Five storylines to follow heading into the Giants’ Week 7 game in Atlanta:
1. Close isn’t close enough. Coming off a Thursday night loss to the Eagles, the Giants have an extended layoff before they suit back up for another primetime game on Monday night in Atlanta. Coaches and players got a chance to get away for the weekend – Pat Shurmur went to Vanderbilt to see his son, the Commodores’ quarterback, nearly upset Florida – and reflect on what went wrong in the 1-5 start. They returned to the practice field Tuesday, have the day off Wednesday, and will practice Thursday through Saturday before departing for Atlanta on Sunday.
“Some of it is, I think we need to play better, I think we need to coach better, and we’re certainly not happy with the record,” Shurmur said. “I feel like when you’re close in games, you look back on plays here and plays there, and close isn’t enough. We’ve got to try to find a way to get it over the top.”
Shurmur said they are always looking at new things to do with schemes, including finding the right combination of players. It is a work in progress six games into the new regime.
“I think we have a much better feeling for who the players are and how they respond to a win and how we’re responding to losses, how hard guys work and their competitive spirit and all that, and then what guys can and can’t do,” Shurmur said. “As you know, we’re constantly changing up the roster, there’s been a lot of change from a year ago, and we just have to get everybody on the same page doing the things necessary to win games.”
2. NFC South gauntlet. The NFC South sent three teams to the postseason a year ago, and the Giants will have faced all of them in a four-week span this season. Already losing to the Saints and Panthers in back-to-back games, they take on a 2-4 Falcons team coming off a 34-29 victory against the Buccaneers. Those three teams are also all led by elite quarterbacks. Drew Brees recently became the all-time passing yards leader, Cam Newton is a former league MVP, and so is Matt Ryan, who is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns to just two interceptions this year. Ryan comes into Monday night with a top-10 offense in yards and scoring, but Falcons coach Dan Quinn’s defense ranks 30th and 31st in those categories, respectively. The Giants are 8-4 all-time as the away team in the series, but this will be their first trip to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which opened in 2017.
3. Engram and Ellison on the mend; injury report. On Thursday night, the Giants played without Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison, their top two tight ends. But Shurmur is “hopeful they’ll be back and ready to roll on Monday.” Engram missed his third consecutive game because of a knee injury while Ellison was not in uniform for the first time in his two seasons with the Giants. Veterans Nate Solder, Olivier Vernon and Connor Barwin did not practice on Tuesday, but Shurmur chalked it up to wear and tear from last week. “No, I don’t have any concerns as of now,” he said. Rookie defensive end RJ McIntosh, the Giants’ fifth-round pick, did practice for the first time since joining the team but remains on the reserve/non-football injury list.
Meanwhile, in Flowery Branch, Ga., the Falcons placed running back Devonta Freeman on injured reserve, and Quinn said that veteran kicker Matt Bryant, who injured his hamstring during a 57-yard field goal late in the Falcons' win against the Buccaneers, will likely be out this week against the Giants.
4. Saquon a bright spot in a dark start. Rookie running back Saquon Barkley has been everything the Giants thought he would be and probably a little more. The second overall draft pick accounts for six of the team’s 11 touchdowns (55 percent), which speaks equally to the rookie’s impact and the team’s inability to find the end zone early in the season. Like Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014, Barkley is doing something historic seemingly every week, but the Giants remain just 27th in scoring at 19.5 points per game. This comes when league-wide scoring is at an all-time high.
“I don’t look at those games or teams that are scoring a lot of points and say why can’t we score because I really don’t care how many points they score,” Barkley said. “One thing I can focus on is how many points we score on offense and how many wins we can get over to this side. I guess you can say I’m aware of what other teams are doing, but I really don’t care too much of what other teams are doing. Only thing that I can worry about and focus on is what am I doing for myself as a team and how I could help this team get better.”
View the projected starters for Monday's game against the Falcons.
5. Defense looking at itself in mirror, too. The Giants’ offense has been under the microscope, but the defense also needed to go back to the lab after giving up at least 33 points in three consecutive games. The unit is tied with the Panthers for 14th in yards allowed (358.0) while dropping to 27th in scoring (27.0). Two-time Pro Bowl safety and defensive co-captain Landon Collins was asked what he can do to get the team out of this funk.
“Try to make more plays, honestly,” he said. “Being more affirmative with my play-calling, my actions, helping the defense as much as I can, making all the tackles I can, and being in the right position to make plays.”
Finding the right position against the Falcons is a tall order. Atlanta has turned the ball over a league-low three times this season.
“Matt Ryan is at the top of his game this year,” Collins said. “He’s been doing a great job. They got Julio [Jones] – a big, tall receiver, big-time receiver. You got [Mohamed] Sanu, and you got Calvin Ridley that’s doing big-time things over there. It’s a good matchup. A lot of shifting motions that we have to be tuned into, and just making sure we use our eyes correctly and making sure we use those eyes to make sure we get to the right play.”
Photos from the all-time series between the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons, which dates back to 1966.