The 0-2 Atlanta Falcons are coming to town this weekend with an eye on getting in the win column. Can they pull it off?
We've already looked at the personnel the Falcons are bringing up north to the Meadowlands, but let's check in with Falcon Report's Dave Holcomb, who answered five burning questions.
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Don't forget to check out Falcon Report on SI's Fan Nation later this week for our answers to their five most burning questions.
Q: We’re two weeks into head coach Arthur Smith’s era, and while I know the team is still a work in progress, what has you most encouraged and most concerned about from what you’ve seen?
The most encouraging sign is simply how better the offense was in Week 2 than the season opener. But specifically, I like how the running game has looked through two weeks. Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson have been great compliments to each other. In Week 1, they were the only positive, running for more than 100 combined yards.
They weren’t as efficient in Week 2, but that was against Tampa Bay, which has been just about first in every meaningful run defense category the last two years. Yet, Smith kept the offense somewhat balanced, and the Falcons did have a 10-yard rushing touchdown.
At this stage in Matt Ryan’s career, he needs more support from the running game. Smith is developing the rushing attack the team needs to turn things around this season.
The biggest concern is the offensive line. It was a little better in Week 2, but it’s still one of the most glaring weaknesses on this team. The Falcons will likely struggle against any formidable pass rush this season.
Q: The Falcons parted with Julio Jones, a receiver, and added tight end Kyle Pitts. How much has the offensive philosophy changed, not just with the new coordinator but with Pitts and Calvin Ridley becoming the central point of the offense?
It’s hard to say definitively because it’s been only two games, but the biggest philosophical change has been featuring more backs and tight ends instead of wide receivers through two weeks.
Smith has used double tight end sets a lot more than the Falcons did last year. As a result, both Pitts and Hayden Hurst have played more than 50% of the team’s offensive snaps. Atlanta’s third tight end Lee Smith has played 23.61% of the snaps as well. Last season, the team’s third tight end, Jaeden Graham, played only 10.15% of the offensive snaps.
Fullback Keith Smith is playing more too. He averaged under 14 snaps per week last year. He has 39 snaps (19.5 per week) through two games in 2021.
I don’t think this is necessarily the result of the Julio Jones trade. Arthur Smith likes running the ball with two tight ends and/or a fullback. But without Jones, it has probably become easier only to feature one wideout (Ridley) in most formations.
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Q: Which matchup with the Giants concerns you the most and why?
The most concerning matchup issue the Falcons have this week is Saquon Barkley. Atlanta is fortunate it is facing the dynamic runner early in his return from major surgery. Even still, Barkley reeled off a 41-yard run last week, and the Falcons have allowed seven runs of at least 10 yards to begin the season.
The Falcons containing Barkley, and Daniel Jones for that matter, in the running game is vitally important to Atlanta winning this game.
How the Falcons block rookie outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari is another concern. Ojulari has a sack in each of his first two games. The Falcons offensive line was better in Week 2, but it’s still the weakest part of the offense.
Q: What is the biggest unanswered question for this Falcons team that should have been answered by now, and what is still holding the team back?
The pass rush — where is it going to come from, and can it be consistent? It was non-existent in Week 1 against the Eagles.
On Sunday, the Falcons sacked Tom Brady three times. Dante Fowler forced a fumble, which led to a takeaway, on his sack. That kept the Falcons competitive, but they still need more.
The Falcons didn’t have a player with 5.0 sacks last season, and they didn’t do much to improve the pass rush this past offseason. It’s been the biggest glaring need on this team for years. It remains so, and the Falcons will not be a true contender again until it’s fixed.
Q: What are the keys to a Falcons win over the Giants?
Containing Barkley and the Giants' ground game. The Falcons have a knack for making below-average quarterbacks look like All-Pros, but if Daniel Jones has to throw 40 times, the Falcons have a decent chance to win.
On offense, I think they need to stick with the balanced attack and continue to feature Pitts, especially in the red zone. The rookie tight end is looking for his first NFL touchdown.
And win the turnover battle. Daniel Jones was better in Week 2, but he’s been historically very careless with the ball. The Falcons were 2-3 when they won the turnover margin last season. Since the start of the 2020 season, Atlanta is 0-7 when they lose the turnover differential.
The Falcons are minus-2 in the turnover margin to begin this season.
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