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Scouting Report: Breaking down the Falcons

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. **– The Atlanta Falcons will make their first regular-season visit to MetLife Stadium Sunday when they face the Giants in a clash of 2-2 teams. The Giants defeated the Falcons, 24-2, here in a 2011 NFC Wild Card Game on their way to victory in Super Bowl XLVI. The teams last met on Dec. 16, 2012 in Atlanta, where the Falcons won, 34-0. Atlanta leads the regular-season series, 11-10. They last met in the regular season in New Jersey on Nov. 22, 2009, when the Giants won in overtime, 34-31, in Giants Stadium. Prior to that Giants' triumph, the visiting team had won the previous 12 games in the series dating back to 1981, the longest such streak in NFL history. The Falcons have lost their last nine outdoor games dating back to the 2012 season.


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ATLANTA FALCONS OFFENSE

Atlanta is currently tied for first with Indianapolis in the NFL's offensive rankings with an average of 444.0 yards per game, is alone at the top with an average of 6.8 yards a play, and is second with an average of 32.8 points a game. The Falcons are second in passing yards (322.3) and 14th in rushing (121.8). In 2013, they averaged a league-worst 77.9 yards a game on the ground. Atlanta also has the league's best touchdown percentage (88.9) from inside their opponents' 20-yard line. But they've made just nine trips into the green zone, scoring eight touchdowns.

Get to know the Giants' opponent for their Week 5 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons

Injuries on the offensive line – an offseason area of emphasis - will challenge the Falcons' ability to maintain those lofty numbers. Tackle Sam Baker, widely considered their best lineman, will miss the entire season with a knee injury. Last Sunday, Atlanta lost in Minnesota, 41-28, and two more linemen suffered season-ending injuries: center Joe Hawley (knee) and right tackle Lamar Holmes (foot), both of whom were placed on injured reserve this week. The line was so decimated that tight end Levine Toilolo finished the game at right tackle. The Falcons signed Harland Gunn off their practice squad and former Jacksonville tackle Cameron Bradfield. Their updated depth chart has Peter Konz as the starting center and Gabe Carimi at right tackle.

Konz started 25 games the previous two years, splitting his time between center and right guard. He has good strength and is smart and aware in pass protection. Carimi is a former first-round draft choice of the Chicago Bears who played last year with Tampa Bay.  The 6-7, 315-pounder sets up quickly and uses his mass to wall off defenders. The left tackle in Jake Matthews, the sixth overall selection in this year's NFL Draft. He has good foot speed and the ability to pull, and has displayed impressive competiveness in his first four games. Left guard Justin Blalock is an eight-year veteran with a powerful upper body, but he has a lower back injury that kept him out of practice on Wednesday. On the right side, Jon Asamoah has good initial quickness in the run game and is a stout anchor in pass protection. In addition to Gunn and Bradfield, the backups are Ryan Schraeder and James Stone. If Blalock is forced out, Carimi can play guard and Schraeder would likely step in at right tackle.  

Quarterback Matt Ryan directs a quick-strike offense that features explosive playmaking wide receivers. He leads the NFL with 21 completions of 20 or

more yards and has engineered a league-best 12 touchdown drives that have covered more than 60 yards. Ryan is an excellent timing and rhythm passer with good accuracy to all levels of the field. He is an outstanding deep thrower. His backups are T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree.

The Falcons employ a running back by committee in which Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith can all contribute. In the Week 1 victory over New Orleans, the four backs combined for 108 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Jackson is a big, physical runner with good initial quickness and cutback instincts and the strength on contact to break tackles. Rodgers has balance, agility and quickness and excellent receiving skills. Freeman is an explosive rookie with home run speed and elusiveness. He is also a good receiver and run-after-the-catch back. Smith has only 10 carries, but they've accounted for 118 yards and two touchdowns, including a 48-yarder. Fullback Patrick DiMarco aligns all over the formation and contributes as a blocker and receiver.

Roddy White and Julio Jones form one of the best starting wide receiver tandems in the NFL. Jones is second in the league with 447 yards and tied for third with 29 catches. He is a big, strong, athletic playmaker with exceptional speed who gains big chunks of yardage after catching the ball. Since 2008, Ryan and White have combined for 534 completions, the most for a quarterback/receiver duo in the league. White is a crafty 10-year veteran who excels at shielding defenders from the ball. Third receiver Harry Douglas led the team in 2013 with 85 catches and 1,067 yards. He has quick feet, bursts into his routes and consistently finds voids in the defense. Devin Hester is best known for his return exploits, but he had five catches for 99 yards in the season opener and plays with uncommon suddenness. Eric Weems and Courtney Roby complete the receiving corps.

