GIANTS // FALCONS OVERVIEW
From a “weapons on the field” perspective, this is the most exciting game of the entire weekend. Because Monday is the one day I try to take off — stepping away from football to rest my mind before another wild week — I don’t typically watch the Monday Night Football game live (instead, I catch the condensed game or the all-22 a day or two later). But I just might change up the script on Abby this week and declare this to be “Monday Night Football night” instead of “The Wire night” (yes, we’ve never watched The Wire until now), as this game is going to be a blast to watch.
This game has been awarded an Over/Under of 54.5, with the Falcons installed as early-week 5.5 point favorites. Atlanta ranks ninth in points scored per game and 31st in points allowed per game, while ranking fifth in yards per game and 29th in yards allowed per game. Incredibly, these teams are not far from each other in the NFC Standings, with the 2-4 Falcons disappointingly joining the 1-5 Giants. More than likely, the Falcons tack on another win in this spot — but it should be a fun ride to get there.
GIANTS PASS OFFENSE
This game quietly sets up great for the Giants’ beleaguered passing attack, as the only way to attack this Falcons defense (short routes — preferably over the middle) is the only thing Eli Manning is capable of doing anymore.
As we are aware by now: the goal of the Falcons’ defense is to keep the ball in front of them — forcing short throws, and making teams march up the field one play at a time — a goal that has been further emphasized as the Falcons have been ravaged by injuries. This is allowing Atlanta to play respectably on a per-play basis (even with all the key injuries, only eight teams have allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards, while the Falcons are forcing a below-average aDOT and allowing below-average YAC per reception stats), but in order to limit big plays, the Falcons are having to give up the fifth-highest catch rate in the NFL. As a result, Atlanta has been the worst team in the NFL in drive success rate allowed, and only six teams are forcing fewer punts per game. To sum all this up: Atlanta forces opponents to march the entire field, but they have been incapable of preventing opponents from doing exactly that.
While it is scary to have faith in Eli Manning at this point, the issue has not been that “Eli can’t complete passes” (in fact, Eli currently boasts the highest completion rate of his entire career); rather, the knock on Eli is that he can no longer complete passes downfield. In this matchup? — who cares! Teams can’t complete passes downfield against the Falcons anyway, and this defense essentially gives away passes underneath. Eli should have no trouble getting the ball into the hands of Saquon Barkley, Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Evan Engram.
The starting point for teams taking on the Falcons has to be “passes to running backs,” as this defense once again leads the NFL in receptions allowed to the position — even allowing Peyton Barber (two catches all season heading into last week’s game) to go 4-24-1 through the air. Christian McCaffrey was given 15 targets in this matchup. Alvin Kamara was given 20 targets in this matchup. On the opposite end of this spectrum, it should be noted that Giovani Bernard and James Conner each saw only four targets in this matchup. Naturally, each hauled in all four looks. The great news for Saquon (who has target counts all over the place this year :: 6 // 16 // 5 // 8 // 4 // 12) is that he is going to be involved no matter what, and Atlanta can also be hit on the ground, having given up the fourth-most yards per carry and the third most rushing touchdowns in the league. Saquon has played 80.1% of the Giants’ snaps over the last two weeks, and he carries the highest raw projection in this game.
Incredibly, Atlanta has also allowed the most touchdowns in the league to wide receivers, creating opportunity for OBJ to get in on the fun as well. Beckham has only one game all season below double-digit targets, and for all the hand-wringing over this offense, he ranks ninth in the NFL in receiving yards and fifth in catches. He even has a respectable six pass plays of 20+ yards this year — tied with guys like Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, and Mike Evans. Beckham will see double-digit looks once again in this one, and he should haul in around 70% of his targets, with several opportunities for him to break off long runs after the catch. Atlanta is disciplined, and they tackle well, but it only takes one play for OBJ to hit.
Evan Engram is on track to return this week, and he and Sterling Shepard will divvy up the remaining targets in this offense. Given high pass volume expectations, each guy should be able to sneak anywhere from five to eight looks — creating opportunity for points to pile up. Because everything on this offense (and everything against the Atlanta defense) sets up for shorter passing routes, volume is king in this spot, but there is no reason one of these guys can’t hit for a long play or a touchdown.
Behind these guys, Russell Shepard should return this week with Cody Latimer on the shelf, and he’ll see anywhere from one to four targets. He would need a miracle to become relevant, even on the Showdown slate.
FALCONS PASS OFFENSE
Matt Ryan has 30 pass attempts in the red zone this season (13th in the NFL). He has been great in the red area, tossing 10 touchdown passes (third in the NFL) to only one interception.
Of those 30 passes, a total of three have gone to Julio Jones. There are 88 players in the NFL who have more red zone targets than Julio. An indecent number of times per game, the Falcons run plays in the red zone without even putting Julio on the field.
If you would like to take an optimistic approach here, it is worth noting that Julio started last year with similar red zone usage, and then — in a prime time game (Sunday Night Football) against the Patriots, in Week 7 — he was fed four or five looks inside the 10-yard-line, notching his first touchdown on the season. From that point forward, his red zone role grew, and though he finished the season with only five red zone catches and one red zone touchdown, his 19 looks screamed that touchdown regression was coming this year. Alas, this has not come to pass, as old foe Steve Sarkisian has removed red zone responsibilities from Julio’s plate again.
