Rookie QB Geno Smith is better than his numbers, but will the Jets’ faith in him be rewarded against a struggling (and desperate) Atlanta team?
Jets Offense vs. Falcons Defense
With a quarter of his rookie season complete, Geno Smith could be described as an “overachiever.” That may sound crazy given that Smith is coming off a dreadful four-turnover loss at Tennessee, and his 68.6 passer rating is lower than every starting quarterback except the four who have already lost their jobs or are likely to soon lose their jobs: Brandon Weeden, Josh Freeman, Christian Ponder and Blaine Gabbert.
Most of Smith’s turnovers have come from him incorrectly processing his progressions or misreading the defense downfield. That’s to be expected from any rookie, and especially from one who played in a fairly unsophisticated system in college.
It’s impressive that Smith has even been in position to screw up in this fashion. Seriously. Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg would not concoct such aggressive aerial game plans if they weren’t encouraged by Smith’s physical skills and his work in practice. They’re asking Smith to stand firm in the pocket, keep his eyes downfield and pull the trigger. That takes considerable arm strength, athletic fortitude and mental toughness. Most rookies can’t do it.
It’s not as if Smith has only been a turnover machine. His 17 completions of 20-plus yards are tied for fifth most in the NFL, and his four completions of 40-plus yards are tied for first. Smith should have time to stretch the field on Monday night. The Falcons have an underwhelming four-man pass rush and will probably want to keep seven defenders back in coverage, in hopes that their complex disguises and rotations bait Smith into some bad decisions. With top wideout Santonio Holmes out, Smith won’t have the benefit of facing as many defined double-coverage looks. He’ll have to become more willing to check down.
The Jets have made a concerted effort to stay balanced with their ground game. There’s nothing flashy about Bilal Powell, but he’s proving to be a very serviceable interior ball-carrier, especially out of shotgun, where he often has just enough of a second gear to bounce outside. The Falcons’ injury-ravaged linebacking corps is rich in speed but inexperienced. There could be yards to be had on the ground. Of course, the Jets will have to find a way to block defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux. There’s no chance left guard Vladimir Ducasse can do that one-on-one. Right guard Willie Colon moves better but has been very up and down this year.
Falcons Offense vs. Jets Defense
The Patriots were able to use a double-press-jam (a.k.a. Superman coverage) against Tony Gonzalez in crunch time in Week 4 because they figured Roddy White would be unable to get open against even one-on-one coverage. They were right. White, who has arguably been one of the NFL’s five best receivers since Matt Ryan arrived in 2008, is battling a high ankle sprain and has been nowhere near his usual self.
The Jets will probably see if they can get away with putting undrafted third-year corner Darrin Walls on White. Walls is somewhat familiar with the veteran receiver, having been on the Falcons practice squad and active roster for five games in 2011. Antonio Cromartie could then face Julio Jones with steady help over the top, which the brazen corner would likely interpret as a green light to chase interceptions.
Steven Jackson, who has been out since pulling a hamstring in the first quarter of the Week 2 win against the Rams, was expected to return. Even though he was recently ruled out, Atlanta should recommit to its ground and underneath passing games. The aim would be to avoid third-and-long, which is when the Jets use their preferred nickel and dime blitz packages.
The Falcons may not see much daylight on the ground, though. With monstrously athletic ends Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, plus two outstanding nose tackles in Kenrick Ellison and undrafted breakout star Damon Harrison, running against the Jets is about as easy as running against Reagan circa 1984.