The Giants will continue the pursuit for their first win of the season when the Atlanta Falcons come to MetLife Stadium this Sunday.
The Falcons are also looking to win their first game of the season after falling to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 2, 48-25. After trailing, 28-10, Atlanta was able to score two consecutive touchdowns to bring themselves within a field goal of tying the game. However, a Tom Brady touchdown pass followed by two straight interceptions returned for touchdowns sealed the Falcons' fate against the reigning Super Bowl champions.
The Giants will look to rebound from last Thursday's heartbreaking defeat against Washington on a day Big Blue will honor one of the franchise's greatest all-time players. Eli Manning is set to have his No. 10 jersey retired this Sunday and be inducted as the 43rd member of the franchise's Ring of Honor.
Here are five story lines to follow in Sunday's matchup:
Getting on the right track
For the fifth consecutive season (and second under Joe Judge), the Giants have begun the year 0-2. Although last week's game came down to the wire, with Washington kicking a game-winning field goal with no time on the clock, Coach Judge acknowledged the fans' frustration yet remained adamant that the focus remains the same.
"Look, our job is to go out there and give the fans entertainment and to give them something to cheer for," Judge said Friday. "That's our job and that's our responsibility. I say it all the time, we don't ask the fans for anything. We have to earn it and when they give it, it's been earned. I'm 100-percent onboard with the fans and what they want to see, and that's what we're working to give them is that product on the field. But when you want to get those results, it ain't about being frustrated to get results, it's about working to get results.
"We're going to come back to work like we do every week, keep putting them together and making sure we're improving as a team and at the end of the day keep putting a better product on the field. We took a step forward this week in a lot of ways and there's things we've got to correct and clean up going forward, but the point with our team is we've got to keep improving on a weekly basis to get where we want to go."
There were some positives to come out of last week's loss. The offense scored 29 points and registered 391 total yards, including 163 on the ground. This was a stark improvement from Week 1, when the unit finished with just 13 points and 60 rushing yards. Heading into Week 3 still looking for the first win of the season is not what anyone on the team was hoping for, but as Kenny Golladay noted on Monday, it's a long season and the calendar is only on September.
"There's a lot of football left," the wide receiver said. "We've got to put that behind us and just focus on Atlanta."
The O-line shuffle continues
We are only two games into the season, yet the offensive line has already gone through plenty of changes. Starting left guard Shane Lemieux was placed on injured reserve after the season opener. This caused Nick Gates to shift to guard while Billy Price took over at center. Unfortunately, Gates suffered a lower left leg fracture during the first half of the Washington game and has since been placed on IR, thus leading to more shuffling along the line.
How the unit looks on Sunday remains up in the air, as Judge has yet to announce who will be inserted into the starting lineup following Gates' injury. However, it is likely that Price will once again start at center, while Ben Bredeson gets the start at left guard, an impressive feat considering both players were acquired just a couple of weeks ago. Bredeson received all of the snaps at LG after Gates was injured, and while it wasn't a perfect game from the O-line, the offense put up a healthy amount of points against one of the league's toughest defenses.
"I was actually really pleased with the way they came through the other night," Judge said about the line's performance against Washington. "There are some things we have to clean up and keep building forward at all positions – the offensive line is no exception. However, I'd say the way Billy and Ben have jumped in here in a short period of time and really made a lot of gains for us, jumping in and learning the vocabulary with one week of practice and then you have another week of a couple walk-throughs going in there…
"I like when Ben got in. I think Ben competes his butt off. He's making a lot of gains for us right now. I like the way both guys work and obviously we're trying to get to be the best unit we can be. I talk to guys all the time, it doesn't matter offensive line-wise how you are individually, it's we've got to be the best unit because everything works collectively with those guys."
The Falcons have registered four sacks this year, including three against the Buccaneers last week. Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is one of the best in the league at his position, racking up 17.5 sacks and five forced fumbles from 2018-2020.
Get Saquon going
It's been great to see Saquon Barkley back on the field for the Giants this season after he tore his ACL in Week 2 of the 2020 campaign. Through the first two games, Barkley has rushed for 83 yards on 23 carries (3.6 avg.) with three receptions for 13 yards. Barkley is still shaking the rust off after not taking a real football hit in almost a full year, but he showed improvement in his second game back last week.
"I was pleased at how he moved around last night," Judge said on Friday. "He did some good things for us in the game. He played tough for us. He ran the ball hard. He had the explosive run for us and did some nice things in the passing game. Obviously, he's going to be a key part of our offense and our team. He's a key leader on our team. We'll keep finding ways to be creative and get it to him. Again, look, this guy getting out there, getting his feet wet the first couple of weeks and getting moving with it, I'm really encouraged with where he's at right now."
