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New York Giants Defense vs. Atlanta Falcons Offense: Who Has the Competitive Edge?

Olivier Dumont takes a deep dive into the numbers, personnel and matchups between the New York Giants defense  and the Atlanta Falcons offense.

Though it’s easy to focus and linger on the growing pains of this newly evolved Giants offense, their defense and special teams units are just as important to factor in and have had their share of shortcomings to start the 2021 campaign.

When analyzing the success the Giants have managed over the past two decades, be it their most recent playoff appearance in 2016 to their 2007-08 Super Bowl title, they’ve founded it on the strength and backbone of their defenses. Although 2020 encapsulated that feeling to an extent, 2021 has gone over differently after their first two games and not for the better.

Nonetheless, what the Giants have amongst their defensive ranks and their special teams is plenty of bright talent and playmakers that can influence the outcome of a game in a heartbeat. And with an Atlanta offense that has grown to look more permeable by the week, the Giants defense could very well display their full potential that’s been lacking over Weeks 1 and 2.

Entering a must-win game, the Giants have a lot on the line on Sunday and will need the very best from their defense and special teams unit against an underrated Falcons offense and return team. On that note, here are our competitive edge takes for the Giants’ defense and special teams units.

Falcons Passing Offense

  • Quarterback (Matt Ryan)
  • Running Backs (Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson)
  • Tight Ends (Kyle Pitts, Hayden Hurst, Lee Smith)
  • Wide Receivers (Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage, Olamide Zaccheaus, Tajae Sharpe, Christian Blake)
  • Offensive Line (Chris Lindstrom, Jake Mathews, Matt Hennessy, Kaleb McGary, Jalen Mayfield)

If you think the Giants pass offense had it rough over the first two weeks, take a good hard look at what the Falcons pass offense has been able to muster so far in comparison. Ranking 28th in the league in passer rating (74.6), 24th in passing yards per game (214.5), and second in interceptions (3), Ryan just doesn’t look as sharp as he once used to and has slid further down his gradual path of recession since his 2016 peak season.

The tough part with Ryan is that the quarterback position has evolved significantly with its demand in athleticism and mobility, two things that Ryan doesn’t have that much of at age 36.

Ryan had a career-high in sacks in 2019 (48) and threw a worrisome 89 bad throws as well in 2020. He’s still one of the league’s best passers, but his limitations have grown to become more of a burden toward the success of this passing offense now more than ever.

With that being said, the Falcons still carry plenty of talent and playmakers across their passing offense, comparable to that of the Washington Football Team. And as we saw last Thursday, Washington proved to be quite challenging to slow down, and the Falcons could pose similar problems.

The Football Team has McLaurin, and the Falcons have Ridley. Though both have uniquely different skill sets, Ridley is one of the NFL’s elite receivers that is known for his pristine route-running. Though he had a slow start against Philly, Ridley burst to life against Tampa, securing seven receptions on ten targets for 63 yards and a touchdown.

In addition, the Falcons drafted rookie tight end Pitts fourth overall, and the bright prospect brings an unreal level of athleticism and talent for his position. Though he’s yet to secure his first touchdown, Pitts has made an immediate impact in this passing offense. He corralled five of his six targets for a team-high 73 yards against Tampa, which included an impressive one-handed catch in the second quarter that was well behind him.

Giants Pass Defense

Pass Coverage

  • Cornerbacks (James Bradberry, Adoree’ Jackson, Darnay Holmes, Rodarius Williams, Keion Crossen, Josh Jackson)
  • Safeties (Jabril Peppers, Logan Ryan, Julian Love, Xavier McKinney)

The Giants pass defense has been a mess this year, and surprisingly so. Sitting in 25th in passing yards per game (287.5), 23rd in opponent passer rating (106.8), with only one interception to account for, this Giants pass defense has found it challenging to have an impact on opposing quarterbacks, and mainly due to the defensive secondary’s lack of effectiveness in pass coverage.

Despite a strong display from Jackson in his first two games as a Giant, posting a stout 57.1 reception percentage with two passes defended, the vast majority of the Giants defensive secondary hasn’t found it easy to minimize receptions and positives gains.

And at the helm of this dilemma has been Bradberry. Leading the team in targets (15), Bradberry has conceded 12 receptions for 115 yards and two touchdowns to opposing receivers in two games. Aside from his impressive read on Taylor Heinicke to deliver a big interception last Thursday, Bradberry has not looked like his old Pro Bowl self from 2020.

But he’s also not alone. Both Peppers and Ryan have higher reception percentages that are well over 80 and have also struggled to come away with any pass breakups in the process. This group of defensive backs has the potential to spearhead a dangerous pass defense but instead have fallen well below expectations to start the season.

