The Atlanta Falcons started the 2017 season 3-0, but then lost to a string of AFC East teams: the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots, in that order. For Atlanta, surely, that’s not something the New York Jets can’t fix.
Yes, the Falcons’ allergy to beating AFC East teams is weird, almost as weird as getting the entire AFC East scheduled in one four-week span. They finish it up with a visit to MetLife Stadium to face the 3-4 Jets. Just as the Falcons conclude their AFC East slate, the Jets play their first of four games against NFC South opponents.
Atlanta is far from the high-flying, offensive team it was a year ago under coordinator Kyle Shanahan. With Steve Sarkisian calling the plays and all of the same players in place, the Falcons are not the top scoring offense in football, but, in fact, 16th, scoring just 21.3 per game thus far. Julio Jones didn’t score his first touchdown of the year until the Week 7 Monday night loss to the Pats, Devonta Freeman is just ninth in the league in rushing and Matt Ryan has very frequently looked beatable.
Does that mean the Jets have a chance to steal their fourth win of the year? To do so, a lot will need to go right.
To start, they need to contain Devonta Freeman the way they’ve done to Jay Ajayi in their two Dolphins games this year. At 5-foot-9, 209, Freeman is like a shorter version of the bruising Ajayi (6-foot, 220). But the Jets, 28th in the NFL in rushing defense, have been gashed by speedier types like LeSean McCoy and Leonard Fournette. Keep an eye on Falcons’ RB2 Tevin Coleman, the lightning to Freeman’s thunder.
Josh McCown can’t make the same mistake he made at the tail-end of the Jets’ disastrous loss to Miami last week. Other than that poor interception, though, he’s been solid, a high compliment for him. Atlanta has only an average defense, and McCown may be able to take advantage of it.
Here’s the thing. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins has become one of his favorite targets, and in five appearances this year, back-up TE Eric Tomlinson has surprised defenses (and Jets fans) by hauling some passes that went for 34 and 26 yards. But according to Pro Football Reference, the Falcons have allowed just 27 tight end receptions on 51 targets for 341 yards and no touchdowns. They’re fifth-best in fantasy football defense against tight ends, by their calculations.
So McCown may need to look wide early and often. I think it’s time we heard again from Jermaine Kearse, who while with the NFC’s Seahawks had some experience playing the Falcons. After being shipped east in the Sheldon Richardson trade, Kearse has made a new home in New York. He caught a 29-yard touchdown early against the Dolphins last week – but then didn’t catch another ball, on four targets, his quietest game as a Jet.
Again, the Falcons only score 21.3 points a game. The Jets average 19.6. They’ve shown they’re not an inept offense, and in fact they have big-play ability. It might be enough for them to keep pace with a confusing Falcons’ squad, touchdown for touchdown, but Matt Ryan has the edge against a shaky Jets’ defense. Even if Freeman is corralled, expect a lot from Tevin Coleman and a sharp passing attack with too many weapons for the Jets secondary and linebackers to track.