All of that is important, because at Julio’s price (or on the Showdown slate: in the same game as OBJ and Saquon), he really needs touchdown upside in order to justify placement on your roster.
From a matchup perspective: Julio has a winnable draw against Janoris Jenkins, who has been charted by PFF as allowing 27 completions on 38 pass attempts into his coverage (71.1%), with five touchdowns surrendered (two interceptions), and a 120.1 quarterback rating allowed. On a deeper level, however, there are slight concerns to be had over volume for Julio, as Tre’Davious White is the only corner who held DeAndre Hopkins to fewer targets (10), and Michael Thomas saw a season-low four targets in his game vs Jenkins. Alshon Jeffrey did see 12 targets last week vs the Giants, but only three came in Jenkins’ coverage. Matt Ryan has dropped Julio’s targets this year in every shadow situation he has faced — with six targets given to him against Marshon Lattimore, nine targets in Joe Haden Week, and nine targets in James Bradberry Week. Julio can win this matchup (Julio can win any matchup — and Jenkins is not a true shy-away corner in the first place), but volume may trickle down for him again this week.
As of this writeup (4:00 AM on Thursday), there is still no news about the expected availability of Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu, but it seems likely that Ridley (bone bruise) will play, and we’ll approach this writeup assuming Sanu (hip) will be on the field as well. If either is absent, more responsibilities will fall onto Austin Hooper and Justin Hardy, with Julio’s chances of not being underused increasing as well.
Three weeks ago, Ridley played 54% of the Falcons’ snaps, and two weeks ago this jumped up to 67%. It should be noted that this team rotates wide receivers more heavily than any other team in football — embarrassingly giving Julio Jones snap rates over the last three weeks of 77% // 74% // 76%. Even more embarrassingly, most of Julio’s snaps on the sideline are run plays — because of course, the defense won’t pick up on this trend. (I digress.) Ridley is running a pass route on about 75% of the Falcons’ pass plays, and he is being fed five to seven targets per game, with five red zone targets and a variable route tree that provides floor and ceiling. Mohamed Sanu has three red zone targets of his own, with a route tree that has expanded over the last three weeks to include more downfield looks.
Only four teams have allowed more pass plays of 20+ yards than the Giants, and while they play plenty of sticky man coverage that has led to a below-average catch rate, this team’s lack of pass rush is leading to them facing a deeper aDOT than the league average, while also allowing more YAC per reception than the league average.
The one area where the Giants have done really well this year in coverage is against the tight end, as only seven teams have allowed fewer receptions to the position. This is a more difficult draw than Austin Hooper has had the last couple weeks.
FALCONS RUN OFFENSE
With Devonta Freeman on the shelf, this Falcons rushing attack (27th in yards per carry, 30th in adjusted line yards) has become more “55/45” split than the “65/35” split we always saw when Freeman was healthy — with Ito Smith soaking up the smaller share, seeing touch counts over the last three weeks of 10 // 4 // 13, compared to 17 // 9 // 11 for Tevin Coleman. Each guy has disappointed in a big way, with Coleman averaging 3.7 yards per carry and Smith averaging 3.2. The Giants have been a middling unit against the run, which neither raises nor lowers expectations for these guys. Expect around 10 to 14 touches for Coleman in this spot and eight to 12 touches for Smith. Either guy will need a multi-touchdown game to really make a dent.
While I don’t play the Showdown slates myself, I have learned enough about them to know that it is pretty poor process to build just one team for these slates — as a much better approach is to build multiple teams that take shots on different things that could happen. It essentially breaks down like this: the more games there are on the slate, the more opportunity we have to nail down a top-to-bottom roster of “best plays on the slate,” providing ourselves with more floor and ceiling than our opponents. But the fewer games there are on a “slate,” the more opportunities there are for variance to come into play — as fewer games means fewer available players, which means more “suboptimal” players being rostered, which means more chances for fluky circumstances to actually lead to week-winning scores for those who are taking off-the-wall risks. All that to say: it’s preferable to shift away from a “limited lineup” approach on these Showdown slates, and to instead mess around with some multi-entry ideas.
For me, the best plays on the slate are Saquon (he’s head and shoulders above others) and OBJ, and if I were playing the Showdown myself and building 15 or 20 teams, I would likely go 100% Saquon and 75% to 80% OBJ — taking a stand on these two as the “surest pieces” on the slate. While Julio could outscore either guy, he’s the one I would want to be underweight on, as his lack of red zone usage just makes it so much more difficult for him to hit for a monster score. If I faded him (or went underweight on him) and he did hit, I would be happy chalking that up to part of the game. We know that monster scores are in his range of outcomes, but pricing would dictate that one of these three has to be left on the table, and the first two would hit far more often if we played out this game a hundred times.
Behind those three big names, Matt Ryan carries the highest raw floor and ceiling, while Eli honestly has a shot at outscoring all of the remaining skill position players.
Remaining players would go Ridley // Sanu // Shepard // Engram // Coleman // Smith for me in ceiling projections.
These players would be rearranged as Sanu // Shepard // Ridley // Engram // Coleman // Smith for floor — and if you are more comfortable than I am trusting this Falcons rushing attack, Coleman could be shifted much higher up the list.