Dave Choate: Geno Smith is, one hopes, the future of this franchise. What kind of progress is he making, and what should the Falcons be aware of when trying to defend against him?
John Butchko: The one thing he can do really well right now is stretch the field. He currently leads the NFL in completions that travel over 20 yards and yardage accumulated from these passes. It isn't just a matter of volume. He's second in completion percentage on these deep passes. You might dismiss this with key Jets receivers out, but these completions have been more about Geno throwing ropes than his receivers toasting the defenders.
This has been obscured. Why? Geno has been a turnover machine. These haven't been the kind of turnovers where there has been blame to go around. These aren't about somebody running a sloppy route or a ball getting tipped. They have been really ugly rookie mistakes.
So when you see Geno drop back to pass, the odds are pretty good it's going to be a big play. What isn't clear is which team will benefit.
DC: Who is coming out of this running back committee alive? It seems like you have multiple capable options once everyone's healthy, and it looks like the Falcons will have a bit of good fortune against the pass with the Kerley/Gates combination.
JB: Bilal Powell has taken over as the lead back. He was a disappointment in his first two years, but he is starting to look like a capable starter, a true three down back. He's making people miss, running through arm tackles, contributing as a receiver, and doing superb work in pas protection. He's currently tied for the AFC lead in rushing yards.
Expect him to get the bulk of the work, particularly with Chris Ivory coming off an injury and Mike Goodson returning from suspension.
You are correct to say the Jets' receiving corps, which wasn't a strength anyway, enters this game particularly weak due to injuries. Normally when coupled with a rookie quarterback, this would call for a run heavy game plan. I'm not sure we'll see this. Marty Mornhinweg likes to throw the ball around regardless of circumstances so Powell and company might be underutilized.
DC: What makes the defense strong? Good defenses have been able to bottle up and frustrate the Falcons, particularly in the red zone, but I'm wondering how the Jets will attack.
JB: Early in the Rex Ryan Era, the Jets were built around a stout secondary centered on Darrelle Revis. Things have shifted. The Jets now rely on their defensive line, which makes sense since they have used three first round picks there since 2011. They also have second year nose tackle Damon Harrison who has been a rock. Normally you would expect a Rex Ryan defense to be very aggressive blitzing from all angles, but that has been less so this year. The Jets rely more on their defensive line talent to be able to make plays.
DC: Is the offensive line or any of its pieces particularly exploitable for a middling Falcons pass rush? How would you go after this line?
JB: The offensive line has not really been a strength so far. Stalwarts D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold are off to slow starts. Austin Howard at right tackle is off to a decent start, but he is limited athletically. The real weak link might be rookie left guard Brian Winters. This will be his first career start. He replaces Vladimir Ducasse, who was such a blown block machine that the Jets didn't really have much of a choice but to bench him. Winters looked very shaky in the preseason against mainly backups no less so he is a guy the Falcons could look to target.
In addition to this, Geno Smith has shown a tendency to freeze in the face of a pass rush so that is another concern so far.
DC: Prediction for the game, and for your season?
This is a really tough spot for the Jets. The Falcons are desperate for a win. Atlanta is a very difficult road venue, and they are frankly a better team even if the Jets weren't undermanned. It hurts me to say, but I have a tough time seeing how the Jets come out of this one with a win.
At the start of the year, I had the Jets down for 5 wins. They've been a bit better than I thought so I could see them getting to 6 or 7.
I also see the Falcons turning things around. One caveat, though. I'm not entirely objective. I'm a Boston College alum. My years there were 2004 through 2008. You guys have a quarterback I'm a big fan of who has a similar story.