In what looked to be an easy game on the schedule heading into the season, most Falcons fans probably looked at this game on the magnetic schedule hanging on their refrigerator and said, "This will be an easy W". Little did they know that this game would be the biggest do or die game of the season for the Falcons.
At 1-3 the Falcons are in must win territory. They're in a battle to scratch back to 500 and are in the beginning of the softest part of the schedule in which they'll face these New York Jets, Tampa Bay, Arizona and Carolina. After which, they must face over the course of the season, Seattle, San Francisco, Green Bay and New Orleans. There are some easier games sprinkled about in between those juggernauts, but if the Falcons were to go on a streak now, and take the next four games, it would put them at 5-3 heading into the last eight weeks of the season.
It cannot be stated how important it is to win these next four games for there to be any chance of salvaging this abysmal start to the season.
Here are tonight's keys to the game.
WATCH OUT FOR THE JETS DEFENSE
We all know the offensive line is bad, we're not going to go into that as much for this preview, other than to mention that Sam Baker is out tonight, meaning that despite the fact that Lamar Holmes has been replaced at Right Tackle by Jeremy Trueblood, Holmes will likely start at left tackle to replace the ailing Baker.
The Jets have a great defense this year, ranking seventh and third respectively in passing yards allowed and rushing yards allowed.
They have 14 sacks as a team through just four games. They are led by Muhammad Wilkerson, who has three of those sacks, and has been an absolute terror against opposing offenses.
Coach Rex Ryan has always maintained that Baltimore Ravens way of relying on the defense to win football games, and that hasn't changed this year.
However, during their last game, the Jets were obliterated 38-13 by Tennessee, showing that their defense isn't unstoppable by any stretch of the imagination.
The key here will once again relate to how well the Falcons can protect Matt Ryan. We can already surmise that the Falcons will be in even more of a bind this week without Baker, and we know what happens when Lamar Holmes is out on the field. The Jets will get their pressure on the quarterback, the question is, can Matt Ryan continue to rely on his dinking and dunking quick screens and intermediate passes?
That's what it's going to take to beat this very aggressive Jets defense as it'll be tough to establish the run without the aid of Steven Jackson, who is once again out tonight.
Along with the bad offensive line this year, the Falcons have been horrific in the red zone. They are 29th in the league in terms of how effective they've been in converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns at a horrific 38.89%.
The Falcons fall in love with the pass even more in the red zone and many times, don't even try to attempt rushes in these situations. This was in full effect last week against New England when the Falcons had second and one deep in the red zone and chose to pass twice (which resulted in incompletions), and had to settle for a field goal.
The Falcons need to feed Jason Snelling in these situations. At least attempt to mix it up a bit. Teams are sitting on the pass because that's all the Falcons do in the red zone. The Falcons only have one rushing touchdown in the red zone, and that came from Snelling, who also has the most yards rushing in these situations with a measly 13.
The Falcons have to try and rush the ball more in the red zone. At the very least, it'll keep the opposing defense honest even if it's not the most effective thing in the world. The Falcons have been bashing their heads into a wall over and over again in the red zone, trying the same thing and watching it fail week after week. They have to change their game plan here, or they will continue to be ineffective.
THE INCONSISTENT JETS OFFENSE
One thing the Falcons defense has going for it is that the Jets offense has been very inconsistent this year. Rookie QB Geno Smith is struggling to adapt to the NFL so far, throwing four touchdowns, eight interceptions, with a 57.4 completion percentage. He's also lost three fumbles.
He hasn't been too big of a threat on the ground, although last week he rushed for 47 yards against the hapless Bucs en route to an 18-17 victory.
The Falcons have struggled against running quarterbacks over the years with this nucleus, and with a defense that's missing Kroy Biermann, Sean Weatherspoon, Akeem Dent and possibly Asante Samuel, it could be a problem this week.
Smith has struggled against all manners of defense, so look for defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to be at his zaniest in terms of masking his coverage schemes to confuse Smith into hopefully throwing multiple interceptions.
On the rushing side, the solid Falcons run defense will be up against Bilal Powell, who outside of one outstanding week against Buffalo in which he rushed for 27 times and 149 yards, hasn't really done much outside of that. This includes a season low 29 yards last week against Tampa Bay.
Smith may also be missing his top two receivers in Santonio Holmes and and Stephen Hill which would be huge for the Falcons.
If the Falcons can confuse Smith enough and force him to turn the ball over (which he has done at least once in every game this year), it could be a good day for the Falcons defense.
It will be strength (the Falcons offense vs. the Jets defense) vs. weakness (Jets offense vs. Falcons defense) tonight.
Radio: 790 The Zone AM/Star 94.1 FM
Time: 8:30 EST
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