Toilolo, the 6-foot-8 starting tight end, is a big blocker who combines upper body strength and toughness with good technique. He has eight receptions this season. Former Giant Bear Pascoe is also a solid blocker.


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ATLANTA FALCONS DEFENSE

Mike Nolan, the Giants' defensive coordinator from 1993-96, is in his third season in the same position with the Falcons. Atlanta has been predominately a 4-3 team in recent years, but Nolan has switched to a 3-4, though he employs many four-down looks, particularly the last two weeks. The defense is ranked 31st in yards allowed (429.8) and 29th in points given up (28.3). Atlanta is 28th vs. the run (153.5) and 30th against the pass (276.3) and has just three sacks in four games.

The Falcons focused on their defensive line in the offseason, adding Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai, retaining Corey Peters and Jonathan Babineaux and drafting Ra'Shede Hageman in the second round.

Soliai, the nose tackle, is a massive space eater who is tough to move and has the ability to consistently disrupt an opponent's rushing attack. Jackson, a free agent acquisition from Kansas City, is a powerful, long-armed player who is removed in the sub defenses. Babineaux is a versatile player who can line up anywhere along the front. Peters is one of Atlanta's best and most active defenders, though he is still working his way back to full strength after tearing his Achilles tendon last year. He is a smart player with good initial quickness. Hageman is an improving rookie with good foot speed and range. Former Giant Osi Umenyiora averages about 20 snaps a game as a designated pass rusher. He is still very quick at the snap and pursues the quarterback with a plan. Malliciah Goodman and Cliff Matthews contribute against both the run and pass. Tyler Starr is a rookie hybrid lineman/linebacker who is a relentless pass rusher.

Sean Weatherspoon, one of Atlanta's best linebackers, will miss the entire season after rupturing his Achilles tendon in an offseason workout. In his

absence, middle linebacker Paul Worrilow has assumed a leadership role. He is the defensive signal-caller and the league's second-leading tackler with 44. He is a tough, competitive player with the ability to shed blockers. Kroy Bierman gets more snaps than any other outside linebacker and is a sturdy run defender and seasoned pass rusher. Joplo Bartu is a young inside backer with good ball location and tackling skills. He started the first three games, but was replaced last week vs. Minnesota by rookie Prince Shembo, a heavy-bodied player with solid instincts. Johnathan Massaquoi is the starting right outside linebacker who is usually removed in the sub packages. He is a long-armed player with a very good first step in pass rush. Nate Stupar has athletic ability, change of direction and speed. Stansly Maponga is an attacker in the run game who makes plays in pursuit.

The Falcons have a group of young cornerbacks, led by Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford, first and second-round draft choices in 2013. Trufant was a starter from day one and is considered their best corner. He has speed and range and makes plays downfield without safety help. Alford has good straight line speed and he locates and competes for the ball. Atlanta brought in two veterans to compete with nickel corner Robert McClain, but he retained the job and intercepted a pass in the season-opening victory over New Orleans. McClain has good ball awareness, particularly in zone coverage.

Aside from the offensive line, the other major loss Atlanta suffered in Minnesota was safety William Moore, who hurt his shoulder and is on injured reserve/designated for return. Moore made the calls in the secondary and will be replaced by Kemal Ishmael, who has good football intelligence and ball skills. Dwight Lowery is a converted corner with good closing quickness.

Rookie Dezmen Southward has good size and speed and is tough in man-to-man coverage.


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ATLANTA FALCONS SPECIAL TEAMS

Hester has returned an NFL-record 20 punts or kickoffs for touchdowns, including a 62-yard punt return vs. Tampa Bay in Week 3. He is currently third in the league with a 15.3-yard punt return average and seventh with a 25.6-yard kickoff return average. Former Giant Matt Bryant is Atlanta's placekicker. He has good leg strength and accuracy from beyond 50 yards and his kicks rise quickly, making them hard to block. Bryant tied the opener late with a 51-yard field goal and won it in overtime with a 52-yarder, and his only miss this season was a 59-yard try. Since joining the Falcons in 2009, he has made 13 of 17 attempts from 50 yards or longer. Despite that, kickoff duty falls to punter Matt Bosher, who is also Bryant's holder. Bosher has the leg strength to flip the field and impressive hang time to distance ratios. Nate Stupar and Eric Weems were acquired off waivers just prior to the season and are Atlanta's top two special teams tacklers.

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