FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Atlanta Falcons (2-4) will take on the New York Giants (1-5) in a primetime matchup on "Monday Night Football" with the opportunity to earn back-to-back wins for the first time this season.
The Falcons' offense regained its stride in their win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and they will face a Giants defense that is allowing 27 points on average this season. Defensively, the Falcons must prepare for one of the top rookies in the game in Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr., who is a threat to score any time he touches the ball.
Here are the three key matchups that could shape how this game unfolds:
1. Falcons defensive line vs. Giants offensive line
This is a matchup the Falcons have to win. The Giants' offensive line has been disastrous this season, giving up 20 sacks thus far. The Falcons have just 10 sacks this season, but they've been able to get pressure on the quarterback fairly consistently at times. New York presents the perfect opportunity to convert those pressures into sacks as Eli Manning is not the most spry quarterback in the league.
All signs point to the Falcons getting Grady Jarrett and Derrick Shelby back in the fold for this game, which should certainly help matters. Getting to Manning and stopping Barkley in the backfield before he gets up to full speed would go a long way towards securing a win.
2. Falcons' linebackers and secondary vs. Saquon Barkley
This is the matchup that could possibly go the furthest towards deciding who wins on Monday night. It's no secret the Falcons have struggled to tackle consistently, and they currently have the fifth-most tackles among all NFL teams. Barkley, meanwhile, is adept at breaking tackles, especially at the second level.
Once he gets past the line of scrimmage, the Falcons have to make sure not to allow a good run to turn into a great run. Atlanta's defensive scheme is reliant on making open-field tackles regularly, and Barkley is going to test the Falcons' ability to do just that.
"He can spin, he can change direction and those are two of the things that make tackling him really hard," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said of Barkley. "So you better understand your leverage and you better understand the effort and the swarming are on point because if you make mistakes in that area he's talented enough to make you play."
3. Falcons' run game vs. Giants' run defense
The Falcons have managed to surpass 100 rushing yards just once this season, during their Week 2 win against the Panthers in which they ran for 170 yards and two touchdowns. Devonta Freeman was placed on injured reserve this week, leaving Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith to shoulder the load moving forward. We've seen Coleman have big games, so he's capable of getting the ground game back on track this week.
At their core, the Falcons want to be a balanced offensive team, relying on the run to set up the pass. They should be able to do that against the Giants, who are ranked 25th against the run, allowing an average of 121.7 yards on the ground to opposing teams. Atlanta is just 29th in rushing yards per game this season, averaging 86 yards. Which tendency will break in this one?