Rookie quarterback Geno Smith imploded in Music City, leading the New York Jets (2-2) to a defeat that sent ripples rolling through Gang Green nation.
The Jets have a chance to right the ship against the bumbling Atlanta Falcons (1-3) on Monday Night Football in Week 5 but are destined to lose if Smith fails to protect the football.
The inexperienced signal-caller has committed 11 turnovers in just four starts. His tendency to cough up the football hurts the Jets on both offense and defense.
The rookie QB virtually spotted the Tennessee Titans (3-1) 28 points in Week 4. All four turnovers happened inside Jets territory, enabling the Titans to put points on the scoreboard in a hurry. Even though the Jets surrendered four touchdown passes on defense, their backs were always against the wall due to Smith's brigade of mistakes.
The Jets' No. 2 cornerback spot has been a problem in 2013, forcing added pressure on Antonio Cromartie. The combination of Dee Milliner, Darrin Walls and Kyle Wilson has been a weak spot within an otherwise solid defense. Now, the Jets are preparing to face a potent air attack, led by perennial big-play wide receiver Julio Jones.
Antonio Cromartie (Jets CB) vs. Julio Jones (Falcons WR)
The most definitive individual matchup of the Jets' upcoming contest against the Falcons is Cromartie in coverage against Jones, who leads the NFL with 481 receiving yards through four games.
Cromartie was beaten to a pulp by Titans' No. 1 wideout Nate Washington in Week 4, allowing two touchdowns including a bizarre 77-yard score in garbage time.
That can't happen again if the Jets are going to beat the Falcons on the road in Week 5.
He must play better if the Jets are going to prevent quarterback Matt Ryan from racking up consecutive 400-plus-yard passing games.
Ryan is off to a hot start, despite the Falcons' 1-3 record. The former third overall pick has completed 66.5 percent of his pass attempts in 2013, registering 1,330 passing yards and eight touchdowns.
The Falcons rank fourth overall in passing offense, totaling 316.5 yards per game, while the Jets have allowed 203.8 passing yards per contest, which is good enough for eighth overall.
The key for the Jets in keeping the Falcons' high-octane pass attack from putting up big numbers is to limit Jones' production.
Still, the Falcons possess other big-play threats such as tight end Tony Gonzalez, who presents a potential mismatch against the Jets secondary because of his size. The 37-year-old has pulled down 23 catches for 242 yards and three touchdowns in 2013.
Banged-up wideout Roddy White is also dangerous and could present a problem to the Jets' cornerback carousel despite a lingering high ankle sprain. He has caught just 10 passes on 19 targets for 84 yards so far this season.
Sheldon Richardson (Jets DT) vs. Justin Blalock (Falcons LG)
The Falcons feature a relatively one-dimensional offense, which will allow the Jets to concentrate on containing the downfield threats.
Tailback Jacquizz Rodgers leads Atlanta with 134 rushing yards on 38 attempts. The Jets rank among the best rush defenses in the NFL, surrendering just 79.3 yards per game.
The fact that Atlanta doesn't possess a front-line running back in the absence of Steven Jackson bodes well for the Jets. Still, it'll be critical for the Jets' front seven to dominate the trenches and disable the Falcons' ground game.
Rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and nose tackle Damon Harrison need to solidify pressure up front, which will create pass rushing lanes for defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson and outside linebacker Quinton Coples.
Richardson and Harrison have combined for 17 solo tackles, including four for loss, and 1.5 sacks in four games.
Atlanta's offensive line has been up-and-down this season, allowing seven sacks. The O-line is anchored by 320-pound left guard Justin Blalock, who excels in both run-blocking schemes and pass protection.
Richardson will likely line up on Blalock. This pivotal matchup in the trenches will dictate the Jets' ability to rush Ryan on the blindside. In addition, it will determine how effective Atlanta will be able to run the football.
The Jets defense needs to play synchronously to completely shut down the Falcons offense, which averages just 23.5 points per game despite possessing a dangerous passing game.
Jeremy Kerley (Jets WR) vs. Desmond Trufant (Falcons CB)
New York's offense has been self-destructive in the early going, recording a meager total of 17 points per game despite averaging more than 366 yards of total offense.
The Jets' dismal point total (68) through four games is subject to Smith's penchant for turnovers.
He will face the Falcons' 26th-ranked pass defense that allows 301 passing yards per game. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will look to exploit that on Monday night, despite Smith's struggles.
However, wide receiver Santonio Holmes is expected to miss multiple weeks due to a Grade 2 hamstring pull suffered against the Titans, according to Rich Cimini of ESPN New York. In addition, second-year wideout Stephen Hill is doubtful for the team's Week 5 game after being diagnosed with a concussion, according to Kevin Armstrong of the New York Daily News.
This poses a problem for the Jets, who feature limited depth at wide receiver.
Slot receiver Jeremy Kerley is expected to line up as the Jets' No. 1 wideout in Week 5. He has recorded nine receptions on 14 targets for 135 yards so far this season. Rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant will line up against Kerley if lead CB Asante Samuel is unable to play due to a thigh injury.
Samuel missed the Falcons' Week 4 showdown with the New England Patriots (4-0) after being listed as questionable on the team's official injury report. Meanwhile, Trufant has totaled 18 tackles and four passes defended in four games.
Atlanta allowed two 100-yard receivers against the Patriots (Kenbrell Thompkins and Julian Edelman) and has already given up nine touchdown passes on the season.
Both teams appear susceptible to giving up big plays in the secondary. The team that is better able to play lockdown defense in third-down situations will likely win the game.
Still, Atlanta will have a clear-cut advantage over the Jets if Smith continues to commit costly turnovers at a record-setting pace.
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