Turning our attention to the 0-2 Atlanta Falcons who visit the Giants at MetLife Stadium this weekend, let's focus on the defense.
The Falcons hired Arthur Smith to be their head coach in the offseason, and he is the former offensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans. Smith hired 72-year-old Dean Pees to be his defensive coordinator, the man at the helm of the Patriots' 2007 defense during their 17-1 season.
Pees is being tasked to fix a Falcons defensive unit that struggled mightily last year under head coach Dan Quinn. How bad was it for Atlanta? They surrendered 398-yards per game, fourth in the NFL.
They recorded 29 sacks last season, one more than they recorded the year prior. They were able to generate some pressure, but not enough--and indeed, the Giants can relate to the struggles having gone through that themselves.
Like Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham, Pees is rooted in a 3-4 base, but his system is more multiple than anything. Pees's system is said to be easily digestible but apparently is an acquired taste considering the Falcons have surrendered the second-most points per game in the young season.
(Against Philadelphia, they lost 32-6 and against Tampa, 48-25, though to be fair, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw two pick-six touchdowns that contributed to 14 of the Bucs' points.).
Who do the Falcons have on defense we need to know about? Let's take a look at each unit.
Arguably the Falcons' best defensive player is Grady Jarrett. He's coming off a season where he recorded 57 pressures and five sacks. Jarrett is an undersized pass rusher known for his quickness, leverage, and hand usage, and he's the one guy up front who stands to pose the biggest problem for a Giants interior offensive line that gave up more pressures than the tackles in last week's game against a very good Washington defensive front.
Next to Jarrett are Jonathan Bullard, Tyeler Davison, and Marlon Davidson. Bullard is a more versatile 300-pounder who can play the run and also line up as a 5-technique, but the run defense is his bread and butter.
Tyeler Davison is the Swiss Army knife who's used in multiple positions and who can typically win the leverage battle.
Marlon Davidson, a second-year player out of Auburn, is looking to make more of an impact this year than he did last season as a rookie. He's still a situational defender, but he seems to have earned Pees' trust and has appeared in 44 snaps this season.
John Cominsky, a tweener, was an early Day 3 pick in 2019 out of Charleston College in West Virginia. He hasn't earned significant playing time and will more than likely only see the field in relief of Bullard or Davison in the rotation.
Rounding out the defensive front is Ta'Quon Smith, a rookie out of Texas.
Dante Fowler Jr. is the most talented pass rusher on the team, an explosive player who was a top-five pick by the Jaguars who has been looking to revive his career. He has four pressures and a sack so far this season and is more of a pass rusher than a run defender. To his credit, he's gotten stronger at the point of attack, which has helped his run defense.
Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, an undrafted free agent in 2018, is more of a special teams tweener on the edge and linebacker who plays a handful of defensive snaps. He's a stout player capable of playing the run—a try-hard type of athlete who has exceeded the expectations.
Ade Ogundeji, a rookie, has played 37 snaps. He is a long-player who tested better at the combine than his play would indicate. Ogundeji had 37 pressures and seven sacks for the Irish last season, which are pedestrian numbers, but he performed well at the Senior Bowl, and his stock rose.
Steven Means is another hybrid-defender who splits time at the off-ball and edge positions. He's a 31-year-old journeyman who is better against the run than he is the pass. He's also a guy who already has seen 106 snaps this season, speaking to his versatility.
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Dion Jones is a linebacker who flies around the field using his athletic ability to his advantage. A first-round pick out of LSU in 2016, the 6'2", 227-pound Jones poses a problem in the center of the defense where he is also solid in coverage and stout enough against the run.
Foyesade Oluokun is another undersized linebacker who can be deployed in multiple ways. In Quinn's defense, he was a blitzer who was occasionally asked to drop into coverage.
Pees has pretty much kept him in the same role so far. Where Oluokun's game lacks in against the run, so we would not be surprised if the Giants target him in the running game.
Atlanta drafted A.J. Terrell out of Clemson in the first round last year, and he's had something of a rollercoaster start to his career. Terrell suffered a concussion last week, so his status for Sunday is still to be determined.
If he does play, we anticipate he'll draw Giants receiver Kenny Golladay quite a bit, a matchup we think Golladay should win if it happens. It will be interesting to see what Pees does in his coverage plan if Terrell doesn't play.
Former Washington Football Team defensive back Fabian Moreau typically lines up on the right side of the defense. Moreau's season is off to a bumpy start as per Pro Football Focus, he's already surrendered two touchdowns.
If Pees simply plugs someone else in for Terrell, Moreau will likely draw Sterling Shepard on the outside, but we could also see the Giants trying to get Darius Slayton some snaps against Moreau as well.
Isaiah Oliver plays the slot for the Falcons, and in squaring off against Shepard when he goes to the slot, we give the edge to Shepard, and it's not even close given how well Shepard has been playing.
Oliver is a second-round pick who has had an up-and-down career so far--he gave up seven touchdowns last season and has allowed one so far this year.
Another cornerback who will probably get a healthy dose of snaps is T.J. Green, a 2016 second-round pick by the Colts. Green, who played his college ball at Clemson, is a corner/safety who, to our eyes, is a better fit for playing the perimeter than inside.
Duron Harmon and Erik Harris are the projected starting safeties. Harmon played with New England and is a cerebral center field safety with an ability to play man coverage. We expect we'll see him against the Giants' tight ends in coverage, while Harris will more than likely see most of his snaps in the box.
The Falcons also have former UCF safety Richie Grant, a second-year player. Grant hasn't seen the field much, but the word on him coming out of college was he had more than acceptable range and ball skills.
Jaylinn Hawkins is the third safety and is more of a deep centerfielder who can also line up in the slot. Pees has used his three safeties simultaneously quite a bit this year so far.
Still, after seeing the Giants have success moving the ball against Washington's defensive secondary last week, we are cautiously optimistic they'll be able to replicate if not improve that success against the Falcons.
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