In his first two seasons, Barkley showed an ability to break out a long run on any given play. The 24-year-old back displayed that explosiveness against Washington, breaking loose for a 41-yard gain on his fourth carry of the game. After playing two games in a matter of days, including 58 snaps in Week 2, it was an encouraging sign that Barkley's body responded well to the increased playing time.
"I was able to get out there and play a full game," Barkley said after the Washington game. "My body and my knee responded well, so I kind of knocked that rust off…I've got to continue to trust the knee, trust the system and as the system keeps going, I'll continue to do better."
In their Week 1 loss to the Eagles, the Falcons allowed Miles Sanders to run for 74 yards on 15 carries (4.9 avg.) while Kenneth Gainwell gained 37 yards on nine carries (4.1 avg.) and scored a touchdown. Atlanta limited Buccaneers running backs Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones to just 79 yards last week, but surrendered 4.6 yards per attempt. The Falcons defense enters this matchup ranked 24th in the league in rushing yards allowed.
View rare photos of the all-time series between the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons.
Daniel Jones' strong start
Despite the 0-2 start, Daniel Jones' play has been a bright spot for the Giants' offense this season. Going up against one of the league's toughest defenses last week, Jones completed 22 of 32 passes (68.8 percent) for 249 yards and a touchdown, finishing with a passer rating of 102.2. He also made a significant impact on the ground, rushing for a game-high 95 yards on nine carries (10.6 avg.) and an additional touchdown. The 95 rushing yards also set a career-high.
"Saw him do a lot of good things," Judge said about Jones' performance against Washington. "Get the ball out on time. Throw some good accurate passes. Throw some good balls into tight coverage. Obviously, push the ball down the field. On [WR Darius] Slayton's touchdown, he made a heck of a head's up check. That was Daniel on the line right there communicating with Slay. He saw something he liked, took advantage of it, and obviously scored some points for us. These are the things I've talked about Daniel growing, progressing throughout his career.
"There are a lot of things that show up right there. I love the way he ran the ball. Very effective run force tonight. That's a part of our offense. I thought he did a good job with the ball security, getting down when he needed to protect it, getting out of bounds at times, sliding at other times. So, there are a lot of positive things right there."
Jones was named Pro Football Focus' Offensive Player of the Week for Week 2 after his strong outing. Through the first two games of the season, Jones ranks sixth among QBs with an 83.8 overall grade. Even more impressive is his 85.4 passing grade, which ranks second in the NFL behind only Tom Brady (91.8). He also ranks third in the NFL in QB rushing yards with 122, while his 8.1 yards per attempt ranks second among all players with at least 15 carries. The 24-year-old has thrown just one interception over his last eight games.
"I think he played a great game," wide receiver Darius Slayton said on Friday. "I think he made all the throws he needed to make to win the game… That's who we believe he is. We believe that he is that guy that's going to go out there, make the throws, make the plays to win the games and that's what he showed last night."
Atlanta has struggled to slow down opposing quarterbacks this year. Jalen Hurts registered 264 passing yards and three touchdowns in Week 1 while adding 62 rushing yards on seven attempts (8.9 avg.). Tom Brady had even more success last week, throwing for five touchdowns and 276 yards. A.J. Terrell, Atlanta's top corner and 2020 first-round pick, suffered a head injury in Week 2 and his status for Sunday's game is unclear.
Matching up against Matt Ryan & Falcons playmakers
Falcons QB Matt Ryan has had an up-and-down start to his 2021 season. Although he has completed 69.1 percent of his passes for 464 yards through the first two games, Ryan has thrown just two touchdowns compared to three interceptions. In fact, with Atlanta down 10 in the fourth quarter, the veteran threw two interceptions which were both returned for touchdowns in a span of four minutes, putting the game out of hand for the Falcons.
Atlanta has some very talented playmakers, starting with tight end Kyle Pitts. Pitts was the fourth overall selection in this year's draft and has caught nine passes for 104 yards in his first two NFL games. At 6-foot-6 with the athleticism of a wide receiver, Pitts is a tough matchup for any defense.
In addition to Pitts, Calvin Ridley is one of the league's top wide receivers. The fourth-year receiver caught 90 passes for 1,374 yards and nine touchdowns last season, and has caught 12 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown this year. Out of the backfield, Mike Davis leads the team with 24 carries for 87 yards (3.6 avg.) and is second on Atlanta with 10 receptions, leading to 48 receiving yards.
Perhaps the most intriguing player in the Falcons' offense is Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson has made a big impact in both the run and pass game through the first two weeks of the season. The veteran has registered 14 rush attempts for 65 yards (4.6 avg.) and a touchdown while catching seven passes for 71 yards and another touchdown. He has also returned a few kicks for Atlanta, averaging 26.0 yards on two returns.
The Falcons enter this matchup ranked 30th in points scored and 25th in yards gained. Despite the low rankings, Atlanta has playmakers all over their offense. After averaging 28.5 points and 413.5 yards allowed in the first two games, the Giants' defense will look to get back on track.