By Steve Silverman
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The Atlanta Falcons had a chance to step up and make a name for themselves this summer when they appeared on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” series.
However, instead of coming across with a bunch of hard-charging, pedal-to-the-metal nonstop football personalities, they appeared to be a bunch of nice guys who you would be happy to have as your neighbors – if you lived in Georgia.
The only colorful characters were defensive line coach Bryan Cox and special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong. Anyone who saw Cox during his playing days with the Miami Dolphins knew he was somewhat off his rocker on game days. Armstrong has been challenging his players’ collective manhood for years as a special teams coach.
But there was one thing that was apparent during the weekly series this summer. The Falcons were embarrassed — humiliated — by their showing last season when they went 4-12, falling from having the best record (13-3) in the NFC the previous season to an injury-riddled joke.
In many ways, head coach Mike Smith’s team has shown a response this year. They are 2-2, as they opened with an impressive high-scoring overtime victory over the New Orleans Saints and then took apart the Tampa Bay Bucs in a Thursday night game two weeks later.
Both of those games were at the Georgia Dome. They went on the road in Week 2 to Cincinnati and lost to the strong-looking Bengals, and then did the same when they went to Minnesota last Sunday to play what should have been an overmatched Vikings team.
The Falcons have set a tone for their season that may be difficult to break. It appears they are going to be quite formidable at home, and rather timid when they go on the road.
That could set the stage for the Giants this Sunday when the Falcons come calling. New York has suddenly found an urgency to its game that had been missing in action for two-plus years. After winning the Super Bowl at the conclusion of the 2011 season, the Giants were ordinary the following year and even worse in 2013.
Little appeared to have changed through the first two weeks of this season as they got off to an 0-2 start against the Lions and Cardinals, but a bolt of energy surged through the team as it recorded back-to-back wins during a five-day period when they squared off with Houston and Washington.
The victory over Daniel Snyder’s team was shocking because the Giants’ offense was suddenly functioning at peak efficiency. Eli Manning stopped throwing interceptions – OK, he threw one – and he started making things happen in the red zone. A star was born in tight end Larry Donnell, who emerged to give the Giants a real threat at the TE position.
Now, the trick is to keep it going. There should be full confidence in Tom Coughlin to get the most out of the team now that it is on a mini-roll. At least for one more week.
Coughlin’s Giants are going up against a very talented offensive team that includes Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White. But this team is not strong mentally. They know they can play and light up the scoreboard when they are at home, but they have a hard time sustaining any aspect of their game on the road.
Giants fans will remember the 24-2 throttling the team handed the Falcons in the wild-card round of the playoffs during the magical 2011 run. While three years have passed since then and many of the players have come and gone, the leadership of the Falcons – Smith, Ryan, Jones and safety William Moore – remain intact.
They remember that beating the Giants handed them. Yes, Atlanta got revenge in 2012 at the Georgia Dome, but this team can’t match their intensity when they play on the road. Even with Osi Umenyiora coming back to face his old team.
Here’s the other factor that the Giants have going for them: the Falcons lack dominance in their front seven, and they can get pushed around in the running game. Matt Asiata of the Vikings scored three touchdowns against Atlanta, as the Falcons simply could not tackle this very average power back.
What do you think they are going to do with Rashad Jennings? This hungry runner has found his stride the last two weeks, and he may be able chew up and spit out the Falcons defense.
I can’t sit here and tell you the Giants are going to be a playoff team, or even a winning team this year.
But unless the Falcons have undergone a heart transplant this week, they are not going to sustain 60 minutes of a winning effort at MetLife Stadium.
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