By Tyson Rauch
On Monday night the New York Jets (2-2) go on the road to take on the Atlanta Falcons (1-3) at the Georgia Dome. The Jets are coming off of an embarrassing loss to the Tennessee Titans while the Falcons late-game heroics were not enough against the Patriots. This is clearly going to be a hotly contested game between two teams that are desperate to get back to their winning ways.
The Atlanta Falcons offense has developed into a dynamic passing attack engineered by quarterback Matt Ryan. The Atlanta signal caller is averaging 316 yards a game passing, ranked fourth in the NFL. Ryan is surrounded by several talented playmakers including Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White, and Harry Douglas.
In order to disrupt the Falcons explosive passing attack the Jets must generate a consistent, aggressive pass rush. The unit’s goal will be to move Ryan around the pocket to prevent the quarterback from making big plays down the field. One of the biggest keys for the Jets will be to contain tight end Tony Gonzalez who has emerged as a reliable safety valve for Matt Ryan. Gang Green’s linebackers and safeties must remain physical with Gonzalez and eliminate the yards after the catch. Keep an eye on the match-up between Julio Jones (33 catches, 481 receiving yards, 2 tds) and Antonio Cromartie as it features two of the fastest players on the field. Cromartie is off to a slow start for Gang Green and will be quickly exposed if he remains soft in coverage.
Running game grounded
The Falcons rushing attack has struggled (ranked 24th in the NFL) with Steven Jackson missing time due to an injury. Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling have been filling in for Jackson with mixed results. On paper the New York Jets fifth-ranked rush defense, which only yields 82 yards a game, should be able to shut down the Atlanta ground game.
Spotlight on Geno
The Atlanta Falcons defense has been very good against the run, limiting opponents to an average of 92 yards a game, which ranks sixth in the NFL. This is bad news for the Jets, a team that is hoping to establish a ground attack in order to take some pressure off of rookie quarterback Geno Smith.
Running back Bilal Powell has been excellent for New York as he is tied for first in the AFC with 292 rushing yards. Mike Goodson who is scheduled to return from suspension on Sunday will support Powell. Goodson could be the explosive playmaker out of the backfield that the Jets are desperately looking for.
If Gang Green is unable to get the rushing game going they could then look to take advantage of a suspect Falcon pass defense which is ranked 26th in the National Football League. Of course this approach comes with some risk as the Jets could be without receivers Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill on Sunday due to injuries.
Tough Spot for the Jets?
The New York Jets are going into a hostile environment to play against a team that is fighting to save their season. There is going to be a ton of pressure on Geno Smith to make plays in the passing game and that has to be a concern following a four-turnover performance against Tennessee. The Jets have to find a way to put together time-consuming drives that will keep the Falcon offense off of the field and take the crowd out of the game. If the rookie quarterback struggles or continues to be reckless with the football, this could be a very long night for Gang Green.
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Tyson Rauch is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.