Most have the New York Jets pinned down as a loser heading into Monday night’s match-up, even though the Atlanta Falcons have been a drastically underachieving team so far this year. I honestly think tonight is a real toss up.
The Jets and Falcons are banged up on both sides of the both sides of the ball. The Falcons are likely going to start four rookies on defense, two of them being undrafted free agents. The Jets are hardly better off. They will be starting Darrin Walls opposite Antonio Cromartie and Clyde Gates at receiver (if they are confident in Jeremy Kerley sticking in the slot).
Regarding the injuries, the Falcons will be without Steven Jackson, Assante Samuel, and offensive tackle Sam Baker. None of these are losses that will sink their team. Samuel won’t be missed badly with rookie Robert Alford holding his own. Jackson is still a talented runner, but he has clearly lost his burst and the Falcons have been inept at creating any running lanes for their backs all season. Lastly, Atlanta might actually be better off with Baker out of the game. After he received his massive contract, Baker has played like a bottom-five offensive tackle in the league.
The Jets will once again be without Dee Milliner, which is unfortunate because he could have faced a real educational boost while facing Roddy White. Santonio Holmes will start his injury leave this week due to his hamstring frustrations. Stephen Hill, who’s coming back from a concussion himself, will start in place of Holmes. Overall, neither team’s injuries should single-handedly beat them down in this game. Both teams enter this game equally wounded.
Jets Taking Advantage in the Trenches:
Well this has certainly been a common key match-up on Jets game day, huh? Rightfully so. I’ve said in previous weeks that the Jets may be able to grind out wins by riding the wave of success from their defensive line, but Atlanta’s offensive line makes this match-up even more favorable.
The Falcons are a mess at offensive tackle. Sam Baker is out, and they won’t miss him. He’ll be replaced by Lamar Holmes, however, who’s failed to take over for the sagging Baker. Jeremy Trueblood is also treading water, as he hasn’t been able to hang on in pass protection. Because of how frail the bookends of their offensive line are, the Jets could give Quinton Coples a full meal of snaps (instead of limiting him due to injury he’s coming back from) and extend Antwan Barnes’ role. As usual, Damon Harrison will be the man in charge of setting the tone versus the run. “Snacks” gets a very easy assignment with center Peter Konz also having a rough season. If the Falcons look to double team Harrison due to Konz’s struggles, you know what that means; Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson could feast.
Not only should the Jets dominate with their defensive line, but the offensive line has a wonderful opportunity to bounce back as well. The entire Jets’ offensive line has underwhelmed this season, particularly last week. Vladimir Ducasse held opponents on his way to the bench. Rookie Brian Winters will start over him. The Falcons pass rush is still lacking, even though they hunted for help in this area throughout the off-season. They’ve been dealt a big blow with defensive end Kroy Biermann out for the season, forcing that Jonathan Massaquoi will start. Osi Umenyoira has been a playmaker this season, but his splash plays haven’t covered up for his inconsistency. In short, Austin Howard and D’Brickshaw Ferguson should have no trouble protecting Geno Smith, and the entire offensive line should open the game up for Smith.
Jets’ Run Game vs Falcons’ Front Seven:
This is another essential match-up for the Jets to stress all game long We’ve seen the worst of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg already. He loves opening up the passing game with pure firepower but I’m skeptical about his willingness keep a defense honest with the run. Well, here is chance to prove otherwise.
The Jets should not feel obligated to rely heavily on Geno Smith’s arm in this game. The receiving corps is limping with Santonio Holmes out and Stephen Hill maybe one hit away from another head injury. The Falcons have a weak run defense due to injuries of their own. They lost their superb linebacker Sean Weatherspoon to Injured Reserve with designation to return earlier this season. To make matters worse, Akeem Dent was already an underwhelming middle linebacker, and he’s out tonight, forcing undrafted rookie Paul Worrilow will start. As far as the rest of their linebacking core, undrafted rookie Joplo Bartu has been the most impressive run defender, and that’s saying something when you consider the experience that Stephen Nicholas, Omar Gaither, and Jamar Chaney have in the league. The Jets offensive line hasn’t blocked very well for Bilal Powell and company as of late, but they get a chance to do so against the 21st ranked run defense in the league. Bilal Powell has run well behind them despite their deficiency. Just imagine what he can do behind some more consistent run blocking from Nick Mangold and company. A particular match-up to keep an eye on, Corey Peters taking on Nick Mangold and Brian Winters. He’s been their best run defender so far this season.
Tony Gonzalez vs the Jets’ Defense:
Well this is going to be tricky. Gonzalez has been good as usual this season and the Jets have yet to be tested by a tight end who is a major threat in the passing game this season. Thus, it remains unseen whether the Jets can crack down on a tight end in coverage who sees a lot of targets. This is an issue we’ve observed in Rex Ryan’s defenses for as long as he’s been here. Luckily, the Jets may have a partial solution to the problem.
Demario Davis has really come into his own as an explosive and instinctive run defender. However, we have yet to see him flourish in coverage like his speed and skills suggest he can with some more experience. The Jets will likely place Davis on Gonzalez when he runs intermediate or underneath routes when the secondary is playing man coverage on Atlanta’s receivers. Davis’ speed will aid him in this match-up but we all know how good Gonzalez is at the point of the catch and his strong get-off has him always open, even versus slot corners. Dawan Landry could help Davis or pick up Gonzalez in man for a good portion of this game too, but it’s hard to trust Landry with such an important task when he’s been playing very average this season. Davis might be able to save the Jets from Gonzalez’s destruction, but this is definitely a match-up that Atlanta can win.
Antonio Cromartie/Darrin Walls vs Julio Jones/Roddy White:
Another frightening set of match-ups for a Jets fan lies with Atlanta’s best players. Jones and White are both incredible in their own right and the Jets have seen Cromartie struggle considerably this season versus mediocre receivers. Walls was mauled in his first half of his debut last week, but made a nice recovery in the second half. At the end of the day, Rex Ryan will surely trust his corners in man coverage with these pass-catching animals. The Jets can maybe slide some deep zone coverage to either one of them, because the Falcons rarely feature multiple receiver sets, and their slot receiver, Harry Douglas, is not much of a threat. The Jets will need a consistent pass rush to throw off Matt Ryan and help their two starting corners.
Let’s be honest, the Jets proved last week that they still are not a great team, nor a consistent one. However, I love the Jets’ match-ups on the offensive and defensive lines in this game. While the Falcons have their fair share of match-ups they can build their gameplan around, the Jets are in a prime position to dominate in the trenches on both sides of the ball. In the end, this is really where the whole game can be structured or broken down for either team. I expect a close one. I think the debut of Mike Goodson should supply an exciting play that will end up being crucial to the Jets’ win. Jets- 17. Falcons- 14.