The Falcons come into Monday Night Football needing a win. Needing one.
The question is whether they can get one. The Jets have a good defense and a strong ground attack, but let's not overthink this: It's possibly the most winnable game left on the schedule if the Falcons come and play a quality four quarters in the Georgia Dome. That hasn't been a lock, obviously.
I've got four matchups here that will be key for the Falcons to focus on in the game ahead. Normally I select individual matchups, but I think we can draw some broader pictures this time that will be a little more useful to us for Monday Night Football.
Falcon Pass Rush vs. Jets Offensive Line
We've talked about this a bit already, but that doesn't make it any less important. If the Falcons want to make Geno Smith's day feel like an eternity and keep the Jets off balance offensively, it would help if they could get after the passer.
Again, let's not overthink this: If the Falcons send a quality pass rush after Smith and push the pocket, especially from the interior, they should have at least some success. A rushed Smith unquestionably makes mistakes, while Geno Smith with time can throw a very pretty deep ball. Let's hope the Falcons don't give him the chance by sending more than three men after the QB.
Jet Pass Rush vs. Falcons Offensive Line
Flip this matchup over and you've got a potential problem for the Falcons. The offensive line has improved in fits and starts for Atlanta, but they're still prone to allowing pressure. Pressure has been getting in Matt Ryan's head a bit lately, so it's imperative to give him a clean pocket.
The Falcons may struggle a bit with this, but the bottom line is that the five guys in front of Ran are going to have to play very well. That's particularly true for Peter Konz, who is going to have to at least slow down the terrifying Muhammad Wilkerson, who is more than capable of collapsing the pocket on his own.
It's a big test for the Falcons, no question. They'll need to start proving they can stop these caliber of defenses if they're going to do well this season.
With their top two receivers out, the Jets will need to lean heavily on their tight end.
Obviously, Bartu has done quality work against better tight ends, including a masterful job helping to contain Jared Cook against the Rams. Winslow is still solid, though, and given the number of targets he's likely to get, Bartu will need to have a nice game.
The Falcons also can't afford to stick their other linebackers on Winslow all that often, which means you may need to get the safeties involved to avoid winding up with Omar Gaither on Winslow. That's the stuff of nightmares, right there.
Jacquizz Rodgers vs. Jets D
Obviously, still to all of those guys. You don't stop using your weapons just because they have a few dents and a little paint missing. But you also get Jacquizz Rodgers more involved, because he's a weapon in the passing game and he's going to need to run the ball to keep the defense honest.
The bad news, of course, is that this is a good defense against the pass and the run. Rodgers isn't likely to find the kind of running room he's had in recent weeks, unfortunately. Hopefully Ryan can get him involved with some short passes to give Jacquizz a chance to break a few ankles.
Your matchups for the game ahead?