There’s something about that second week of the NFL season. It can occasionally define what will happen for a team the rest of the way, although it’s still very early.
The Falcons won the season opener Monday, so they can get to one-third of last year’s win total with a victory Sunday over the New York Giants. Meanwhile, the Giants lost last week to Dallas, which makes the Week 2 matchup a do-or-die situation.
Yes, no team wants to start the season 0-2. There’s some crazy stat of how infrequent those teams have rallied to make the postseason. So for a team like New York, where there’s always pressure, they are somewhat desperate to win.
It’s not good to play a desperate team, but the matchup for the Falcons is actually pretty good against New York. Of course, a lot of that depends on wide receiver Julio Jones, Atlanta’s best player.
Jones was hampered by a slight hamstring injury this week, but he’s fine. The Falcons know they must have Jones out there. He’s a game-changing player, one that every defensive coach likely cringes in trying to figure out how to handle someone who is as dangerous as any player in the NFL.
The Giants’ secondary is suspect, and they likely don’t have a player who can contain Jones. Did you see Philadelphia’s Byron Maxwell get beat repeatedly last week? Jones would get a three-step advantage over Maxwell on just about every snap.
Who can stop him? On paper, it doesn’t look like anyone on New York’s roster.
Of course, as has been said for months now, the Falcons must have a balanced attack. They had that Monday when rookie Tevin Coleman gained 80 rushing yards. The team went above the 100-yard mark, which is vitally important to not look so one-sided with the passing game.
Atlanta’s defense must face a frustrated Eli Manning, who messed up last week in the final moments of the Giants’ game with the Cowboys. Manning has been around long enough to know the dangers of starting 0-2, so the Falcons must control a player who will want to atone for his mistakes last week.
The Falcons were challenged by the Eagles last week. After being up 20-3 at halftime, the Falcons faced a Philadelphia team that did not let up. But the Falcons got a big play from safety Ricardo Allen and slowed down the hard-charging Eagles.
Last year, the Falcons might have folded with a team coming back like that. So to see this year’s squad withstand the challenge is a very positive sign. It doesn’t mean the Falcons’ defense is fixed, but it’s a very positive sign.
The Falcons will have to put pressure on Manning. Could this be when we see rookie Vic Beasley bust out with a big game? Well, Beasley and Ra’shede Hageman will be asked to get real personal with Mr. Manning.
Also, can Justin Durant repeat his solid performance from Week 1?
The NFC South is a division even a mediocre team could win this season. But if the Falcons win Sunday in New York, they might be on their way to becoming the favorite. This is an Atlanta team that could get better as the season goes along, but a 2-0 start would certainly be tremendous for a team with a lot of new faces.
Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at www.twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.