I have a friend who really needs the Jets to cover tonight to win a weekly office pool (for the second straight week, or so I hear), and make some sweet barely earned cash. But he tells me that in the same pool and in the same office, another friend needs the Falcons to cover. I fear for this friendship before the evening is over.
Then, yet another friend enters Monday night down 11 points in his fantasy matchup, and he needs a solid game from a Falcons defense in a favorable situation against a rookie quarterback. Football: uniting and dividing degenerates since its inception.
New York Jets at Atlanta Falcons
1. Will less pressure mean less awfulness from Geno Smith?
Quarterbacks don’t enjoy getting smushed repeatedly. This is assumed knowledge, but the deep inner fear of large and fast men is often that much worse for rookies, who haven’t yet adjusted to the speed of the professional game and developed the required timing in the pocket to be successful. We’ve rightfully been gushing about Peyton Manning all season because he has the Broncos on pace to break pretty much every offensive record. But in the rare times when he has to, Manning knows when to just eat it and take a sack instead of forcing a throw into traffic, knowledge Geno Smith hasn’t gained yet, and that’s contributed to his early pace of two picks per game (for those who are as bad at math as me, he’s thrown eight interceptions overall).
Smith has been sacked 14 times already, and five apiece by the Titans (Week 4) and Bucs (Week 1). But between the QB hurting ability of the Bills, Patriots, Bucs, and Titans, he’s also faced superior pass rushes. The Bills are currently third with 18 sacks (Mario Williams alone has 7.5 already), and Tennessee is just behind with 16. Facing that sort of malice won’t end well for a rookie quarterback who often shows a lack of comfort in the pocket, and an offensive line which has already allowed 33 QB hits.
Tonight, that pocket should get much more inviting. The Falcons gave John Abraham the ol’ veteran heave ho in the offseason even after a year with 10 sacks. He was replaced with another aging but cheaper veteran in the form of Osi Umenyiora, who has two of the Falcons’ mediocre seven total sacks. That seemed adequate, at least until the loss of Kroy Biermann for the season in Week 2 with a torn Achillies tendon, and then there’s Sean Weatherspoon, who’s in the middle of an expected eight-week absence due to a Lisfranc injury.
There will be opportunities tonight then, and a chance for the good Geno — who’s graced us with his presence ever so briefly — to appear, and bring the production of Jeremy Kerley, Stephen Hill, and Kellen Winslow along with him. Santonio Holmes will be out, which hurts, but Smith has played much more without Holmes so far than with him, and with his speed Hill is a more than capable replacement and a fine flex play tonight. His fantasy value rises further with Asante Samuel still hobbled by a thigh injury after being able to practice on only a limited basis this week.
2. Will the Falcons’ run defense keep giving up chunk yardage?
Bilal Powell isn’t the next coming of Walter Payton, or Jim Brown. But he’ll lead a backfield that will likely have Chris Ivory returning from injury and Mike Goodson making his regular-season debut after a suspension, and it’s therefore perhaps the toughest unit the Falcons have faced thus far. That says more about the Falcons’ opponents than it does about the Jets run game.
The Saints, Rams, Dolphins, and Patriots have been on the Falcons’ schedule thus far. The last team on that list has a running back depth chart that’s been ravaged and thoroughly beaten after losing Shane Vereen, and they’ve since lost Stevan Ridley too. Yet still in Week 4 LeGarrette Blount — who had only 27 carries over the previous three weeks — ripped off a 47-yard run against the Falcons, while Ridley averaged 4.8 yards per carry prior to his injury. Beyond that, the Rams are less than proud owners of the 29th ranked rushing offense in the league (only 3.0 YPC), and although he’s righted himself lately, in Miami Lamar Miller was struggling until he ran against these Falcons in Week 3 (his longest run prior to the game was only 14 yards). Then he saw a lot of green grass and busted out for a 49-yard run.
Even though they’ve had to defend the fewest runs in the league (93) as teams hack away at a secondary that’s missed Samuel, the Falcons’ front seven has still managed to give up two runs of 40 yards or more. That’s…economical, I guess.
3. Julio Jones vs. Antonio Cromartie: who ya got?
You can say a lot of hilarious things about the Jets, mostly because their head coach is Rex Ryan and the fact that he has a “God Damn Snack” video game made in his honor never gets old to me. But defense is usually something they do pretty well. Or more specially, pass defense.
That’s true even after the chaotic departure of Darrelle Revis, as Antonio Crmartie has stepped up into the shutdown role. So far through a quarter of their schedule the Jets are allowing only 203.8 passing yards per game (seventh), and 6.2 yards per pass attempt (tied for third). This is when we should acknowledge that their schedule has included a pre-benching and jettisoning Josh Freeman, E.J. Manuel making his third career start, Tom Brady and his cast of misfits in the rain, and the vicious combination of Jake Locker and Ryan Fitzpatrick. So against a much better offense with far more depth — especially now with Roddy White finally sort of, almost healthy — is this the night it all crumbles?
My crystal ball just spit at me, so we’ll have to wait for the answer. As always, the depth of the Falcons’ pass catching options between White, Jones, Tony Gonzalez, and even Harry Douglas (who has filled in nicely for White with 213 yards thus far in a still limited role, including a 50-yard catch), means loading up on one of Matt Ryan’s targets isn’t an option, or at least not a good one. But with little coming from the Falcons’ backfield right now as Steven Jackson still sits out (Jacquizz Rodgers is plodding along at 3.5 YPC), Ryan could see more nickel and dime packages, and more bodies to deal with.
The Jets are allowing a completion percentage of only 51.4, and they’ve given up 20 or fewer points in three of their four games. That’s impressive even with the speed bag quarterbacks they’ve faced.