The winless Falcons will head to East Rutherford, New Jersey, in a matchup with the winless Giants at MetLife Stadium. Both teams are reeling for a win, but for different reasons. New York has a legit shot at winning their division, while Atlanta is solely trying to improve week to week. Still, oddsmakers see this as a close game, so they can’t be that far off personnel-wise.
The Falcons are coming off back-to-back weeks of embarrassing losses. The Eagles steamrolled them in the season opener in Mercedes-Benz Stadium; then the Buccanneers scored 20 unanswered points in the second half to shut the door on Atlanta in Week 2. They’re team losses for sure, but here are five Falcons players who will have a big part in the outcome of this game.
Dante Fowler Jr.
While he was quiet in Week 1, Fowler had a sack-fumble in Week 2 on Tom Brady. Even though it was more credit to the coverage than Fowler’s pass rush rep, getting his first sack can be the confidence booster he needs. Fowler has gone up against some of the best tackle duos in the league — Lane Johnson/Jordan Mailata and Tristan Wirfs/Donovan Smith. This week, he’ll be going up against Nate Solder and Andrew Thomas, who are significantly worse than the previously mentioned tackles. If Fowler’s newfound success can translate to production, the Falcons will stand a chance. Atlanta will need to pressure Daniel Jones, but more importantly, they’ll need to contain him because he is more athletic than meets the eye. Jalen Hurts killed the Falcons on zone reads and RPOs; hopefully, the Falcons learned their lesson.
The rookie held up well in the run game against an impressive Tampa Bay offensive line. John Cominsky has had plenty of time to develop, but Graham needs to get the call at the 5-technique. If he gets the nod, watch out for him. He thrives against the run and knows how to use his length. The Giants offensive line isn’t overly impressive; the Falcons should take advantage and play the young guys, which leads me to my next Falcons player to watch.
There is no reason Steven Means should see the field on early downs. Ogundeji — or someone like Mykal Walker — should be getting reps at the SAM backer on first and second down. I get Walker plays off-ball linebacker, but he’s played the position before, and anything is better than Means. I think the staff will go to the rookie this week even more than last.
Much like Graham, Ogundeji is stout against the run and knows how to use his length. I would like to see the rookie over Means because of his superior defense against the run. Ogundeji will be one to watch because the better and more consistent he plays, the fewer snaps Means will get.
You’ve been bamboozled! Come for five, get eight! I wanted to go with just Mayfield, but Hennessy and McGary have been so bad in pass protection, they’re warranted to be here next to him. Mayfield and Hennessy played better next to each other in Week 2 than Week 1, but the lack of communication just exacerbates the individual deficiencies each has in pass sets.
They’ll be lined up across from Dexter Lawrence, who can be immovable at times in the run game, and Leonard Williams, who is as impressive as any interior defender the pair has faced in 2021. It’ll be an intriguing test for the pair of inexperienced linemen; hopefully, they improve again.
McGary has seemingly regressed back to his rookie-level in pass protection. Facing Azeez Ojulari, even though he’s a rookie, is no joke. Lorenzo Carter is much more experienced, and McGary will see them both. I’ll be interested if he gets his development back on track this week.
Pitts showed glimpses of the incredible physical ability he possesses, taking a four-yard slant that was thrown behind him 20 more yards in the blink of an eye. He can hurt this Giants defense, who have struggled against tight ends. Jabrill Peppers and Logan Ryan will more than likely get the challenge of trying to defend Pitts, though I’m sure he’ll see plenty of combo or bracket coverages.