What to watch for in Giants-Falcons on 'MNF'

This isn't where they hoped to be.

The Falcons (2-4) were widely viewed as a balanced and dangerous Super Bowl contender in August. Two months later, they sit at the bottom of their division with one of the league's more banged-up rosters.

Enter the Giants (1-5), a Monday Night Football opponent with problems of their own. First-round running back Saquon Barkley has arrived as a glowing, punishing wonder, but it's still fair to question New York's decision to bypass the quarterback position at the top of the draft.

It's desperation time for both clubs, as the loser of this tussle is all but cooked. Here's what we'll be watching for come Monday night:

  1. Lost in a disappointing autumn for Atlanta is another top-shelf campaign from Matt Ryan, whose numbers compare favorably with his stunning MVP play of two seasons ago. Completing just under 70 percent of his throws, the Falcons signal-caller is set up for a big evening at home against a Giants defense with zero nose for rushing the passer.

New York has forced pressure on just 21.5 percent of its snaps, the second-lowest rate league-wide. Same goes for the club's puny 3.3 percent sack rate, which suggests a nice reprieve for Ryan, who has faced the highest pressure rate in the NFL (36.9 percent), per Next Gen Stats. When Ryan has gone pressure-free on snaps, he sports the league's third-highest completion percentage (75.5) and sixth-highest yards per attempt (8.7). Chalk it up as a favorable table-setting for Atlanta's trusty starter.

  1. Bottom line: This Falcons offense -- an enduring talking point since play-caller Steve Sarkisian replaced Kyle Shanahan -- isn't the problem. Ranked ninth in scoring and fourth overall in the red zone, Ryan and friends are testing defenses and doing their part.

Shipping runner Devonta Freeman to injured reserve with a groin injury doesn't help, but he's barely been a factor, playing in just two games for a backfield led by Tevin Coleman. Freeman's absence means a bigger role for fourth-rounder Ito Smith, likely to see an even workload with Coleman against the Giants.

Big Blue's known inability to hassle the quarterback suggests that Julio Jones and friends will have their way through the air. Ryan has spread the ball masterfully this season, while helping Jones to the second-most receiving yards behind just Minnesota's Adam Thielen. Much has been made about Jones failing to notch a touchdown, but rookie Calvin Ridley has posted six scores, while Mohamed Sanu (three), Coleman (two) and increasingly valuable tight end Austin Hooper (two) have made life tough for opposing secondaries.

  1. The Giants offer a pair of ultra-stars on offense in Barkley and Odell Beckham, but it feels like another lost season for the latter on a New York team spiraling into oblivion.

Beckham needs just 70 receiving yards to cross the 5,000-yard career mark and surpass Jones as the fastest ever to do so. Simultaneously, he's stuck inside an offense with lingering questions at quarterback after the front office decided to stick with the 37-year-old Manning under center. Eli is one of the game's classier figureheads, always willing to take fire from the media and answer for his ups and downs. His career durability is next level, but his current play is suspect.

Manning has posted career highs in completion percentage (68.7) and completions (158) over his first six starts of the year, but those numbers are deceiving and largely the result of a short-range air attack with no vertical juice. The team's low-octane scheme triggered some highly concerning words from Beckham earlier this month:

"I don't know," Beckham said of Manning. "Like I said, I feel like he's not going to get out the pocket. He's not -- we know Eli's not running it. But is it a matter of time issue? Can he still throw it, yeah, but it's been pretty safe and it's been, you know ... cool catching shallow [routes] and trying to take it to the house. But I'm, you know, I want to go over the top of somebody."

Beckham on Friday circled back around to offer a more encouraging outlook, saying of Eli, per NJ.com: "I tell him every time I'm in the huddle 'Take me home, 10.' Which to me, carries weight, because he's been there. He knows how to win. He's the most prepared of anyone that I've ever seen. That's exactly what I say ... 'take me home.'"

  1. Let's not pretend that all is right with Beckham, who feels like a powder keg ready to blow. For all the negative energy around the Giants, though, the presence of Barkley is a welcome dose of excitement for the men in blue.

The rookie runner has arrived as advertised, operating as a fever dream on the ground and a welcome dash of magic catching the ball. The second-overall pick has forced a whopping 19 missed tackles on rushes, fifth-most among backs, and 18 missed tackles on catches, notching him side-by-side atop the NFL with, yes, Beckham.

Barkley's 40 receptions puts him on pace for 107 on the year, which would serve as the most by any rookie back in league history.

The former Penn State star could be in for another massive night against a Falcons defense riddled with injuries and sporting the fifth-highest missed tackle rate in the NFL since linebacker Deion Jones went down in Week 1, per Next Gen Stats.

It helps to get defensive tackle Grady Jarrett back in the mix, but along with Jones, Atlanta is missing safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, all but gutting this unit right up the middle. It's shown, too, as teams have blasted the Falcons on a weekly basis. Will New York ride Barkley to similar results?

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