Falcons brace for sack-happy Giants
ATLANTA – Donovan McNabb was sacked a dozen times by the Giants. Joey Harrington might want to consider taking out some extra insurance before Monday night’s game against New York.
The Atlanta Falcons’ quarterback will be protected — he can only hope — by a banged-up offensive line that has two new starting tackles, including undrafted rookie Renardo Foster, who’ll be responsible for Harrington’s blind side.
Foster fell into his first career start when left tackle Wayne Gandy went down last week on the next-to-last offensive play of another Atlanta loss. Compounding the problems up front, right tackle Todd Weiner will be out several weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery, handing off the job to second-year player Tyson Clabo (who wasn’t drafted either, by the way).
“It’s quite a tragedy,” Giants offensive tackle Kareem McKenzie said. “That’s tough, to lose the two bookends of your offensive line. Man, I’ve never heard of that, ever. But you know whatâ¢ If you’ve prepared them well, it shouldn’t be that difficult. It’s just like changing a spare tire.”
What if the spare turns out to be flat, too?
Foster, who followed coach Bobby Petrino from Louisville to the Falcons, is certainly big enough at 6-foot-7, 338 pounds. Clearly, he wouldn’t have been passed over in the draft by every team, Atlanta included, if there was an indication he would be ready to start in his sixth pro game.
“I know it will be a large task,” Foster said. “We’ve all seen the Philadelphia game, so we know what we have on our hands.”
Ahhh, the Philadelphia game.
Two weeks ago, Osi Umenyiora had a team-record six sacks and the Giants (3-2) tied the NFL mark by taking down McNabb 12 times in a 16-3 victory that rekindled memories of Lawrence Taylor terrorizing the other team’s quarterback.
Not that the Falcons (1-4) can devote all their attention to Umenyiora. New York’s other starting end is Michael Strahan, who just happens to be the NFL’s active leader with 133 1/2 sacks.
“If anything, it makes you nervous,” said Strahan, who’ll be matched against Clabo. “The expectations … are so high that I don’t know if you can live up to them.”
Strahan has been double-teamed most of the season, opening up things for Umenyiora and second-stringer Justin Tuck on the other side. The Falcons, of course, don’t have enough blockers to double up on everyone.
“We can expect to see a lot of double tight ends, backs that chip, sliding both ways,” Tuck said. “But I mean, lucky for us, it’s pick your poison. You’ve got Strahan and Kiwi (Mathias Kiwanuka) on one end, me and Osi on the other.”
Center Todd McClure, the senior member of the Falcons’ line, can only hope the new starters are inspired by their opportunity, not intimidated.
“They have a chance to come in and get their career going,” McClure said. “It’s a big loss for us, but we have to try to move forward.”
Harrington is hoping for some help from the running game.
The Falcons led the NFL in rushing the last three years, but that was with Michael Vick at quarterback and a line that was comfortable with the zone-blocking schemes favored by the previous coaching staff.
Harrington is no Vick, and the line has struggled to adapt to Petrino’s new offensive scheme. Atlanta ranks 21st with an average of 91.6 yards and is still looking for its first 100-yard game of the season.
“It’s always huge when you run the football because you can get the tempo going,” Harrington said. “You can control the clock and you are controlling the line of scrimmage. That’s what you want as an offense. The teams that can run the ball always have a lot of success.”
The Giants still sound as though they’re facing the Falcons of the Vick era.
“They’ve been known to run the ball, and I’m sure they will try to establish that early,” defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. “We have to try to stall that early.”
Harrington has more to worry about than just who’s lining up on the other side. Right behind him is Byron Leftwich, the former Jacksonville starter who signed with the Falcons two weeks into the season.
When Harrington struggled, Leftwich took over in the fourth quarter of last week’s 20-13 loss at Tennessee. While neither quarterback was very effective, and Leftwich is now bothered by a sore ankle, the backup could get another chance if Harrington fails to get the offense moving.
Asked if he’s looking over his shoulder, Harrington said “not a peak” — even though he’s going for the hat trick after losing the starting job in both Detroit and Miami.
“Like I’ve said from day one, my job is to be ready to play for this team,” he said. “When I’m looking over my shoulder, I’m not doing my job and I’m focusing on other things. My days of doing that are done.”
Now, about that insurance.