You’d be forgiven for not exactly having faith in this Falcons defense right now. While they certainly played soft to close out the Washington game, this unit has had some bright spots during the first four games. It’s not all doom and gloom. Will they be enough against the Jets in London? Let’s take a look.
In the trenches
Right now, the story with the Falcons defensive front is that they can take advantage of weak offensive lines and that’s about it. They capitalized on the Giants but they let a decent Washington offensive line keep Heinicke safe most of the afternoon. Grady Jarrett and Dante Fowler are playing well but guys like Steven Means, Tyeler Davison and Jonathan Bullard are not helping much in pressuring the quarterback. There’s some hope that Ade Ogundeji can grow into a starter one day, but he’s going to need some time and saw his playing time decrease in Week 4. Right now, this defensive front can get pressure occasionally but they’re not a unit to depend on.
The Jets have some decent pieces on the offensive line, but it’s not a great pass blocking unit. Zach Wilson has been sacked 17 times in 4 games and PFF shows a pressure rate of 25%. Their center - Connor McGovern - is a good player on the interior but is only average as a pass blocker. Next to him, rookie left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker and right guard Greg Van Roten are liabilities in pass blocking. Left tackle George Fant has had an erratic career but has had some very good games as a pass blocker on the left side. Morgan Moses is a veteran stalwart on the right end and is probably their best and most consistent guy up front.
This Jets offensive isn’t as bad as what the Giants trotted out, but the struggle to pass block in the interior is a prime opportunity for Grady Jarrett. He needs some help, though and that’s been inconsistent at best. That said, one or two big plays by Grady could lead to some big results. This is too close to call.
The skill positions
Losing Isaiah Oliver to injury hurts. Fabian Moreau has been a subpar starter, while AJ Terrell is really beginning to come into his own as a true CB1. Veteran safeties Duron Harmon and Erik Harris have actually been decent starters overall, with Harris being surprisingly good in coverage this year - though he needs to better take advantage of interception opportunities.
Foye Oluokun and Deion Jones are talented, but they’ve been inconsistent at times and both have missed more tackles than we ever want to see. The talent is there, though.
The question is how well will Avery Williams fill in for Oliver? That could be a key matchup to watch. This unit is actually not a bad one, though there are clearly opportunities to upgrade.
Rookie QB Zach Wilson is off to a rough start. He has a passer rating of 62.8, a completion percentage of 56.8 and has 4 touchdowns to 8 interceptions on the year. His game against the Titans was an improvement, but it’s clear he’s going through the expected rookie struggles. The weapons around him are a mixed bag. Corey Davis leads the team in receptions and yards but also has 4 drops in 4 games. Braxton Berrios and Keelan Cole are 2nd and 3rd, but Jamison Crowder may be the guy to watch, as he came back last week and had a big game for them. Running backs Michael Carter, Ty Johnson and Tevin Coleman are all averaging well under 4 yards per carry and tight ends Tyler Kroft and Ryan Griffin are not much of a factor either.
Even with the Falcons’ issues on defense, this is a matchup they could potentially take advantage of. They just need to actually do it. On paper though, this is close but the nod goes to Atlanta simply because of the turnover prone rookie QB.
I’m hesitant to ever give the Falcons defense the nod, but this may be the last time it happens. The Jets just aren’t a good football team right now and Zach Wilson has to prove he can be better before anyone should buy into him. Dean Pees has been able to generate pressure at times but the Atlanta secondary needs to capitalize for once. All of this adds up to the very slightest of nods to Atlanta with the caveat that they’re always prone to let us down in spectacular fashion.
Advantage: Falcons (barely)