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Giants-Falcons preview: Olivier Vernon brings normalcy back to defense

Giants defensive end Olivier Vernon celebrates after sacking

Giants defensive end Olivier Vernon celebrates after sacking Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz in the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium on Oct. 11. Credit: Mike Stobe

Olivier Vernon doesn’t only bring a pass rush to the Giants' defense. He brings a return to normalcy.

The Giants were scrambling personnel-wise to replace him through the first five games of the season, which he missed with a high ankle sprain. He made his 2018 debut against the Eagles, recording a sack with two tackles and two quarterback hits, and he’ll be back on the field Monday night when the Giants play the Falcons in Atlanta.

“When it comes down to it and guys are not able to be out there, it does put much more responsibility on other guys,” Vernon said. “A lot more things to put on somebody else’s plate and the more guys we get to have back, the easier it gets to distribute the workload.”

After a productive first game back, the Giants are hoping that Vernon will produce even more for a defense that has been lacking in sacks. No one on the team has more than 2.0 this season.

“What I look forward to is, what’s next?” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “I’m excited to see how he plays Monday night.”

Said coach Pat Shurmur: “I think he had some very disruptive reps in terms of putting pressure on the quarterback [against the Eagles] … The key when you’re doing anything a second time, like he’s going to play only his second game of the year, is to build on it and play better.”

Barkley catching notice

When the Giants drafted Saquon Barkley, many people noted the Giants had not had a running back like him since Tiki Barber. Now that is statistically true. In his last two games Barkley has caught passes of 57 yards (for a touchdown from Odell Beckham Jr.) and 55 yards, making him the first Giants running back with two receptions of 55 or more yards in a season since Tiki Barber in 2004. Barkley is the first rookie to do it since David Meggett in 1989.

Dixon brings added kick

The Giants don’t have an extra kicker on their practice squad like they did last week, and Aldrick Rosas isn’t on the injury report like he was before the Eagles game with a quad issue. But the Giants do have a just-in-case scenario if Rosas for some reason is unable to finish a game such as Monday’s. Punter Riley Dixon spent some time last week working on kicking field goals and extra points.

“You never know,” Dixon said.

Dixon hasn’t attempted a field goal since high school, but he was a walk-on at Syracuse as a placekicker before he specialized in punting.

“I’ve done it before,” Dixon said.

And if he has to in this game, he’ll be able to say that he did it in practice.

The eyes have it

The biggest challenge to the Giants defense won’t be stopping the pass or stopping the run but trying to tell which one they’re attempting to do.

“It’s a big play-action team, honestly,” safety Landon Collins said of the Falcons. “They’ll hit you with the misdirections, fake runs and stuff like that. You’ve got to play with great technique, great eyes.”

Eyes?

“Watching what you’re supposed to be watching, your keys, your techniques, the receiver or the line of scrimmage or the pulls, the gap schemes, stuff like that,” Collins said.

The one place Collins said the Giants should not have their eyes is on Matt Ryan, the Falcons’ quarterback.

“We keep our eyes on what we’re supposed to be doing and where they’re supposed to be at, we’ll be all right,” he said.

Numbers

.381: The Giants’ winning percentage in their 63 previous Monday Night Football games. They are 24-38-1.

49.4: Percent of third downs the Falcons have converted this season (39 of 79), third-best in the NFL.

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