The Atlanta Falcons travel to New York to face the Giants at MetLife Stadium Sunday, concluding their first of two sets of back-to-back road games in 2014. The clubs have met 21 times, with the Falcons holding a one-game edge (11-10) in the all-time series. Falcons head coach Mike Smith owns a 1-1 regular season record against the Giants, including a 34-0 shutout win at the Georgia Dome in 2012. Under Smith, the Falcons are 7-5 against NFC East opponents and 24-26 on the road.
Top Matchup: Falcons T Jake Matthews vs Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul
If the Falcons are going to win the Week 5 matchup, QB Matt Ryan is going to need to be protected, especially from his blindside, a responsibility Matthews embraces at left tackle. The team's top pick in the 2014 NFL Draft will see plenty of Pierre-Paul, who enters the contest with 22 tackles and 1.5 QB sacks. "He's a really good player, really explosive, long and powerful," Matthews said. "He's got arms for days, so he's going to be a really good challenge for me."
Under the Radar Player to Watch: Falcons S Kemal Ishmael
Ishmael is being asked to help fill the big shoes of Falcons S William Moore, who is out for the next 6-8 weeks with a shoulder injury. As if his tireless work in the offseason isn't proof enough that he's ready, Ishmael's pick-six against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 3 is just a glimpse of the playmaking ability the team needs from its secondary, especially against the likes of Giants TE Larry Donnell, who leads the team with 25 receptions and four TDs.
On the Radar Player to Watch: Falcons QB Matt Ryan
When you're the NFL's second-leading passer like Ryan is, throwing for 1,263 yards, you're always on the opposition's radar. The team's signal-caller has completed 101 of 152 throws, including 10 TDs in 2014, good enough for a passer rating of 100.3. For the season, he's thrown five INTs, all away from the Georgia Dome, but during the two-career games Ryan faced the G-Men in the regular season, he completed 49 of 74 passes for 538 yards and five TDs, with no INTs.
Number of the Game: 341
The Falcons have worked all week to improve in all three phases, including their run defense. Giants RB Rashad Jennings already has 341 rushing yards in 2014, including 2 TDs; if Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan's crew plays disciplined football and up to its potential, limiting Jennings' yards could help lead to a third victory of the year.
Three Keys to Victory:
1. Win the Turnover Battle:The Falcons turnover ratio is minus-three, while the Giants are at plus-one; if the Falcons want a victorious plane ride home, they have to avoid the turnover bug, instead forcing Giants QB Eli Manning to commit a few of his own.
2. No Dancing Allowed:Giants WR Victor Cruz is one of the best slot receivers in the game, also potent on the outside; known for breaking out his salsa-dance celebration with every TD he scores (1 so far this season), the Falcons will benefit by preventing the ball from being in Cruz's hands.
3. Convert Third Downs:Too many three-and-out drives have proven costly for the Falcons in their two road defeats this season. In 2014, Atlanta is 27 of 49 (55 percent) on third down, while New York is 24 of 53 (73 percent). The Falcons offense is high-powered, but only when it's allowed to stay on the field; moving the chains on Sunday would open the door for the Falcons up-tempo style of play, hopefully quieting the 80,000-plus fans than will be cheering against them.