THE BRANCH – Can’t find any prognosticators who are picking the Falcons to fly up to New York and hand out a smackdown to Eli Manning and the New York Giants.
Even the great Swami Schultz has the Falcons losing, but covering the 6½.
In SportingNews Today on Thursday, all seven members of their panel picked the New York Football Giants. All seven – Vinnie Iyer, Steve Greenberg, my main man Clifton Brown, Todd Wright, Real Scouts, Russ Lande and Dennis Dillion – had the NY insigna under their names.
Ken Moll of Scouts, Inc. has the Falcons losing 24-20. He gives the Falcons position advantages at wide receiver, linebacker, defensive back and special teams. He gives the coaching advantage to Tom Coughlin and the quarterback advantage to Manning.
That’s usually when things are most interesting in the NFL. When a team is given absolutely no chance to win an important game, they often times come through.
The Falcons margin of error will be slight with Michael Turner not expected to play. (INJURY ASIDE: The Falcons are hoping that Turner is a fast healer and can bounce back from his high right ankle sprain like he did back in 2001 from a left ankle sprain he suffered at Northern Illinois. “(Turner) Played in 10 games in 2001 and missed one with a sprained left ankle. . .” according to Pro Football Weekly’s 2001 draft guide.)
Here’s a look at some of the issues the Falcons must overcome to pull off the upset in Gotham City:
COVER THE GIANTS RECEIVERS: Steve Smith is their main guy, but the unit has some depth.
“Coming into the year, they were talking about the receiver corps was untested,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “The rookie from North Carolina (Hakeem Nicks) is getting a lot more looks. (Domenik) Hixon is a big, fast and strong guy, who works on their special teams. I think that they’ve started to gel as far as the receivers working with Eli.”
ATTACK THE O-LINE: Some contend that New York’s offensive line man is slipping from the Super Bowl standard of a few years ago.
“I think that unit works very, very well,” Smith said. “They remind me, watching them on tape, of our offensive line. They really play hard and they play well as a unit. They are a bunch of guys that really understand their blocking schemes. They are efficient in both run and pass blocking.”
STOP JACOBS BEFORE HE GETS ROLLING: The Falcons play a one-gap scheme, but they should just let middle linebacker Curtis Lofton key on Brandon Jacobs and give him the green light to go blow him up in the backfield. Once the big fella (6-4, 264) gets rolling, he’s tough to get down.
The Falcons are ranked 26th against the run (130.3 per game) and 28th against the pass (240.7). To have a chance they need to stop one aspect of the Giants offense and make them one dimensional.
“This is a very good running team and we know that,” Smith said. “This is a team that’s got really three backs. They talk about Brandon. They talk about Ahmad (Bradshaw) but Danny Ware is also a very good running back. It’s going to be very important that we are very gap sound. To defend the run you have to make sure that you are gap sound. You’ve got swarm to the ball and play with good leverage. If we can eliminate explosive plays in the running game we will enhance our chances this week.”
GET OFF THE FIELD ON THIRD DOWNS: The Falcons have also been pretty leaky on third downs. Teams have converted 61 of 125 third downs (49%).
Smith is aware of this major problem.
“We’re not very good, plain and simple,” Smith said. “We are not very good on third down.”
Smith and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder have a plan.
“We have to do a couple of things better,” Smith said. “First we have to play better on first and second down. We are in way too many third down-and-shorts and third down-and-mediums. In those situations you are putting yourself at a big disadvantage on third downs. It’s very important that we stress having good first and second down play to get us in those third down-and-longs.
“That’s something that you don’t want to see very often because the odds are in your favor defensively in those down
and distances. There are going to be certain times they are going to make good throws and good catches, but statistically those are situations that the defense definitely has the upper hand.”
WIND SHOULDN’T BE A PROBLEM: Got the weather update from the folks over at The Weather Channel.
“The Weather Channel has your NFL football forecast for the weekend – we would love to let your readers know:
Atlanta Falcons @ NY Giants
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
Gametime Weather Index: 10 (Light winds; 50s)
November and December games in the Meadowlands can be notoriously windy, thanks to both cold fronts sweeping out of the Great Lakes and an occasional coastal storm. While the latter scenario will be in play Sunday, the coastal low should be rather weak, by East Coast standards, and high pressure should remain sufficiently nearby to minimize rain chances. More importantly, the proximity of the surface high should keep winds generally less than 10 mph.”
GASH ‘EM IN THE RUN GAME: Perhaps the Giants will take the Falcons backup running backs lightly. But Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood are very capable.
Perhaps one of them can pop a 66-yarder like Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy’s 66-yard touchdown run against the Gaints in Week 8.
SCHEDULE GRIEVANCE: Before leaving New York, the Falcons need to file a grievance at the league office over this bye-week booster schedule they are playing. Here’s the address: 280 Park Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017. You know, you they can put it in the GPS.
Mathematically, the Falcons rank fourth in strength of schedule this season with their opponents combining for a .588 winning percentage in 2008 (150 wins, 105 losses and one tie).
Considering that they play four teams coming off of bye weeks — including the rested New York Giants – they might just have the toughest schedule in the league is year. (They are 2-1 so far, beating San Francisco and Washington, while losing to Dallas as they were coming off bye weeks).
“This is the fourth one is six weeks,” Smith said. “The schedule is made and we’ve got to go play the games. Up until this point, I think we’ve handled it very well. It’s a little bit tougher when you are coming off a bye week and you’ve got to go on the road than coming off a bye week and having to play that opponent at home.”
2010 DRAFT PREVIEW OF CORNERBACKS: It’s OK to take a peak ahead to the 2010 draft. It’s a pretty good bet that the Falcons will be giving every draftable cornerback in the nation a workout.
It would be wise to start compiling a file on Florida State’s Patrick Robinson. If the Falcons land somewhere in the 20s, he could be available. Robinson will be rated behind Tennessee’s Eric Berry of Creekside High and Florida’s Joe Haden, the consensus top two corners in the draft.
Here’s a look at some of the other top cornerbacks around the country.
For instant updates, follow me on Twitter.