Folger’s Forecast: Giants at Atlanta
by Bob Folger, Senior Analyst
The biggest thing missing from the Giants of 2012 is consistency. It’s obvious that they can play with anyone. The Giants seem to need an opponent that gets their attention, which certainly bodes well if/when they reach the playoffs. All of which makes this week’s game against an 11-2 Falcons team a likely “up” performance from this very up-and-down team.
The Falcons have won a lot of close games against marginal competition; therefore, they don’t get a lot of respect. This week will be a big opportunity to correct that situation. Revenge for last year’s playoff loss is also likely on their minds. However, because they have such a big divisional lead, this is not a must-win game for the Falcons. The Giants are in a much more desperate mode.
Giants on Offense
Last week’s 52-point explosion came against a woeful New Orleans defense. Atlanta’s defense is not all that great either. The Giants should be able to move the ball and dictate terms, especially if they can run the ball. Though it’s not always a necessity, a running game sure makes a quarterback’s job that much easier.
The running back situation is most intriguing. With Ahmad Bradshaw’s knee injury, a heavier burden could be placed on David Wilson’s shoulders. We don’t think he’s quite yet ready for starter snaps, but it will be interesting to see how the coaches use him. The more touches this rookie gets, the more we worry about ball security.
If Bradshaw can’t go, then Ryan Torain would dress but we suspect Kregg Lumpkin would be next up in the rotation. Lumpkin has the size for short yardage and has already been given some shotgun snaps, so the coaches have some confidence in him. However, all eyes will be on Wilson every time he’s on the field. Wilson certainly has the fans excited.
All this attention on Wilson could help open things up for the passing game. Despite Eli Manning’s two bad interceptions last week, he played a very good game. We’re waiting for Manning to enter that “playoff mode” zone, which is when his focus rises to optimum levels. The efficiency of his playoff numbers makes his regular season numbers appear pedestrian. Manning has also had a lot of success throwing the ball indoors.
The Giants’ tackles will be tested by defensive end John Abraham’s edge speed. Abraham leads Atlanta with ten sacks. Look for the Falcons to line him up over David Diehl’s outside shoulder on most every snap. Manning will have to identify Abraham and make sure he’s doubled.
In the secondary the Falcons’ safeties have nine interceptions, while old friend and Giants nemesis Asante Samuel is still watching, waiting and lurking. However, he’s banged up and may be limited.
Giants on Defense
The Giants’ most inconsistent unit has been its heralded defensive line. Their collective physicality has just not been up to par. It’s time that this group started to force some of its will on the game. Simply, they have to play harder and start winning some of those physical battles. It’s time to stop whining and talking, and start playing.
We thought Justin Tuck started to pick things up last week. As a veteran leader and defensive captain, Tuck really needs to start leading the way. Jason Pierre-Paul is a bit limited by a back issue, and has lost some of his explosiveness. Osi Umenyiora sure looks frisky and healthy. Matthias Kiwanuka is coming on. All three of the defensive tackles need to play tougher and stouter.
The return of Jacquian Williams last week was a significant factor in the defense’s containment of the Saints’ speed. Williams will likely see a lot of Tony Gonzales this week, but he’ll also be roaming the short and intermediate zones trying to disrupt the Falcons’ fine duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones.
We think White is Atlanta’s most complete offensive weapon, but a knee problem may slow him down, which would be a big break for the Giants.
Atlanta’s running game has been underwhelming. This could be the week where the Giants’ front finally steps up and stuffs the run. Michael Turner is slow, but he’s good in short yardage. Scatback Jacquizz Rodgers is a nice complement to Turner, and is also dangerous out of the backfield. Williams will also probably isolate on Rodgers when he’s not on Gonzalez.
Prince Amukamara’s hamstring may keep him on the sidelines this week, which will get rookie Jayron Hosley onto the field. Hosley has made some mistakes in the slot, but he seems to be learning from them. His tackling has been very solid. He plays big.
Fellow rookie Will Hill is also on the verge of emerging. We think both rookies have bright futures.
Giants on Specials
David Wilson’s historic game last week certainly had to have gotten Atlanta’s attention. Fortunately for them, their kickoff specialist, punter Matt Bosher, has a very strong leg and has been very good indoors at getting touchbacks. If Bosher can neutralize Wilson, that will take away the Giants’ biggest special teams weapon. Meanwhile ex-Giant Matt Bryant is having a fine year placekicking for the Falcons.
For their part, both Giants’ kickers should enjoy the friendly indoor confines. The Giants’ coverage teams took a big step forward last week and need to continue its dominating play. However, they won’t be playing the Saints’ pitiful special teams this week, so it won’t come as easy.
One of the quiet improvements on the Giants’ specials is getting Domenik Hixon back on punt returns. Hixon has had some success returning punts in the past and is a threat that the Giants haven’t had back there since Hixon got hurt two years ago. If Hixon gets any room, he can do some damage.
The Giants match up well against the Falcons, who haven’t lost at home all year. We think the Giants are very competitive on paper. They should be able to run the ball and stop the run. If they can do both things well they could win handily.
However, we are concerned about ball security. The Giants’ +16 turnover advantage this year is a big reason why they’re 8-5, but the ball isn’t always going to bounce their way. The Falcons’ home crowd always brings energy and makes them dangerous, regardless of the matchups.