The Atlanta Falcons are the envy of the New York Giants and the entire NFC. They’re the conference’s representative in Super Bowl LI, and the current model of excellence that will undoubtedly clone knockoffs.
The Falcons reached the big game by dominating on offense. They scored 80 points in their two playoff wins after a regular season where they led the league – by a wide margin – in points per game (33.8).
The Giants and the rest of the NFL surely took notice. And they should have been taking notes.
Here’s what the Giants could glean from Sunday's 44-21 demolition of the Green Bay Packers and the Falcons’ recent run to the Super Bowl:
Giants weren't good enough offensively
Duh. Knew this already. It’s just that the NFC Championship (and even divisional round) showed that the Giants might have been even further away from offensive competence than previously believed. They struggled throughout the season and again against a Packers defense and secondary that proved on Sunday to be a bad unit. Yet the Giants managed just 13 points in their playoff loss in Green Bay. Weather be damned that was not anywhere near enough.
So it’s back to the drawing board for the Giants offensively. They averaged 19.4 points per game and didn’t top 20 in any of their final six games. They need to find fixes. Watching the Falcons could provide some potential solutions.
Watching the Falcons on Sunday afternoon there were a lot of different looks. Atlanta had two tight ends who each played over 60 percent of the snaps and were often on the field together. Sometimes a third tight end snuck onto the field. They even used a fullback at times, as if that is some novel concept. Atlanta also showcased two feature backs who are used extensively and creatively in the running and passing games. The Falcons are multiple, a term used to describe teams that use a wide variety of formations, packages and unique looks.
The Giants need to look long and hard at this approach. They followed a completely contrasting blue print this season. They used “11 personnel” with a running back, three wide receivers and a tight end on 87 percent of their first-and-10 plays this season. Whatever the opposite of multiple is in NFL lingo (vanilla, boring, predictable) that is what the Giants were this season. It needs to be thoroughly examined and likely changed. One of the biggest under-the-surface complaints from players this season was that the offense was too predictable.
The Falcons don’t have great tight ends. Casual fans probably never heard of Levine Toilolo or Austin Hooper. They’re filling in for the injured Jacob Tamme, another unspectacular option. But they all contributed this season as pass catchers and even more prominently as assets in the run and pass games with their blocking. The Giants need to reevaluate the emphasis they put on their tight ends, and especially their blocking.
Atlanta didn’t run the ball well especially well against a solid Packers run defense. Neither did the Giants. But Atlanta was still able to use its backs as weapons in the pass game. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for seven catches on eight targets for 77 yards and a touchdown in the NFC Championship.
The Falcons have two talented and dangerous backs who demand the attention of opposing defenses. The Giants didn’t have any who scared the opposition this season. Their longest run was 25 yards and their leading receiver out of the backfield was Rashad Jennings with 201 yards. Atlanta’s success is even more evidence the Giatns need to upgrade at the position.
Beckham vs. Julio
The sample size is small. Giants star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has played in one career postseason game. It wasn’t one he would like to remember. Beckham had two drops -- including a touchdown -- and several others he usually catches. He didn’t perform as expected in the Giants’ biggest game of the season.
Atlanta’s Julio Jones had nine receptions for 180 yards and two touchdowns in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday afternoon. The Giants need some of that from their best playmaker when the spotlight shines brightest if they're going to be the NFC's representative anytime soon.