Pass Rush

  • Edge (Lorenzo Carter, Azeez Ojulari, Oshane Ximines, Quincy Roche)
  • Defensive Line (Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Austin Johnson, Danny Shelton, Raymond Johnson III)

Led by Williams, Carter, and Ojulari, this Giants pass rush has had a pretty solid start to the season. And standing tall amongst their ranks has been none other than Ojulari, the rookie edge rusher out of Georgia. Leading the team in sacks (2) and ranking second in total pressures (6), Ojulari has been every bit as advertised and brings a deadly combo of power and quickness to this unit.

On the other hand, Carter and Williams have had effective starts to their respective 2021 campaigns, with both tied in total tackles (8) and sitting in the top three in hurries on the team. However, their early-season efforts haven’t been enough, and as a result, the Giants defensive backs have had to take on a much bigger load than they should.

Last season, the Giants finished 12th in the league in total sacks (40), with 19 coming from the Giants starting front three alone (Williams, Lawrence, Dalvin Tomlinson). Though it’s only been two games, this groups’ inability to apply pressure has been a growing concern that needs to change for this pass defense to have success.

To give you an idea, not only did this Giants pass rush deal just one hit on Heinicke outside of Ojulari’s sack last Thursday. But just the week before, they allowed quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to linger in the pocket for an average of 3.05 seconds, which is well below par for this group.

Competitive Edge: Atlanta

This clash will have the makings of a great showdown as both units set out to prove their true worth and potential. But even with the deep presence of the Giants pass defense, the edge goes to the Falcons passing offense and for a couple of critical reasons.

First and foremost, running back Patterson has become a dangerous secret weapon for this group and demonstrated that for everyone to see against Tampa Bay. On six targets, Patterson had himself five receptions, 58 yards, and a superb, one-handed vertical catch that led him to score his second touchdown of the day.

Add Davis into the mix who secured all of his seven targets thrown his way, and the Falcons have various ways to present this Giants pass defense with a variety of problems.

Lastly, the Giants pass rush is up against a pretty robust offensive line. Though Atlanta doesn’t have the best cumulative pass-blocking efficiency rating (80.9), they have anchoring pass blockers in key areas of their offensive line.


Sep 12, 2021; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants head coach Joe Judge looks on before the game against the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium.

Giants Head Coach Joe Judge Vows Things Will Get Better

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Jan 24, 2019; Kissimmee, FL, USA; Houston Texans linebacker Bernardrick McKinney (55) during AFC practice for the 2019 Pro Bowl at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

Giants to Sign LB Bernardrick McKinney to Practice Squad

New York adds some veteran reinforcement to its linebacker pipeline.

Right guard Lindstrom is debatably their best offensive lineman and has maintained a 97.4 blocking efficiency rating over his first three seasons. Matthews has maintained a stout 98.9% pass-blocking efficiency rating at left tackle in his first two games of the season, and the center Hennessy is coming off a 98% performance against Tampa Bay.

McGary and Mayfield could pose as weak links, combining for a total of 19 pressures in two games between the two. That said, they are both coming off better showings in Week 2, and expect them to step up once more on Sunday.

Falcons Run Offense

  • Running Backs (Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson)
  • Tight Ends (Kyle Pitts, Hayden Hurst, Lee Smith)
  • Offensive Line (Chris Lindstrom, Jake Mathews, Matt Hennessy, Kaleb McGary, Jalen Mayfield)

Believe it or not, this group of running backs is pretty underrated. Despite a brutal showing against the second-best rush defense last Sunday, Patterson and Davis amounted to over 103 yards rushing in 22 carries against the Eagles in week one.

What makes this tandem so interesting is how well their skillsets complement each other. Patterson brings tremendous athleticism and quickness as a former receiver and special teams returner and likes to use his cutbacks and jukes to his advantage. On the other hand, Davis is more of a downhill, ground-and-pound runner that can be difficult to slow down with his toughness and speed.

With that said, the biggest concern for this run attack is its offensive line. Apart from Lindstrom and Hennessy, run blocking has been a big issue for the rest of this unit so far, and Tampa Bay’s run defense exposed that concern last Sunday. Throw in a group of tight ends that has yet to prove much with their run blocking, and Atlanta’s run attack could be in for a rough afternoon.

Giants Run Defense

  • Defensive Line (Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Austin Johnson, Danny Shelton, Raymond Johnson III)
  • Linebackers (Blake Martinez, Tae Crowder, Reggie Ragland, Carter Coughlin, Justin Hillard)
  • Safeties (Jabril Peppers, Logan Ryan, Julian Love, Xavier McKinney)

This Giants run defense is filled with playmakers, and on paper, is a tough bunch to match up against. But, the reality of the matter is that the Giants are ranked 22nd in rushing yards allowed per game (126.0) and have conceded a worrisome 5.0 yards-per-carry average over their first two games, placing 29th in the league.

