In a world of must-win games (see Braves, Atlanta), the Falcons have an enormous contest on Monday night in the Georgia Dome. The Birds enter the game with a shocking 1-3 record on the season, but fortunately, the team is a significant favorite over the incoming New York Jets. Let’s take a look at what’s in store when these two teams kick it off on national television.
Opponent - New York Jets (2-2, 0-2 on Road)
Time/TV - 8:30 PM ET, ESPN (National)
Falcons Offense vs. Jets Defense
First of all, the Jets have a very good defense. Even in an offseason filled with skepticism about the Jets (most of it was justified), the team has always possessed defensive talent, and they’ve performed well. For the season, New York sits 7th in the league in passing defense (203.8 yards per game) and 3rd in the league in rushing defense (79.3 yards per game) while being better than league average in scoring defense (22.0 points per game).
At the same time, this isn’t your older brother’s dominant Jets defense, and the Falcons offense should have the opportunity to put up points. Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez are all healthy, and that is the best thing you can say about this offense. Of course, the Falcons will take the field without Steven Jackson and Sam Baker (2 of their top 6 offensive players), but the running back spot has been solid in Jackson’s absence, and Baker has struggled when less than 100% healthy.
I’d expect a healthy dose of Matt Ryan in this game, as the Jets are elite against the run, and #2 is up to the challenge in a must-win game. Keep an eye on Roddy White, who reportedly had a setback last week, and if he’s limping around, that greatly affects what Dirk Koetter and company want to accomplish offensively.
Falcons Defense vs. Jets Offense
For the first time this season, this side of the ball presents an advantageous match-up for Atlanta. The Falcons secondary has been demoralized this season, as they sit 28th in the league in pass defense (301 yards per game), thanks in large part to being carved up by guys like Drew Brees and Tom Brady. Fortunately, Geno Smith isn’t exactly in the class with those guys.
Smith, the rookie from West Virginia, captains the NYJ offense, and he has a 38.0 QBR (on the 1-to-100 scale) this season. He has thrown 8 interceptions against 4 touchdowns on the year, while completing less than 58% of his passes through 4 games. Throw in the fact that Asante Samuel is expected to be active for the Falcons in this one, and you’ve got the perfect storm for the Atlanta defense.
On the ground, the Jets are much better, but they are also banged up. Bilal Powell is the current starter at the RB spot, and he has 215 yards combined in the last two games. In addition, Powell will be flanked by the return of Mike Goodson, who missed the first 4 games with suspension, and they’ll form a solid 1-2 punch in the absence of incumbent Chris Ivory.
As I mentioned in the introduction, this is absolute, unequivocal must-win for the Atlanta Falcons. Falling to 1-4 isn’t an option, but more than that, if this team can’t put away a subpar Jets team on its home field (especially with a raucous Monday night crowd), then there is a serious issue. I believe that the Falcons will grab their now-customary big lead in the opening moments, and contrary to other games, will be able to hold on to and/or extend that advantage for a cruising victory.
Stay tuned for a game thread this evening (posted in the afternoon), and be sure to join us in the comments throughout the day!