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Secondary faces tough task in defending Falcons WR duo



EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** The St. Louis Rams owned the 14th selection in the 2011 NFL Draft when then-head coach Steve Spagnuolo hosted wide receiver Julio Jones for a pre-draft meeting at the team's headquarters.

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"He sat in my office in St. Louis when he was getting ready for the draft," Spagnuolo said this week, "I was like, 'We've got to find a way to get this guy.' But then there was no way when Atlanta jumped up (to No. 6 in a trade with Cleveland) for whatever they gave up.

"He's as impressive a guy as I've ever sat and talked to. I'm talking about as a person, a football player, how smart he was, his goals, his vision, the whole thing. He was impressive."

Although that was his last season in St. Louis, Spagnuolo probably still wishes he had found a way to secure Jones. If he had, he'd probably have fewer headaches this week. Now the Giants' defensive coordinator, Spagnuolo must devise a plan to slow down the Falcons' aerial show, including the exquisitely talented Jones.

It's pretty much the same challenge Spagnuolo faced last week, when the Giants opened their season in Dallas. The Cowboys' best receiver is 6-2, 220-pound Dez Bryant, who caught five passes for 48 yards before suffering a broken foot that will reportedly sideline him for 4-6 weeks. Now the Giants must prepare for the 6-3, 220-pound Jones.

"(They are) very, very similar," Spagnuolo said. "Big guys, they can run, competitive guys. They want the ball in critical times in the game. Very similar."

Jones – who is listed as probable for the Giants game despite missing two days of practice this week with a hamstring issue – started his season imposingly, capturing NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors after catching nine passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns in Atlanta's 26-24 Monday night victory over Philadelphia. But he is not a solo act. Jones teams with 11-year veteran Roddy White to give the Falcons one of the league's best wide receiver tandems.

"I call those guys game-changers," said cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. "Those are guys that definitely can wreck the game, they can beat you short, long, or however they want to. You have to get up and challenge them. One thing they do well is get the ball in space and make something happen."

"Both are strong, physical guys," fellow corner Prince Amukamara said. "I would say Julio might be a little bit faster, but they're about the same receiver. Both big, strong and fast."

DRC and Amukamara will be the Giants' first line of defense against Atlanta's dangerous duo. It's not a new experience for them. Last Oct. 5, the Giants defeated the Falcons in MetLife Stadium, 30-20. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan completed 29 passes, including 11 for 105 yards to Jones and two for 26 yards to White. 

Playmakers on Falcons first-team offense, defense, and special teams, presented by Nike

But White is capable of matching Jones catch-for-catch. He finished last season with 80 receptions, and his seven touchdowns were one more than Jones' final total.

"You have to keep in mind that Roddy White has been doing it a long time," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "He's a vet, savvy guy, he understands zones and man coverages, and knows where to sit it down and keep it going.

"With Julio, you have to be physical. You have to get up and challenge him. If you watch film, a lot of guys tend to play off of him because he's a bigger, stronger guy and that's when they throw the little quicks to him and he takes it all the way. So you definitely have to play him physical."

"Their one-two punch is outstanding and now they've added (Leonard) Hankerson to the mix, which makes them even more (explosive), with a great quarterback," safety Brandon Meriweather said. "So we've got a task ahead of us that we're looking forward to."

Spagnuolo could have either DRC or Amukamara follow Jones all over the field. Or they could remain on their respective sides (with Rodgers-Cromartie on the left), and shadow whoever lines up across from them.

"We've played both ways with me traveling and DRC traveling, and staying on the same side," Amukamara said. "We never know how coach is going to want it. He just wants us both to be prepared for all situations."

Spagnuolo this week agreed with a reporter who suggested that the corners are the strength of the defense. He will continue to construct the defense on that premise.

"We'll do more of that," Spagnuolo said. "We'll pick and choose our coverages because of that. It's funny you say that. I was just in there with Dominique and Prince talking about that. I watched their last year's Atlanta game, I thought they played pretty well."

For the Giants to win Sunday, they'll almost certainly have to repeat that feat.

  • The Giants today declared that four injured players will not play vs. the Falcons: wide receiver Victor Cruz (calf), tight end Daniel Fells (foot), defensive tackle Markus Kuhn (knee) and defensive end Owa Odighizuwa (foot). None of those players practiced this week.

Fells and fellow tight end Larry Donnell both started last week in Dallas, and Fells played in all 16 games with eight starts in his first season with the Giants in 2014. Kuhn also started last week and played in 14 games with one start last year,

With Fells out, Jerome Cunningham will be active for the first time in his brief career.

Cruz has not practiced since Aug. 17. Odighizuwa was inactive last week and has yet to make his NFL debut.

  • Linebacker Jon Beason, who has practiced on a limited basis because of a knee injury, is listed as doubtful. He was inactive last week.

"He is feeling better, he'll tell you that, but we're going to see," coach Tom Coughlin said.

"I didn't practice as much as I would have liked to, but it's all a part of a plan," Beason said. "So I'm just trying to listen, and listen to my body, but also listen to the doctors."

The Giants will have a short work week, because they host Washington on Thursday.

"It'd be a tough turnaround for anybody, but if you're coming off an injury, for sure," Beason said "You play Sunday, you're going to feel it on Thursday. We all will."

  • Tackle Ereck Flowers (ankle) and linebacker Uani 'Unga (knee) are probable.

"I'm here to play," said Flowers, who impressed Coughlin with his refusal to be sidelined. "I'm here to go out there and try and win.

"No injury really helps you, so my ankle is getting better. I've been getting treatment, so I'm ready to go this Sunday."

Playmakers on Falcons first-team offense, defense, and special teams, presented by Nike

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