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Giants vs. Falcons: Film review notes and observations

The Giants fell for the fourth straight week, this time on Monday night to the Atlanta Falcons, 23-20. Offensively, the problems that have plagued the Giants all season struck at different times throughout the game. The defense played well enough to win, but didn't force any punts after the Falcons' first three possessions.  

• Negative plays killed the Giants in the first half, many of which were related to protection. The Giants were moving the ball nicely on their first drive and had the ball first and ten on the Falcons 44-yard line, but Manning was sacked by defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, who beat Will Hernandez inside on first down. Two plays later, on 3rd and 11, Manning might have had a chance to hit Sterling Shepard over the middle for a potential first down, but he had to unload the ball early when defensive end Takkarist McKinley beat Nate Solder around the edge and forced the quick throw.

• On the next drive, the Giants moved the ball just two yards short of midfield before an Odell Beckham Jr. false start made it 1st and 15. Two plays later on 2nd and 13, Nate Solder and Will Hernandez failed to handle a stunt between McKinley and defensive tackle Jack Crawford and Manning was sacked. On 3rd and 21, there might have been a shot down field on a combination route to either Odell Beckham Jr. or Sterling Shepard, but pressure from defensive end Vic Beasley over Chad Wheeler forced the ball out quickly. 

• On the next drive, there was an opportunity on 2nd and 10 for Manning to hit Beckham over the middle for a first down, but he threw the ball too far in front of his receiver. Despite the fact the Giants kept seven players in to block just four rushers, a Beasley power rush on Wheeler forced Manning to step up in the pocket and unload the throw a second earlier than he wanted. On 3rd and 10, McKinley sacked Manning. If McKinley didn't get him, one of the Falcons defensive tackles who got penetration up the middle on a T-T (tackle-tackle) twist that Will Hernandez and Spencer Pulley did not pick up well. The Falcons rushed five against five blockers, and if the Giants could have picked them up, there could have been an opportunity to hit Odell Beckham Jr for a big run after catch opportunity.

• The Giants' lone scoring drive in the first half featured no negative plays and a 26-yard gain to Odell Beckham Jr. and a 38-yard gain to Sterling Shepard. Both plays came in situations when the Giants caught the Falcons in man to man defense. This is where the Giants' second big problem began: red zone offense. On 2nd and 6 from the nine, Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. had a chance to connect on a corner route but the pass sailed over his head. 

• On third down, the Falcons rushed only three and Manning couldn't find anyone open before being sacked. It looked like Sterling Shepard was open early in the play near the first down marker, and fellow wide receiver Bennie Fowler found some open space near the back of the end zone right before Manning was sacked. This was a coverage sack. 

• The Giants moved the ball on their first drive of the second half, finding Shepard for a 53-yard gain as he beat Falcons cornerback Robert Alford (who the Giants had a lot of success attacking) in man to man defense. It set the Giants up 1st and goal at the ten, and after an Eli Manning scramble, they had it 3rd and 1 at the one. Pat Shurmur tried a creative play call, motioning Barkley out of the backfield before handing it to him on an end around, but he was stopped at the line of scrimmage. Rhett Ellison lost his footing shortly after the snap, which made him miss his block on defensive end Brooks Reed that closed a potential hole for the running back. The Giants run game, to that point, had only produced 10 carries for 22 yards, including three attempts for one or fewer yards. 

• On 4th and goal from the one-yard line, it looked like Manning missed an opportunity to get it to Beckham right after his play action fake to Barkley, who was sprinting to the sideline and had a half step on Falcons safety Sharrod Neasman. It would have taken a good throw in stride to get Beckham in the end zone, but Manning decided not to try the throw as he rolled out. Evan Engram was covered in the back of the end zone by cornerback Desmond Trufant, and Manning tried to force it to tight end Scott Simonson and it was knocked away. He did not see tight end Rhett Ellison open coming across the back of the end zone.

