Week 5 can often be a turning point in a season, and this exciting Monday Night Football encounter featured two teams looking to start the second month of the campaign with some positive momentum. The Falcons entered on a two-game slide, needing to spark a winning streak to right their season, while the Jets were looking to get back on track after a heavy loss in Tennessee. The latter got their wish courtesy of what looked an all too easy game-winning drive after Matt Ryan and Levine Toilolo had hooked up to give the Falcons a slender lead at the two-minute warning.
For the Falcons, the season is almost broken beyond repair before the it’s even half over. We know this team is capable of better and has in the past been a “good regular season team”, but at this stage the Falcons need to be near perfect the rest of the way, and that is something this iteration of the team doesn’t look capable of doing. Injuries are biting in certain areas but on the whole the performances just aren’t good enough, and the offense doesn’t appear to be pressing the gas pedal hard enough considering the talent they have in the passing game.
For the Jets, meanwhile, this victory sends them into a tie with the Dolphins for second place in the AFC East just a game back of the Patriots. It is only early in the season, but for all the prophecies of implosion and destruction (that may yet come true) this Jets team is showing an ability to scrap, keeping them alive to pinch close victories that in turn is keeping a steady momentum to their season. After this late game-winning drive can they build on the momentum with their first back-to-back victories of the season next week at home to Pittsburgh?
New York – Three Performances of Note
Defensive Line Leads the Way
The undisputed stars of the Jets’ season so far has been their defensive linemen, and the starters all put in strong performances in taking advantage of a favorable matchup against the Falcons’ offensive line. Last year’s standout, Muhammad Wilkerson put in his best game of the season, shining both as a pass rusher (1 Sk, 2 Hu) and in run defense where he notched three stops to tie teammate Sheldon Richardson behind only Ahtyba Rubin and J.J. Watt who each got four this week. Richardson also made his presence felt in both phases of the game, adding a sack and a hurry to a batted pass as a pass rusher. Completing the trio was Damon Harrison, who just continues to be a consistent strong presence inside in the running game. For the fourth time this season he recorded two run stops (in 12 plays), and he contributed more as a pass rusher this game registering two hurries on 16 pass rushes. With this trio controlling matters up front it’s little wonder the Falcons averaged less than 3 yards per carry.
Cool, Calm and Efficient
Geno Smith has had busier nights as a passer, but he hasn’t had more efficient ones and, barring a couple of misses, he was on point all night when he was asked. From early in the second quarter when he hit Jeremy Kerley on a deep out to convert a 3rd-and-9, Smith consistently hit the big throws at the big times for the Jets. He finished that drive with a placed throw to Jeff Cumberland up the seam over Joplu Bartu, getting the ball up soon enough that William Moore and Asante Samuel could never become an issue. Continuing the theme of quality throws for scoring plays, his well lofted pass to Kellen Winslow at the back pylon gave the Jets a two-score lead early in the fourth quarter. Then there’s the final drive — not much asked of him given how soft and conservative the Falcons played things on defense, but he took the plays that were there and picked up key yards with his legs on a scramble to take them from around midfield to closer to field goal range where the game plan switched to a ground attack. More will be asked of Smith, in fact more has already been asked of Smith in the first month, but for this outing he was as efficient and productive as he needed to give the Jets the upset win.
Missed Tackles Aplenty
The Jets’ tackling in this game will have been brought into sharp focus after one of the busiest 8-yard gains you’re ever likely to see when Jason Snelling evaded nearly half a dozen Jets’ defenders in one short play. The five misses on that one play helped take the Jets’ defensive total to 14 for the game, which is as many as they had missed in the past three games combined, and the most a Jets defense has missed in a single game since 2008. The chief culprits in the game were David Harris, with three, and a trio of defensive backs (Darrin Walls, Dawan Landry and Antonio Cromartie) with two apiece. For Harris (-5.0) this marks a second straight week with a negative grade, led by his coverage numbers of 13 of 13 for 101 yards and two touchdowns in the past two weeks.
Atlanta – Three Performances of Note
Overly Reliant on Gonzalez?
At times in this game it felt that for all the talent at receiver, and the man calling the shots at quarterback, the fortunes of the entire Falcons’ offense were solely dependent upon Tony Gonzalez (+3.7). The Jets’ defense and coaching staff seemed to agree with this and took this theory to the extreme by placing Gonzalez in a coverage double team akin to blocking a gunner on special teams on more than one occasion. The Falcons did belatedly get Julio Jones (+2.5) involved when they mounted their comeback in the fourth quarter, drawing a particularly impressive one-handed catch on a deep ball against Antonio Cromartie as the Jets’ corner tied down his right arm, which drew a (declined) pass interference penalty. In the past two weeks, Gonzalez has snagged 22 receptions on 26 targets for just shy of 250 yards, forcing two missed tackles in each of the Falcons’ prime time defeats. The offensive line has been a problem all season, and Roddy White is hurting, but the extent of the reliance on Gonzalez, and the general lack of tempo in the Falcons’ passing game until they need to mount a comeback, has to be a pressing concern.
UDFAs Stretched at Linebacker
Due to injuries and personnel decisions the Falcons were playing two undrafted free agent linebackers in their sub-packages, with Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow leading the linebackers in snaps with 49 and 29 apiece. While Worrilow was targeted just once, a 12-yard completion to Stephen Hill, Bartu was the Falcons’ most targeted defender, surrendering 40 yards and a touchdown on five targets. The Jets found him out with Jeff Cumberland’s score on a wheel route, while he also missed a tackle on Bilal Powell in coverage. Bartu has been pressed into action due to injury to Sean Weatherspoon, and after a strong start against St Louis in Atlanta’s only win thus far, he has slipped away in coverage the past two weeks — he surrendered 73 yards on three catches to the Patriots last week. With Weatherspoon on injured reserve (designated to return) the Falcons are unlikely to have anyone riding to the rescue in the near future and will have to cope with the growing pains of playing two undrafted free agents in their sub-package as teams continue to try and exploit them.
Mixed Day on the Offensive Line
In terms of drop-backs under pressure, the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive line continued to make strides for Matt Ryan this week, surrendering pressure on 17 of 47 pass plays (36.2%) which is their second best mark of the season. The big picture is improving but there were still isolated plays where individuals were beaten badly to sap yards and momentum out of the offense. At right tackle Jeremy Trueblood surrendered five pressures (1 Sk, 4 Hu) for the second straight week, most notably for the quick strip sack by Muhammad Wilkerson that led directly to a field goal for the Jets, but there were other quick pressures in there to the likes of Leger Douzable and Garrett McIntyre where Matt Ryan was able to get the ball away without taking a hit. In the ground game there were also struggles, with Peter Konz netting another negative run block grade by struggling to cope with all three of the Jets’ starting defensive linemen, with the same also true of Garrett Reynolds (-2.4 run block) after a strong first quarter. To finish on a positive note, Lamar Holmes turned in one of his better performances of the season, surrendering only three hurries in a relatively quiet outing.
– Garrett McIntyre recorded his first positive pass rush game grade of the season (+2.2) with three hurries on nine pass rushes.
– Breaking up an optimistic deep ball from Geno Smith in the third quarter, Desmond Trufant recorded a pass defense for the fifth straight game.
– The Jets got their first regular season look at Mike Goodson (11 snaps), who showed his elusiveness early in the second quarter by outrunning a tackle from Joplu Bartu to turn a direct snap run up the left sideline for 26 yards. Expect to see him worked more into the backfield rotation.
PFF Game Ball
The standout individual performance from this game came from the standout group of the game, with Muhammad Wilkerson typifying another stellar game from the Jets’ defensive line.
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