Though Williams and Austin Johnson have shown plenty of energy and productivity against the run--Johnson leads all defensive linemen in stops (5), total tackles (9), and sacks (1). Williams is second in stops (2) and total tackles (8)--the rest of the defensive line hasn’t had much to show for, and it’s proven to be quite problematic.

That said, the Giants have one nasty duo at the linebacker position in Martinez and Crowder that play against the run very well. While Martinez brings an electric combo of speed, anticipation, and penetration that have led him to collect a team-high in total tackles (21) and stops (6), Crowder adds firepower and torque with his tenacious style. He has the astute ability to crash hard on opposing ball carriers, collecting three stops and seven total tackles so far on the year.

But the dangerous edge that the Giants have to work with on top of their front seven is the looming tackling efficiency and pursuit from Peppers and Ryan up along the line of scrimmage. With Peppers ranking second on the team in stops (5) along with three total pressures to his name, Ryan is second in total tackles (17) and is tied in second amongst all defensive backs in stops (3).

Competitive Edge: Giants

If the Falcons had more to show for with their run blocking, they would have the advantage. But because that’s not the case, the Giants run defense will have a significant edge come Sunday afternoon.

Here’s some interesting food for thought. Suppose you detract the big 70-yard run Melvin Gordon had in Week 1 and calculate the average between the number of rushing yards the Giants run defense held its opponents to in their first two games (so 95 yards from Denver and 87 from Washington). In that case, it will equate to an average of 91 yards per game and a 3.7 yards-per-carry average, placing the Giants just outside the Top 10 in both categories.

When it comes to strengths, the Giants are very good against the run and had a Top 10 run defense last season. And expect them to reaffirm that come Sunday afternoon.

Giants Special Teams: Return Game

  • Kicker (Graham Gano)
  • Punter (Riley Dixon)
  • Kick Returner (Jabril Peppers)
  • Punter Returner (Jabril Peppers)

When it comes to the Giants special teams unit, they have a pretty solid bunch. Gano was lights out against Washington, drilling all five of his field goal attempts, including two from 50+ yards out (first from 52, second from 55).

Regarding their returners, it’s been a mixed bag of results. Board (who’s now on the practice squad) received three kickoff return opportunities and is averaging 28.7 yards per attempt. But Peppers, on the other hand, has only 3.3 yards per attempt to show for with his three punt returns, struggling to maximize the chances he’s been given.

Falcons Special Teams Return Coverage

The Falcons have a pretty staunch return defense in their special teams unit. Following their season opener against the Eagles, where they held Jalen Reagor to only 4.8 yards on four punt return attempts and Quez Watkins to only 40 yards on two kick returns, this same special teams unit did not allow a single punt return against Tampa Bay and managed to hold the Bucs kick returners to 59 yards on three attempts.

Competitive Edge: Giants

The Giants are near dead last in punt return average (29th) and haven’t had a whole lot to show for with their kick returns. That said, when you have a placekicker who’s now made 35 consecutive field goals in a row (the longest active streak in the league, mind you), plus a kick return unit that is fifth in yards per attempt, the Giants take the edge in this tight battle.

Falcons Special Teams Return Game

  • Kicker (Younghoe Koo)
  • Punter (Cameron Nizialek)
  • Kick Returner (Cordarrelle Patterson)
  • Punter Returner (Avery Williams)

Koo led the league in field goals made last season (37) and was a perfect eight-for-eight from 50+ yards. So far this year, he hasn’t missed a single field goal yet, but then again, he has yet to receive a field goal attempt outside of 50 or more yards. Either way, he’s as elite as they come and will look to stay perfect on Sunday.

However, when it comes to their kick and punt return units, the Falcons have struggled quite a bit, ranking 26th in kickoff return yards per attempt (16.4) and 25th in punt return yards per attempt (5.5). That said, Patterson is a kick return specialist and has eight career kick return touchdowns, grabbing one in each of his last three seasons.

Giants Special Teams Return Coverage

This group of Giants return coverage specialists is pretty solid. Though they struggled against the Broncos with their punt coverage, allowing Dionte Spencer to average 12 yards in two punt return attempts, they looked better against Washington and didn’t allow a single punt return attempt.

However, the dilemma with this group comes down to consistency. On four kickoff attempts against Washington, DeAndre Carter collected a total of 83 kick return yards and posted an average of 20.8 yards per attempt. The Giants will want to change that against a much more dangerous kick returner in Patterson.

Competitive Edge: Falcons

From Koo’s resilience to Patterson’s upside, the edge goes in favor of the Falcons, and it’s not close. Look for this group to have a productive day on Sunday afternoon.

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