It’s difficult to draw any conclusions from this first quarter. Sort of a Jekyll-and-Hyde type 15 minutes for the Birds. The ugly specter of poor third down play showed itself but so did some big plays on defense: sacks, interceptions and quarterback pressures, which have been missing.
The same is true on offensive. Bad first drive, excellent second one with the Falcons starting the second quarter in the red zone. Matt Ryan is looking sharp so far — he’s 3-for-4 for 28 yards — and Jason Snelling has run for 18 yards on four carries, another positive. A bad sign was that the Falcons’ offense showed dismaying signs of its recent struggles on the opening drive. That drop by Tony Gonzalez on first down probably cost the Falcons a field goal try, as the Falcons punted from the Giants’ 39-yard line.
Let’s look at the defense first, which the Fox broadcasters said was a key to the game. After the Giants’ offense got three first down on its first four plays, the Falcons’ defense came up with three huge plays. First was a sack for a loss of 9 yards combined with a forced fumble by linebacker Stephen Nicholas. (The Giants recovered.) The next play was a tackle for loss by defensive end Kroy Biermann and then Brent Grimes, making his second start in the last four games, notched his second interception of the season. Biermann pressured Giants quarterback Eli Manning on the throw to help force the pick.
In the pregame broadcast, Fox broadcaster Daryl Johnston said the Falcons defense needs to step up and sideline reporter Tony Siragusa squarely pointed the finger at the cornerbacks as the weakness.
On the Giants’ second drive, the Falcons usual nemesis — difficulty on third down — reared its head. The Giants got back-to-back 16-yard pass plays on third down to record consecutive first downs that led to a field goal. Here’s what Falcons Head Coach Mike Smith had to say about opponents’ averaging a 54 percent rate on third down against his team:
“We’re not very good,” Smith said. “It’s plain and simple statistically. We have to do a couple of things better. First thing is we have to play better on first and second down. We’re in way too many third-down-and-shorts and third-down-and-mediums and when you’re in those situations you’re putting yourself at a big disadvantage on third downs, so I think it’s very important that we stress that we have good first- and second-down play to get us in those third-and-longs.”
But the Falcons’ defense made the plays it needed to at the Giants’ 23, forcing an incomplete pass and limiting a run to a 2-yard gain by Danny Ware to force a 39-yard field goal.