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Fact or Fiction: Sterling Shepard's hot start & more


The crew is presented with four statements and must decide whether they are Fact or Fiction.

WR Sterling Shepard will lead the team in receiving yards on Sunday.

John Schmeelk: Fiction - The chance Sterling Shepard leads the Giants in receiving for three straight weeks just doesn't seem high, although there's an argument to be made that he will. The Falcons play a lot of Cover 2 and there could be a lot of underneath routes available in the middle of the field. Instead, let's go for this as Kenny Golladay's breakout game. The deep in-cut in the middle of shell coverage is a valuable tool for beating it and something Golladay does very well. His size will also allow him to be a good target between the cornerbacks and safeties in Cover 2 along the sideline.

Dan Salomone: Fact – Shepard is tied for the NFL lead in receptions entering Week 3, and there's no reason he won't keep up the production. None of this comes as a surprise to people who followed along this summer. Shepard, the longest-tenured active Giants player, put together one of the best camps of his career and carried it over to the regular season.

Lance Medow: Fact - In Week 1 against the Falcons, Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith led his team in receiving yards and last week, Bucs wideout Mike Evans earned that honor, so this bodes well for Sterling Shepard. He and Daniel Jones have developed some chemistry over the first two games as Shepard has not only led the team in receiving yards in both contests but he's also been targeted a team-high 19 times. Kenny Golladay is an attractive option but with him nursing a hip injury entering this game, Shepard is by far the safer call.

Matt Citak: Fiction - After having what many considered to be his strongest training camp this summer, Shepard has been nothing short of amazing through the first two games. His 16 receptions entered Week 3 tied for the league lead and his 207 receiving yards is among the most in the NFL. You can expect another strong outing from Shepard, but Kenny Golladay will end up leading the team in receiving yards against the Falcons. Golladay has just seven receptions for 102 yards this season and has yet to find the end zone. But with Falcons top cornerback A.J. Terrell looking iffy to play after missing practice all week, Sunday's matchup could be Golladay's breakout game.

Daniel Jones will lead the team in rushing yards vs. Atlanta.

John Schmeelk: Fiction - Giants fans are going to be very happy after Sunday's game when not only Kenny Golladay has a breakout game, but Saquon Barkley does, too. Physically, Barkley looks close to his old self and every snap he takes he will get a better feel for running the ball behind this offensive line. The Falcons have struggled against the run this year, and with their two-safety umbrella coverage preference, Barkley should have some room to run.

Dan Salomone: Fiction – This has the potential to be Barkley's "I'm back" game. Atlanta struggled when it had to keep tabs on both the quarterback and running back on the ground against the Eagles in Week 1, and Jones and Barkley present the same problem this Sunday.

Lance Medow: Fact - Similar to Sterling Shepard leading the team in receiving yards in each of the first two games, Daniel Jones has done the same on the ground. The Falcons already faced a quarterback with the ability to run in the Eagles' Jalen Hurts, in Week 1, and he collected 62 rushing yards but finished second to running back Miles Sanders. Their struggles against Hurts will likely put themselves in a better position to defend and handle Jones but, at this point in the season, Jones is the biggest threat out of the Giants backfield. Atlanta did a pretty good job against the Bucs' run game, holding them to just 82 yards on 21 carries. With some big defensive lineman up front including Grady Jarrett and versatile linebackers such as Deion Jones and Foye Oluokun, let's lean toward Jones having the slight edge over Saquon Barkley.

Matt Citak: Fiction - It's only been two games, but it already looks like Jones is well on his way to breaking his previous season-high of 423 rushing yards set last year. The 24-year-old has already gained 122 yards on just 15 carries, good for the third-most among QBs (behind Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts). His 8.1 yards per carry is also the second-highest in the NFL among players with at least 15 attempts. Jones has been a force on the ground, but this week's matchup seems like the perfect game to get Saquon Barkley going. Atlanta entered Week 3 with the league's 24th ranked rush defense, surrendering 255 yards in the first two games. Barkley showed off his explosiveness last week with his 41-yard run against Washington, and going up against Atlanta's defensive front, the star back could reach the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time since Week 16 of the 2019 season.

View rare photos of the all-time series between the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons.

Rookie Azeez Ojulari will extend his franchise record to three consecutive games with a sack to start a career (since the stat became official).

