After starting the season 3-0, 2016s toast of the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons, have found themselves on the wrong side of a series of ugly, ugly scorelines. A 23-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills before the bye week saw alarm bells readied, though not rung. Losing 20-17 to the Dolphins, after leading 17-0 at half time, however, saw them well and truly rung. Optimism was waning, but undepleted. Then they lost 23-7 to the New England Patriots and OH GOD EVERYTHING IS HORRIBLE. BURN IT TO THE GROUND.
Atlanta will travel back to the AFC East, to East Rutherford, with the intention of ending a 3 game slide, and getting back on the right track. Unfortunately, things might not be as straightforward as was previously expected.
Those Green Gentlemen (Things Have Changed)
The New York Jets, a side deficient of talent, intuition, and backroom intellect, are sitting at 3-4. Let that sink in for a second. A 3-4 record isn’t good, by any stretch, but, when you consider just about every major piece of the organisation with sold off to the first bidder prior to seasons start, it becomes somewhat more impressive. In no small part is this a result of the coaching ability of Todd Bowles; a man most assumed would be relieved of his duties midway through the season.
Bowles has done an excellent job in getting his players to simply buy into the season. Seeing your teammates walk one by one must be demoralising to most, but simply getting Austin Seferian-Jenkins, a supremely talented Tight End, to look remotely interested is praise worthy indeed.
Unlike over the past 10 years, the Jets cannot lean too heavily on their defence. A competent offense should have no issue moving over the league’s 5th worst run, and 12th worst pass, defence. In turn the Josh McCown-led offense, despite playing hard over the course of the season so far, has hardly set the league alight.
Outside of Jermaine Kearse and the aforementioned Austin Seferian-Jenkins, New York aren’t blessed with receiving options. Success appears to have been found on the ground, however, with Bilal Powell and Matt Forte combining for a reasonable 723 yards through 7 games. If the Jets are to come away with the W, exposing the Falcons soft run defence will be key.
Take These Broken Wings and Learn to Fly
It’s been a while since these sides last met. 2013, the Falcons hosted a Jets side helmed by Geno Smith, and found themselves on the wrong side of a 30-28 scoreline.
There are absolutely no two ways about it; anything less than a win for the Falcons is absolutely calamitous. The high flying, high powered Falcons offense that torched the league last season is no longer. Yes, the talent is largely unchanged. Yes, the plays being called are roughly the same. But there is no greater plan. Many, myself included, imagined Steve Sarkisian would oversee an offense not quite up the the level Kyle Shanahan left us with last season. We assumed there would be a slight dip in production. Not this much of a dip.
Sarkisian isn’t entirely to blame, of course. Of Matt Ryan’s 6 interceptions, 5 could have been reasonably avoided had it been for better receiving play. His inability to notice an offensive strength is starting to cause worry. Devonta Freeman averaged 6 yards a carry against New England, yet only ran the ball 12 times. Julio Jones is the best receiver in the league, yet he’s has only one 100+ yard game, and has seen his red zone targets limited to 5 through 6 games.
It’s fair to say Atlanta are in a rut, offensively, and the likes of Dan Quinn, Steve Sarkisian, and their players, need to find their winning formula. The wheels are at severe risk of falling off, and it would be advisable to, I don’t know, tighten the screws or something.
The Way You Used to Do
Matt Ryan has stated that comparing this side to last season doesn’t help at all, but victory over the Jets almost requires a throwback to the sort of gameplan Shanahan specialised in. Dan Quinn has publically called for his offense to lean on the run game. After inking him to a $41 million contract in the summer, it would be criminal not to use Devonta Freeman as he should. Freeman runs angry. It’s glorious to watch, and he has the ability to take over games if given the opportunity. Sark would be wise to use him as such.
Similarly, New York’s gameplan should rely on the likes of Powell, Forte, and Elijah McGuire. In a stunning turn of events, Atlanta’s defence is actually pretty alright, which isn’t something fans will have experienced for some time. While mistakes often creep in, the defence as a whole has been more than solid against the pass, though it’s fair to say they struggle against the run. Dontari Poe hasn’t been the one man run stopping machine we hoped he’d be. The Jets could find success keeping the ball on the ground.
Whoever wins, the fans lose. Atlanta are in a position now where a win is absolutely required, thus making it difficult for the fan to find any enjoyment from the result. A Jets win sees them stray further from the elusive Sam Darnold pick we all assumed they coveted. Against all human logic, I’m picking the Jets to take the win. Atlanta are wounded right now, and are frustrated. This has the makings of a 17-14 last second field goal win for the Jets. Bring on the #sarkout petitions…
Falcons @ Jets Preview.