Not only do the Jets have to beat a Falcons team that was a red-zone conversion away from a Super Bowl berth last year, but they are also catching them on the heels of their third loss of the season with desperation fuming from their mouths. Also, they must do it in one of the loudest environments in the entire league.
As a result, despite their superior record of 2-2, the Jets will be heavy underdogs.
However, as lopsided as this matchup may seem at a glance, there are several areas on both sides of the ball where the Jets have the upper hand in terms of personnel that they can take advantage of.
Let's break down the Jets' game plan for Monday night.
Get to Matt Ryan
One of the biggest reasons why the Falcons find themselves at 1-3 is due to the lackluster play of their offensive line, particularly at the tackle position.
Sam Baker is not exactly the second coming of Orlando Pace, but the Falcons have proven that they can be successful with him protecting Matt Ryan's blind side.
Coming into this season, the biggest concern along this line was at the right tackle spot, which was set to be occupied by first-year starter Lamar Holmes.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the Falcons are the fourth-worst pass-protecting line in the NFL. The only tackle in the league who has has played worse than Holmes is...Sam Baker.
Holmes has been benched in favor of journeyman Jeremy Trueblood, but the Jets still have a significant matchup advantage at both tackle spots.
If the Jets are going to stop Matt Ryan and this potentially explosive offense, the Jets must take advantage of the Falcons' shortcomings on the offensive line.
The bad news for the Jets is that the strength of their pass rush comes from their interior rushers that typically don't line up against opposing tackles. The good news is that their defensive lineman are athletic and versatile enough to line up at just about any position along the front seven, as they showed in this alignment:
Here, Quinton Coples and Muhammad Wilkerson are able to get one-on-one matchups against opposing tackles, while Sheldon Richardson faces just one guard. This is all made possible because of Damon Harrison's ability to clog up two gaps on his own, giving the Jets freedom elsewhere.
The amount of different combinations of fronts and stunts at the Jets' disposal is unlimited, and Rex Ryan's creative mind should have no problem putting his players in favorable matchups.
As long as the defensive coaching staff avoids putting together a stale game plan, the Jets should have no problem getting to Matt Ryan on a relatively consistent basis.
Attack the Seam
On paper, the Jets tight ends may not strike a lot of fear into opponents, but they can be sneakily-effective when used properly by capitalizing on an opposition's aggressiveness.
There are two specific reasons why the Jets should focus on getting their tight ends involved to generate big plays.
First, the Falcons have been playing with a struggling free safety during the first month of the season. According to Pro Football Focus, Thomas DeCoud is the seventh-worst safety in the NFL, allowing a 141.3 quarterback rating when he is targeted. The Jets need to find a way to get a tight end or slot receiver matched up against DeCoud and see if he is up to the task.
In addition, Geno Smith has always been known as a much more effective player throwing between the numbers than driving the ball outside the numbers—a big reason as to why he fell to the second round of the draft this year.
Geno was able to show off his great accuracy in this part of the field on his only touchdown pass from Week 4. On this play, the Titans defense took an aggressive approach, as they played man coverage on all of the receivers with one deep safety and then blitzed every remaining body on the field:
The Jets are able to beat this blitz for two reasons. The first reason was that Jeff Cumberland ran a very good route, creating a good yard of separation between he and the defender.
Moments later, in the midst of pressure, Geno was able to see Cumberland get open and made a picture-perfect throw right past the defender's fingertips and into the hands of Cumberland.
This is the caliber of accuracy that Geno is capable of when throwing down the middle of the field.
Cumberland caught the ball in stride and was able to beat the safety to the sideline for the touchdown.
According to Rich Cimini of ESPN New York, Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill will both likely be out for Monday night's game. The Jets will need to find a way to move the ball through the air without having to rely on their fourth and fifth receivers.
The combination of DeCoud's struggles and Geno Smith's strengths makes attacking the middle of the field the clear-cut way to get Smith back into a rhythm as soon as possible. The faster Smith gets comfortable, the fewer mistakes he is going to make, and the further the chances of the Jets winning skyrockets.
Not many pundits will give the Jets much of a chance to win this game against a desperate Atlanta team, but there is not nearly as much separation between these two teams as one may initially think. The Jets have a handful of matchup advantages that they can to exploit to frustrate Matt Ryan and move the ball safely through the air.
As always, this plan is worthless if Geno Smith reverts to his turnover-happy ways and hands the Falcons free points. However, if the "good" Geno shows up and makes a handful of quality throws without giving it to the other team, the Jets stand a very good chance to get themselves the upset and get back above the .500 mark.
*Advanced statistics provided by ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required).
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