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Previewing the Jets’ opposition: Atlanta Falcons

Washington Football Team v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Sunday’s game is a big one for this pair of 1-3 teams, as there’s a major difference between heading to the bye week at 2-3 rather than 1-4. Both teams should be well-prepared for this game as the Jets just beat Tennessee whose head coach was Atlanta’s offensive coordinator last year, while Atlanta could have good familiarity with Jets defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, who was on their staff for the previous six seasons.


Veteran Matt Ryan, the NFL’s MVP five years ago, is often overlooked among the league’s top passers lately because the Falcons have struggled, but he still has the ability to pick apart a defense when opportunities arise.

Last year, he was fourth in the NFL with over 4,500 passing yards and he’s played well over the past two games with six touchdowns and no interceptions.

Former first round pick Josh Rosen, who has only started three games since his rookie year, is listed as the number two but undrafted rookie Feleipe Franks has also been active and the team may seek to exploit his running ability in some packages.

Offensive Line

The Falcons’ most expensive and experienced offensive lineman is Jake Matthews, a former pro bowler who has been durable throughout his career. The left tackle is a quality pass blocker but his run blocking hasn’t been great so far this season.

2019 first rounders Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary are returning starters on the right side. Lindstrom is developing into a solid player, but McGary still has some issues in pass protection.

The Falcons lost Alex Mack in the offseason, so Matt Hennessy - the brother of Jets’ long snapper Thomas Hennessy - has taken over as the starting center. He actually led a well-disciplined group with four penalties last year despite only starting two games.

At left guard, former Jets reserve Josh Andrews won the starting role out of camp, but broke his thumb in preseason so third round rookie Jalen Mayfield has been starting. So far, he’s been a weak link with five penalties and four sacks surrendered.

Fourth round rookie Drew Dalman is the primary interior reserve while Jason Spriggs is the swing tackle and Colby Gossett also provides depth.

Running Backs

With Todd Gurley leaving during the offseason, the Falcons’ lead back is Mike Davis who gained just 14 yards on 13 carries last week. The journeyman has just one hundred-yard game in his career but has been breaking a lot of tackles and generating most of his yards after contact, indicating that the line is more the problem.

Cordarrelle Patterson has made a huge impact though, with five touchdowns so far, including three touchdown catches against Washington on Sunday. Patterson had a big game against the Jets in Oakland in 2017.

Wayne Gallman is listed as the number three and made his Falcons debut on Sunday. Kevin Smith is the fullback.

Pass catchers

The Falcons lost Julio Jones in the offseason but already have a viable number one receiver in Calvin Ridley who had a thousand-yard season with 90 catches and nine touchdowns in 2020 and is off to a productive start this year. However, he has reportedly not made the trip to London because of a personal matter.

Russell Gage quietly developed into a solid starter last year as he caught 72 passes, but he’s also been ruled out due to an ankle injury.

So, for the second straight week, the Jets face a team who will be without their two best receivers. However, the Falcons have talented tight ends and backs who can contribute in the passing game.

Patterson can contribute as a receiver as well, while they added Tajae Sharpe during the offseason. Christian Blake and utility man Olamide Zaccheus are returning reserves and the team also drafted Frank Darby in the sixth round but haven’t used him yet.

At tight end, the Falcons already had Hayden Hurst, who caught 56 passes including six touchdowns last season, but still opted to add Kyle Pitts with the fourth overall pick. Pitts has 15 catches so far this season.

Blocking specialist Lee Smith and converted defensive player Parker Hesse provide depth.

Defensive Line

The Falcons are another 3-4 team and their defensive line is spearheaded by pro bowler Grady Jarrett, who led the team with 21 quarterback hits last season. Jarrett only had four sacks after having had 7.5 sacks in 2019.

Veteran Tyeler Davison starts at nose tackle and Jonathan Bullard is the other starting lineman.

Marlon Davidson is one of the main backups but he’s been ruled out due to injury.

Their bench also includes former Jet Mike Pennel, fifth round rookie Ta’Quon Graham and John Cominsky, who hasn’t played yet.


The pass rush off the edge was a problem for the Falcons last year, as inside linebacker Deion Jones led the team with 4.5 sacks. Dante Fowler was the leading edge rusher with just three sacks in 14 games. However, he’s off to a better start this year with two sacks already.

Steven Means is the other starting edge with ex-Jet Brandon Copeland and promising rookie Adetokunbo Ogundeji in reserve. Jacob Tuloti-Mariner is more of a special teamer.

Foyesade Oluokun is the other starting inside linebacker alongside Jones. He filled up the stat sheet last year with 117 tackles, four passes defensed, four forced fumbles, three sacks and two interceptions. Jones is their leader though. He was a pro bowler in 2017.

Mykal Walker, who started six games and made 45 tackles in 2020, is the main backup at inside linebacker. Undrafted rookie Dorian Etheridge rounds out the rotation.

Defensive Backs

The Falcons placed cornerback Isaiah Oliver, who had been starting in the slot and playing well, onto injured reserve earlier this week with an injury that is reportedly season-ending.

Without Oliver, AJ Terrell is the Falcons’ best cornerback and he led the team with seven passes defensed and added three forced fumbles last year.

The other starter is Fabien Moreau, who has struggled so far this year as he’s had four penalties and been beaten for three touchdowns.

TJ Green, who has good length and athleticism, is another option on the outside, while fifth round rookie Avery Williams can fill in as the slot cornerback, although he did injure his hamstring during the week and has been listed as doubtful. Another rookie, fourth rounder Darren Hall, hasn’t played yet but may now get his chance.

At safety, the Falcons lost Keanu Neal in the offseason so former Patriots reserve Duron Harmon and Erik Harris are now the starters. Harris is doubtful for Sunday’s game, though.

Jaylinn Hawkins is the third safety but second rounder Richie Grant has barely played so far. He may need to step up this week if Harris can’t go.

Special Teams

Younghoe Koo was on the street in 2019 and worked out for the Jets before they opted to sign Sam Ficken instead. However, the Falcons gave him an opportunity later on in 2019 and he became a pro bowler last year. Koo has made all 12 of his kicks so far in 2021.

At punter, the Falcons had to activate veteran Dustin Colquitt to replace starter Cameron Nizialek this week. Nizialek got injured last week, forcing Koo to take over as the team’s punter.

In the return game, Patterson has had a decorated career with eight career kickoff return touchdowns. Williams took over as the punt returner after scoring on nine touchdown returns in four years at Boise State.

Williams, who is also a gunner and a threat to block kicks, has the potential to be a top special teamer at the NFL level, so it’s a blow for Atlanta if he can’t play. Atlanta may elevate receiver Austin Trammell from the practice squad to return punts.

He joins a coverage unit that was led by Tuloti-Mariner with 12 special teams tackles in 2020. However, they gave up a long kickoff return for a touchdown last week.