is dealing with some off-field issues, and Manning knows it can get carried away. After New York went 3-13 last season, this year could be headed in the same direction.
“That’s always a challenge,” Manning said. “It’s just a challenge to try to focus on the things that you can control, and that’s us and your assignments, the game, going out there and playing well. Keep the focus on that, and we’ll be OK.”
Giants receiver Sterling Shepard wants to score early and keep the ball away from Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and his solid set of receivers. Jones, Calvin Ridley, Mohamed Sanu and tight end Austin Hooper are as good a foursome as any in the league.
Atlanta has scored an average of 34.5 points in four home games.
“It’s just us going out and executing the game plan,” Shepard said. “If we can do that, I have no doubt in my mind that we can put up 30 and keep up with the Falcons’ offense. They’re going to score points, and we have to go into the game with the mentality that we’re going to do the same.”