Atlanta’s offense finally got it going against a struggling Washington defense last week, putting up 30 points despite a litany of drops and errors. That they did so without Russell Gage, who continues to recover from injury, was a very good sign that the team is figuring things out on that side of the ball.
They’re going to have to figure things out even faster now, though, because Gage is out and Calvin Ridley didn’t make the trip to London due to a personal matter. That’s hardly the least of their troubles, unfortunately, because it also looks like they’ll be down Marlon Davidson, Erik Harris and Avery Williams after already losing Isaiah Oliver for the year. It’s very possible, with all these injuries, that we’ll see Frank Darby, Richie Grant and Darren Hall for the first time outside of special teams this year.
As far as I’m concerned, this week’s biggest question is whether the Falcons can beat the Jets with all these issues piling up. The Jets are coming off a confident effort against the Titans and the Falcons are coming off a tough loss to Washington, and Atlanta’s down multiple starters and key reserves. They have to be creative on offense and will need their reserve receivers to step up, and they’ll need their secondary to hold together while trotting out reserves who have barely seen the field in 2021. That’s a tall ask for a team that still is looking to a put a complete game together.
I’m tempted to say they can do so, nonetheless. The Falcons will find taking Ridley out of the mix difficult to compensate for, given that Matt Ryan has been pouring targets his way, but they have found some success targeting less-utilized players in the red zone and have Kyle Pitts, Cordarelle Patterson, Hayden Hurst and Olamide Zaccheaus to work with to at least cobble together a decent passing game. With a tough Jets defensive front I’m not expecting much, but I’m hopeful Atlanta can still pull together enough to make this a slugfest.
It’s unclear whether the defense can do the same. Atlanta really struggled mightily against Washington a week ago, and while the Jets haven’t exactly put together a track record of solid offense to this point, the Falcons aren’t punishing opponents for mistakes by snagging interceptions, still don’t have much in the way of a consistent pass rush, and are going to be rolling out a third-string nickel corner and potentially backup free safety. The Jets being the Jets means Atlanta could probably put a B- effort out there and still keep this one somewhat close, but a good day from Zach Wilson and company might be too much for this defense to handle.
In summary, this team still feels capable of beating the Jets, but will need a more complete, less sloppy effort than they managed against, say, Washington. Let’s hope we see it.