Geno Smith and the New York Jets will take on the stumbling Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football, and the Jets will be looking to upset the Falcons after watching their bitter rivals, the New England Patriots, take down Atlanta. The Falcons are just 1-3, and they have certainly had a disappointing start to the season. Injuries to Sean Weatherspoon, Steven Jackson, Kroy Biermann, and Sam Baker have taken their tolls, and the Falcons defense is both hobbled and ineffective. The Jets will look to take advantage of that, while the Falcons fans at the Georgia Dome will do everything they can in the hopes of distracting rookie QB Geno Smith. Below are four players on the New York Jets to watch for closely on Monday night.
1. QB Geno Smith
Let’s cut right to the chase and start with Geno. The New York Jets have decided that they aren’t going to try to limit Geno Smith, and they are allowing him to come out firing passes deep down the field. I don’t think any quarterback has taken more shots down field than Geno has this year, and he has a favorable matchup against a Falcons secondary that is burn prone. Thomas DeCoud has not looked good this year, and the Falcons are allowing 7.4 yards per pass attempt as one of the bottom five pass defenses in the league so far this year. The pass rush probably won’t get to Smith either, and he has a real chance of putting a stamp on his rookie year.
What’s going against him, though, could be just as powerful as what’s going for him. No. 1 receiver Santonio Holmes is out, and both Kellen Winslow Jr. (to be fair, he’s usually hurt) and Stephen Hill are nicked up. That said, reliable receiver Jeremy Kerley is healthy, and the Jets did sign another move-the-chains guy in David Nelson, who excelled in the slot for the Buffalo Bills in 2011 (missed 2012 with a torn ACL). The injury to Holmes hurts, but the Jets actually have enough depth at receiver to survive against a porous Falcons secondary. However, the Falcons secondary is capable of making big plays, so Geno Smith had better hope that he doesn’t add to his sky-high total of eight interceptions. This is a favorable matchup for him, but he could easily ruin it with a few awful throws.
2. RT Austin Howard
When the New York Jets took a flier on former Philadelphia Eagles backup tackle and former UDFA project Austin Howard, I doubt the Jets could have envisioned this. They were able to keep him over the offseason by guarding his RFA status, and he looked very encouraging in a solid first-year campaign with the Jets. Howard proved to be a huge upgrade over Wayne “just throw the remote at the TV, Jets fans” Hunter in his first season, and Howard is proving that 2012 was no fluke. He hasn’t been great this season, but he’s been solid, and that’s a lot more than I can say for the rest of the Jets offensive line. This should be another big day for the uber-athletic, disciplined right tackle, as he goes up against a rotation of underwhelming left ends on the Falcons (they still haven’t found a way to replace Biermann, who is done for the year).
3. CB Antonio Cromartie
With Roddy White even more hobbled following a setback on his ankle injury, I would be very surprised if the New York Jets didn’t shadow Julio Jones with Antonio Cromartie. Jones is a big play just waiting to happen, and he still “got his” last week against the Patriots despite being shut down for most of the game by Aqib Talib (switched on Jones and White). The Falcons ridiculously athletic and explosive No. 1 wideout could explode to another big game if the Jets defense isn’t prepared. Jones has been arguably the best receiver in the league this season with an insane 33 receptions for 481 yards, and he’s averaging 120 yards per game. Cromartie was amazing last season in replacing Darrelle Revis, but he has had a really bad start to the 2013 season. Is this the week Cro turns it around? That’s what the Jets will have to bank on when facing an offense as good as the Falcons.
4. RB Bilal Powell
Bilal Powell is coming off of a solid game against the Tennessee Titans and a big game against the Buffalo Bills before that. Both Chris Ivory and Mike Goodson will be playing Monday night (Goodson back from a suspension, Ivory finally healthy), but Powell is still fully expected to receive the brunt of the Jets carries. Ivory is healthy enough to play, but he isn’t healthy enough to receive the lion’s share. The Jets aren’t expected to use Goodson much in his first game back, and he reportedly has some hamstring tightness.
So where does that leave Powell? Well, he should get around 15 carries, and he is averaging roughly three receptions per game. Powell is going up against an average run defense, though, so we’ll see if he’s able to turn those carries into much of anything. I expect him to have an average day, but he needs to be able to set the tone on the ground. It’s important to make the Falcons respect the running game, otherwise they can focus on making life extremely difficult for Geno Smith and the New York Jets passing attack. Thus, Powell holds a key role, because he has to prove that the Falcons defense needs to be able to stop him. A good game from Powell will help alleviate pressure from Smith and the passing attack.