The New York Giants' defense played far better in Week 1 than anyone expected against the Dallas Cowboys for 58 minutes and 27 seconds. The last 1:33 seconds was not very good, but that was probably the offense's fault.
The Giants (0-1) took advantage of every mistake that the Cowboys made, and put themselves in prime position to steal the first road game of the year against a division opponent. Creating three turnovers, slowing down the Cowboys' running game (assuming it actually exists), and putting an offense in a very difficult situation field position-wise is really all you can ask for from a defense.
The Giants, however, did not execute well enough offensively in the fourth quarter to put this one away. Calling for pass plays, in obvious run situations is not really the best way to steal games. It was errors like this that cost the Giants their opening game,and not just those that occurred in the final two minutes. Missed blocking assignments, bad routes, dropped balls, bad coverage from the rookies, and defensive missteps all contributed to what ended up being a disappointing, season-opening loss.
Atlanta (1-0) on the other hand, played very well for the first half of its Monday night matchup against Philadelphia. In fact, Atlanta played far better than most predicted. Matt Ryan was steady (minus his two interceptions) while wide receiver Julio Jones look like the All-Pro receiver that he is. However, the most impressive thing that emerged from this game was that the Falcons' bend-but-don't-break defense might be better than everyone thought. It was that defense that held tight in the final minutes of a great game against the up-tempo Eagles. It was that defense that held down DeMarco Murray, who finished his first game with his new team, with just nine yards rushing on eight carries.
Mistakes were made by both teams. It cost the Giants and almost cost the Falcons. Whoever can limit those mistakes on Sunday will probably win.
Atlanta at New York
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Giants -2.5
Three Things to Watch For
1. Is Matt Ryan REALLY BETTER?
As good as Ryan was Monday night, Pro Bowl quarterback almost cost his team the game.Why? Because that is simply who Ryan traditionally has been... except Monday was a little different. This time Ryan was more good than bad. He spent the first half looking like the quarterback of promise that everyone has believed he would always be. In the second half, he looked like the old Ryan who couldn't move the ball up and down the field,and Falcons fans everywhere began to feel like Matty Ice was quickly melting down. Ryan somehow weathered the storm, and helped his team pull it out... this time. Ryan has improved, but has he REALLY improved to the point where he can be consistent, and not beat his team with his own bad play? We will see.
2. Giants' Secondary is Better
Concerning the loss against Dallas, there is one important factor that was left out of the game from New York's perspective. The Giants' defense is much better than people thought it would be, starting with their secondary. Prince Amukamara, rookie Landon Collins and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were able to slow down the Cowboys' passing game for a while. Cromartie and Amukamara did a masterful job limiting Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams, holding them to a combined 10 catches for 108 yards, and no real big plays from the Cowboys' top two wide receivers. The same could not be said about tight end Jason Witten, who made most of Dallas' key plays. Now this new-look secondary draw a similar assignment in Julio Jones and Roddy White. Jones alone is one of the toughest receivers to cover in the league. The Giants probably will use a similar strategy that was used against Bryant to try and keep Jones in check. If they are successful, and can capitalize off turnovers like they did in Week 1, then I don't think the Falcons can mount the comeback.
3. Odell Beckham Jr. Will Perform Very Well
Beckham Jr. is ready to burst out and this might be the game it happens. Beckham only caught five passes for 44 yards, but toward the end of the game the second-year wide receiver had some key receptions to keep the chains moving and help put the Giants in position to win. Beckham is chomping at the bit to get out on the field and create another highlight moment. The Giants must get creative and find ways to put the ball in the hands of their dynamic playmaker. Beckham is by far the strongest option on the Giants' offense, and putting him in position to make plays, helps open everything else up on the offense.
The Falcons have worked really hard in the offseason to tighten up the weak spots and Monday, for one half, the hard work showed up. The Falcons still have some work to do to make this team elite but they are on the right track. Their first road game against an angry Giants team is probably not the best way to work out the kinks on offense and defense, but it will be a good measure of how much work is really needed. f the Giants make more mistakes this week, Atlanta has enough talent around Ryan to make them pay just as Dallas did. However, I don't believe that the Giants are going to fall for the same tricks twice and I think they will put just enough pressure on Ryan in front of the home crowd, to slow the Falcons down and get their first win.
Prediction: Giants 25, Falcons 17
— Written by Lloyd H. Spence, Jr., who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Spence also has written for the Dallas Morning News, Yahoo!'s Rivals.com, and ESPN Louisville. He can be heard on the radio of "Talkin NOIZ" and "The Football Show of Collin County." Follow him on Twitter @TalkinNOIZ.