The Giants defense has been humming, but it’ll face its biggest test since its season-opening loss when Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ high-powered attack come to town Sunday.
The Falcons (2-2) not only boast the prowess of their franchise quarterback, but also have wideouts Julio Jones and Roddy White and a plethora of speedy backs and slot wideouts.
The Giants are essentially batting .500 against elite offenses this season, losing to the Lions in the opener, but dismantling the Redskins last week. The defensive key against Washington was creating five turnovers.
“You work hard towards it, taking away the football. You start to get a little bit of pressure and that way you can create some opportunities for takeaways,” said Coughlin. “When teams are playing from behind, especially, the idea of throwing the ball or having to throw it is ever so present, so then you have more opportunities. … We’ve just been in the right place at the right time [and] we hope to recreate that.”
New York has seen its fortunes turn around in recent weeks in large part to playing against a journeyman (the Texans’ Ryan Fitzpatrick) and a third-year quarterback who has yet to win an NFL start (Washington’s Kirk Cousins).
Ryan, as linebacker Jameel McClain insisted, is an elite signal caller who is adept at making even the league’s top secondaries appear average. But despite all of Ryan’s accolades, McClain offered that like any quarterback, when there’s pressure in a passer’s face or “trash” around his feet, it could rattle even the best of them.
“We all play this game to compete against the best and see how we stack up,” said McClain. “I don’t know any defensive player or any defensive coach, regardless of who the top [offense] is, is intimidated by rankings. We are in the NFL because we are good, too. We are competitive people, too, and we accept the challenge — regardless who the offense is.”
Atlanta has managed to post impressive numbers despite the offensive line being in shambles. Starting guard Justin Blalock (back) missed practice on both Wednesday and Thursday.
“I expect they’ll do everything possible [to keep Ryan clean],” said Coughlin. “If you look at them, it’s a veteran line and they’ve all played before, so I expect them to come out ready and play their offense. I don’t see any changes [in game plan].”
The Giants’ game plan will be to harass Ryan early with minimal blitzing, as to better cover receivers with as many linebackers and defensive backs as possible.
Middle linebacker Jon Beason (foot/ankle) has practiced all week after missing the last two games. His presence will be needed to deter Atlanta’s speedy wideouts from crossing the middle of the field without repercussion.
“We’ll see [about Beason’s availability]. I’m not going to speculate. But I like the way he’s come back [the following day’s practice] looking fresh,” said Coughlin. “I have been pleased with him this week – pleased with all the linebackers in space.”
As Beason’s primary backup in the middle, and the starter on the strongside when their captain is healthy, McClain said he’s obviously hoping Beason plays. But if not, he’ll be ready to break the huddle as the defensive play-caller and battle pre-snap wits with Ryan.
“I just want to be on the field Sunday. That’s the best part of Sunday,” said McClain. “My goal is to be ready to play defense whenever I’m called — as his fill-in or the starter, I’m good. They can tell me one second [before kickoff] that I’m starting. I’ll be ready either way, to play whatever spot. I’m a nomad. I’ll just find a home wherever and play ball.”
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.