• The Giants next drive began with another chunk play, this time Beckham beating Alford for a 51-yard gain. It was a max protection call that worked, with eight left in to block four rushing defenders and only two receivers put into routes. Beckham had a chance to turn it into an 80-yard touchdown but he couldn't make safety Damontae Kazee miss in the open field. Three straight incompletions from the 18-yard line ended the drive. The first looked like a bad route by Evan Engram, who didn't flatten his route after the Falcons brought pressure. The second was a drop by Sterling Shepard. The third was a high pass from Manning to Shepard on a slant that might have had a chance to be completed if not for a lot of contact between Shepard and Kazee. 

• On the Giants first possession of the fourth quarter, the Giants had it third and two on their own 33-yard line. They tried to get it to Saquon Barkley in the flat in one on one coverage against a linebacker, but as Pat Shurmur said after the game, the Falcons played zone instead and Chad Wheeler missed his cut block, resulting in an eight-yard loss.  

• The Giants final drive simply took up too much time to allow for a real onside kick and recovery opportunity. They started the drive with a chunk play to Sterling Shepard, who beat Alford again deep down the sideline. Two failed quarterback sneaks cost the team nearly a full minute, killing what remained of the clock.  

• The revamped offensive line struggled in the first half of the game, but played better in the second half. They were able to protect long enough with help from the tight ends and running back in some max protection situations for Eli Manning to throw the ball down the field. 

• Let's abolish the idea that Manning has become some kind of Checkdown-Charlie. He completed eight passes between 10-20 yards, two between 20 and 40 yards, and three of 40 yards or more. He wants to push the ball downfield if the protection and coverage allows it. After a slow start, Manning is now tied for the 13th most completions in the league of 20 yards or more (23), and tied for 8th in passes of 40 yards or more (5). His willingness to push the ball downfield is not a problem. 

• The Giants defense played well enough to win in this game. The Falcons were forced to punt on their first three possessions, despite a couple of long conversions for first downs. Some nice scheme work by James Bettcher and some pass rush up front kept the Falcons off the board until 4:51 left in the second quarter. The Giants still hadn't scored at that point either, which when all is said and done, is as big a reason the Giants loss as any. 

• In the game preview last week, I wrote about how a huge part of the Falcons offense was throwing down the field out of run looks. That's exactly how Atlanta got their first score. In 12 personnel, the Falcons ran play action and Matt Ryan found his tight end Austin Hooper for a 36-yard gain. B.W. Webb had near perfect coverage but the throw and catch were slightly better. On the next play, Falcons wide receiver Marvin Hall ran a fade and turned it into a post, gaining separation on Janoris Jenkins. After dual fakes in the backfield to the running back and a wide receiver on an end around, Matt Ryan unloaded for a 47-yard touchdown. 

• The Giants defensive front controlled the Falcons running game well, especially in the middle of the field. Without Tevin Coleman's 30-yard run for a touchdown in the 4th quarter, Atlanta running backs had just 36 yards on 17 carries. The Falcons did a really nice job blocking up all the Giants defenders on Coleman's long run. 

• The Giants pass rush was probably better than it has been all season long. Olivier Vernon, Kerry Wynn, Lorenzo Carter, and blitzers like Alec Ogletree, B.W. Webb and Landon Collins were all around the quarterback at different times. The Giants had three sacks in the first quarter, nearly half their season total. 

• Tae Davis had his first big opportunity to play linebacker in passing situations, and flashed his athleticism on some nice plays in space. 

• The Giants had the Falcons pinned at their own one-yard line in the first half, and their own two in the second half, but it took just one play (a pass to Julio Jones both times) in both instances for the Falcons to get the ball past the 10-yard line. The defense missed opportunities there to keep field position shifted for the offense. 

• The Falcons don't turn the ball over, but Janoris Jenkins forced their fourth this season. On a deep completion to Julio Jones, Jenkins got his hand on the football and dislodged it out of Jones' possession on the way to the ground. It was called incomplete on the field, but replay rightly showed it was a catch and a fumble. Eli Apple wisely recovered the ball despite the incomplete call on the field, which allowed the officials to give the Giants possession.