The Falcons enter Sunday's game against the Giants with the top-ranked offense in the NFL. They are first in yards per game and yards per play. They are second in scoring and passing. They are a dangerous opponent -- a team, it was suggested to linebacker Jameel McClain, that can strike fear into a defense.
"That's what you think?" McClain asked.
It is not what he or the Giants think.
Sure, those stats are impressive, and the last time the Giants faced the Falcons, as defensive coordinator Perry Fewell recalled, quarterback Matt Ryan "beat the hell out of us."
But the Giants are not going to be intimidated by numbers. If anything, they see it as an opportunity to gain some respect for their defense.
This is a team that has won two games in a row, one against a Texans team without its main offensive weapon in Arian Foster and a second against a Redskins team starting backup quarterback Kirk Cousins. If they can stop the Falcons the way they did those other two teams, well . . .
"To be the best, you've got to beat the best," defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said. "It's definitely a challenge, but it's one that we're looking forward to."
And if they can't stop the Falcons entirely, there is another path to victory.
"I think you're always prepared for a shootout," said Eli Manning, who leads an offense that has scored 75 points in the last two games (the Falcons have scored 84 in the same span, but 56 of those came against the Bucs in a rout two weeks ago). "You're always hoping that you can go out there and score points and do our job . . . Their offense is high-powered, they can score. They're moving the ball tons of yards, [getting] tons of points, and so we've got to do our job and keep the ball and help out our defense."
The addition of first-round draft pick Odell Beckham Jr., who is likely to make his NFL debut Sunday after missing the first month of the season with a hamstring injury, should add to the potency of the Giants' offense and its ability to go stride-for-scoring-stride with the Falcons if need be.
While the Giants could very well have all of their available offensive weapons on the field for the first time since May or so, the Falcons are tilting in the other direction when it comes to health. They will be without four of the five offensive linemen they projected as starters when training camp opened, and the one remaining player is rookie Jake Matthews at left tackle. They have a starting guard who was on their practice squad a week ago. And they will be without one of their receivers, Harry Douglas (foot).
If there is a team in the NFL that can appreciate what kind of chaos can ensue when injuries hit the offensive line, it is the Giants. They lived through that misery last year. To a man, though, they insist the Falcons' disarray at pivotal positions will not change either team's approach.
In other words, even if the Giants do stop the "top-ranked" offense in the league, there is bound to be an asterisk on the achievement, just as there was with the last two games.
"We're not worried about opening people's eyes," McClain said. "They can doubt us as much as they want. Doubt us all the way to the end. If we keep prevailing and keep showing who we are, whether it is [against] a starter in people's eyes or not a starter in people's eyes, this is the NFL . . . Whoever you strap up, we're going to go after them. That's our goal."