FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Arthur Smith isn't overlooking the 0-2 start. He said it best on Monday: The Falcons are well aware of their current situation.
"You don't want to be in this spot," Smith said, "but we are. It's a reality."
The Falcons are searching for their first win of the 2021 season, and with a three-game slate of arguably very winnable games ahead, a trip up the east coast is the first step to tallying more marks in a win column. The Falcons need a win, but so do the Giants.
"We've got to prepare ourselves to go up there and go win a football game," Smith said, "and we need to do it. They're probably saying the same thing up in New York or New Jersey (this week)."
Smith said he knows the Falcons have their work cut out for them on the road this weekend. So, with the stage set, let's take a look at the role players. Here's what you need to watch on Sunday:
1. The effect of injuries
This is the biggest question mark going into Sunday: How will the Falcons account for not having A.J. Terrell or Russell Gage on the field? Terrell (concussion) and Gage (ankle) along with Frank Darby (calf) were all ruled out for Sunday's game.
Smith said the Falcons will rely on T.J. Green and Olamide Zaccheaus to step up in the absence of both Terrell and Gage. The Falcons have felt confident in both players as quality depth pieces, but now their roles take on a new level of responsibilities. How they - and their respective position groups - make up for not having two primary figures in the lineup will be the Falcons first real test of depth this season.
2. The need for more short yardage success
The Falcons struggled against the Buccaneers in short yardage situations last Sunday. There were notable moments where the Falcons couldn't convert on third-and-short, or fourth-and-one. Smith and offensive coordinator Dave Ragone spoke throughout the week about the need for improvement in these very specific situations.
Smith said he felt as though the Falcons were having a hard time even getting the play started in those moments.
"We weren't all coming off at the same time," Smith said of the offensive unit when the ball was snapped. "... We've got to get off on the ball, give ourselves a chance."
Ragone said when it comes to these moments in a game, everything hinges on the Falcons ability to stack good plays together, one on top of the other.
"It's not on one person, one player, one coach," Ragone said. "It's us collectively coming together to make sure we can sustain those drives, because, at the end of the day, a third-and-one, a fourth-and-one, if you convert those as an offense, obviously, that hurts a defense. And if the defense stops the momentum, that's a big deal for the other side."
3. Watch out for the escape
When you look back at the last time the Falcons defense faced a quarterback in Week 1, the pressure was there. Atlanta was getting Jalen Hurts off his spot. However, the problem lay after Hurts made his escape from the pocket. He had too much room to run.
"We got what we wanted," Dean Pees said of the initial pressure. "We got the escape but the guy didn't keep the edge on the other side (of the pressure) as much as he needed to."
Though not exactly like Hurts, Giants quarterback Daniel Jones does have the ability to burn the Falcons if they do not keep the edge. He ran for 95 yards against Washington last week. Asked about the importance of this, Isaiah Oliver said the pressure can never hit if the Falcons are not where they need to be to contain a quarterback who has rolled out.
"You really have to be disciplined in your rush lanes," Oliver said.
4. Getting the run game going
The Falcons had the run game looking the way they wanted to in the first half against the Eagles in Week 1, but the second half and then the entirety of the Falcons Week 2 game in Tampa Bay told a different story. The Falcons accumulated less than 50 rushing yards between it's two running backs, Mike Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson, against the Bucs.
That number can be a little misleading, though, because it's not like Patterson wasn't performing elsewhere. He was a vital part of the Falcons offensive success when it came in Tampa. However, there needs to be more consistency in the run game with both Patterson and Davis.
The good news for the Falcons is that Davis and Patterson are not your traditional running backs. As Ragone put it: They can handle different responsibilities in both the run and pass game. They are not pigeon held to a single call or formation or personnel group because...
"They're not just a certain type of back," he said.
This is important to note because if the Falcons need more production from their running backs, perhaps there are creative ways to find it because of Davis and Patterson's wide-ranging skill sets. And if the Falcons can establish a more consistent rushing attack, this will help tremendously in those short yardage situations we noted above.
5. Much ado about a punter
Marquice Williams said on Thursday that the Falcons need to see continued growth in the punt game after a poor performance from Cam Nizialek against the Bucs on Sunday.
"We need to see confidence," Williams said. "The biggest thing, though, is consistency with their technique. That's what everything boils down to, being able to handle their technique at any given time."
The Falcons brought in long-time league veteran Dustin Colquitt to push Nizialek this week. The Falcons have a decision to make before kickoff on Sunday: Are they willing to look past Nizialek's two shanked punts? Or do they feel more confident with Colquitt?
When asked after Friday's practice how the punting competition was going, Smith made a point to say he felt "decent" about Nizialek's week of work. It would seem Smith is still holding the door open for Nizialek to be the Falcons punter on Sunday. Still, though, keep an eye out for any transaction announcements or inactive list releases over the next 24 hours before game time. They'll give us our answer soon.
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