Atlanta’s been sputtering through the air thus far. Changing that would go a long way against the Giants.
In Week 1, we asked if Jalen Mayfield would hold up, and he emphatically did not. Last week, we asked if Kyle Pitts would terrorize Tampa Bay, and he sort of did with the best game of his young career, albeit not a truly dominant effort.
This week, we’re hoping the big question for the Falcons is finally answered with an emphatic yes. We’re also widening the scope of the question to encompass one large concern that has helped doom Atlanta each of the past two weeks.
Here it is: Will the Falcons passing game be an asset for four quarters against the Giants?
This is not the question any of us were hoping would be asked at any point in 2021. The addition of Arthur Smith and his hyper-efficient, red-zone friendly offense from Tennessee was supposed to help struggles here, as was drafting Kyle Pitts. The subtraction of Julio Jones was an obvious downside and the offensive line was a concern, but the one thing that we neither expected nor wanted was this passing game to be legitimately bad.
Outside of solid drives in the early going against Philadelphia and one glorious stretch in Tampa Bay, though, that’s exactly what it has been. Matt Ryan has tossed more interceptions than touchdowns, is averaging an anemic 5.7 yards per attempt that’s nearly two full yards below his career average of 7.5, and is averaging just 4.3 yards per attempt through the air. Among starters, only Carson Wentz, Mac Jones and Andy Dalton have averaged fewer intended air yards. That short passing game would, if Atlanta was consistently turning quick catches into additional yardage or mixing it with a truly effective ground game and occasional deep passing attack, be just fine. As it is, it’s one of the leading reasons the Falcons have struggled so mightily.
The Giants have the talent to keep putting the clamps on Atlanta’s passing game, but thankfully to this point in the season they haven’t been lights out in that regard. The Broncos and Teddy Bridgewater ate them up and Washington was at least solid, and as a result the Giants have allowed the 8th-highest number of passing yards, 12th-highest number of passing touchdowns and are middle-of-the-pack in terms of pressure (combined hurries, sacks and knockdowns) per Pro Football Reference. The potential loss of Russell Gage isn’t going to help matters for the Falcons, but it’s also true that even a mild breather from the pass rushes the Eagles and Buccaneers brought to the table would probably help this team enact something resembling a winning game plan. That wonderful, all-too-glimpse stretch against Tampa Bay shows they can get things going, but it’s keeping them going that matters.
I think we’ll continue to see improvement here, with Matt Ryan and company pulling together a less disjointed attack that will help them stay in the game with New York. Given what we’ve seen to this point, I’m still not sure we’ll get the kind of complete game effort they’ll need to win this one decisively, but I’d love to be surprised.
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