John Schmeelk: Fiction – Let's play the odds here, although it's also a favorable matchup against Falcons right tackle Kaleb McGary, who has allowed a sack, a pair of quarterback hits and five hurries this season, according to Pro Football Focus. The problem is that Matt Ryan is getting rid of the ball ridiculously quickly. He has the league's eighth-quickest average time to throw (2.54 seconds) and the second-lowest average depth of target for quarterbacks with at least 25 dropbacks (5.1 yards). Giants pass rushers might not have time to get to the quarterback. Ojulari might have some wins against McGary, but may not have the opportunity to get home. It could be a big game for interior rushers, Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence.

Dan Salomone: Fact – Throughout the summer, you got the sense that Ojulari was going to be a gamer. He has proved that by becoming the first player in franchise history to have a full sack in each of his first two career games. But don't get hung up on the pressure stats. Assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Patrick Graham said he's been most impressed by the second-round pick's stout run defense.

Lance Medow: Fiction - Matt Ryan has been sacked four times in the first two games combined but just once last week against the Bucs. With a great deal of youth on the Atlanta offensive line, Ryan and Co. have been relying on short, quick passes and hoping for yardage after the catch as opposed to having Ryan hold onto the ball longer in hopes of a deeper completion. Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham also mentioned that Ojulari has been solid against the run iand deserves a lot of credit for that facet of his game, which is probably more important than his ability to record a sack.

Matt Citak: Fact – If he can pick up another sack against the Falcons, Ojulari will become just the fifth player since 2000 with one in each of his first three NFL games. Atlanta's offensive line has surrendered four sacks and 16 quarterback hits through the first two weeks. The unit has allowed Matt Ryan to be pressured on 36.8 percent of his drop backs, according to Pro Football Focus, and ranks 27th in overall and pass-blocking PFF grades. With Atlanta's struggles to keep Ryan upright, Ojulari will pick up sack number three this Sunday.

TE Kyle Pitts is the most dangerous player on the Falcons.

John Schmeelk: Fact - An argument can be made for Calvin Ridley, but as the team's only truly dangerous wide receiver it should be a simpler task to focus extra attention on him than Kyle Pitts. Pitts has been lined up all over the formation (35 times in-line, 47 times in the slot, and 28 times wide) and is too fast for linebackers and safeties (4.44 speed) and too big for cornerbacks (6'6 240 lbs). He is not just a possession receiver, either. If he gets the ball in space, look out. He had five catches for 73 yards last week and has not had his breakout performance yet.

Honorable mention to Cordarrelle Patterson. Like Pitts, he has been used in a variety of positions – the rookie's been lined up in the backfield 34 times, in the slot five times, as a wide receiver nine times, and in-line three times. He is strong enough to break tackles and fast enough to run away from defensive backs. He will also be used in the return game. He is a gamebreaker.

Dan Salomone: Fiction – Every team has playmakers that you have to worry about like Calvin Ridley and Kyle Pitts, but some teams have certain guys who simply keep opposing coaches up at night. Cordarrelle Patterson is one of them. He's a 6-foot-2, 220-pound triple threat in the run, pass, and return games.

Lance Medow: Fact - There's several strong candidates to choose from, including wide receiver Cameron Ridley and running back/wideout/return man Cordarrelle Patterson, who has been quite an X-factor this season. You can easily make a case for those two players, but Kyle Pitts is more dangerous because of his unique build and skillset. At 6-6, 246, he has the length and size to assist at the line of scrimmage but also the speed to wreak havoc down the field. That's why very few players have the ability to match up with him. He's got a tight end label but wide receiver characteristics. The Falcons have also been moving him around, making him even more unpredictable.

Matt Citak: Fiction – This one was close. There is a reason why Pitts was considered a unicorn during this year's draft process, as you don't see many 6-foot-6 tight ends with his athleticism in the NFL. Although Pitts is a challenging matchup for any defense, let's give a (very) slight edge to Calvin Ridley. Ridley was one of the top wide receivers in the NFL last season, catching 90 passes for 1,374 yards (tied for fifth in the league) and nine touchdowns. The 26-year-old is looking for his 10th straight game with 5+ receptions for 50+ receiving yards in Week 3, and just caught seven passes for 63 yards and a score against Tampa Bay's tough defense last week. Ridley is likely to see a lot of James Bradberry on Sunday, which should be an intriguing matchup between one of the league's top corners and top receivers.

View photos of the Atlanta Falcons starters ahead of the Week 3 matchup against the Giants.


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