The New York Jets got blown out by the Miami Dolphins last Sunday to bring their losing streak to four games and drop their record on the season to 4-7. Any faint hopes of making the playoffs this season were basically extinguished in the loss. The Jets would likely have to win every game left on the schedule to make the playoffs at this point, and that just ain’t happening. Now the Jets take on the first place Atlanta Falcons at home as they play out the string and have visions of an Aaron Rodgers return dancing in their heads.
The 5-6 Falcons started the season winning three of their first five games before dropping four of the next five. A win last week against the New Orleans Saints gave the Falcons an unlikely place atop the NFC South standings despite having a losing record on the season.
Like the Jets, the Falcons rely on one running back (Bijan Robinson) and one receiver (Drake London) for most of their offense. Like the Jets, the Falcons have struggled at quarterback, starting an ineffective Desmond Ridder, replacing him with an ineffective Taylor Heinicke, and then going back to Desmond Ridder. The Falcons have a much better running game than the Jets. The Jets have a much better defense than the Falcons.
Previewing this matchup, Kevin Knight of The Falcoholic was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding the 2023 Atlanta Falcons.
Check out the Q&A below, and be sure to check out DraftKings Sportsbook for all your betting needs this season.
1. What is the biggest strength and the biggest weakness of this Falcons team on offense? What is the biggest strength and the biggest weakness of this Falcons team on defense?
In terms of strengths, the run game is the obvious one. Bijan Robinson is everything fans hoped for, and the offensive line is finally starting to show flashes of dominance that we became far too accustomed to back in 2022. It also helps that rookie left guard Matthew Bergeron is coming off his best game and a truly dominant performance against the Saints. Their weakness is a mistake-prone passing game, with a pick-happy quarterback in Desmond Ridder and a poor overall scheme designed by Arthur Smith. They utilize all their weapons not named Drake London poorly and make things exceptionally hard on Ridder from a schematic standpoint. On defense, it’s a similar story. The run defense has been dominant at times and they’ve done a great job of shutting down RBs. It’s really just running QBs that have given them fits. They’ve been good overall against the pass thanks to a very good secondary headlined by reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Week Jessie Bates III, but their pass rush took a massive hit with the loss of Grady Jarrett and has never recovered. They can get a decent amount of pressure, but they struggle to actually sack the QB.
2. Each team’s fanbase knows their team much better than other fans. Usually there are a few guys who your team’s fans know about and love, but other fans might not be too familiar with. Could you let Jets fans know a few unsung heroes on the Falcons, if possible at least one on both offense and defense?
On offense, I’d say to keep an eye on rookie left guard Matthew Bergeron. Bergeron has started every game this season and has been mostly solid, but is coming off his first truly dominant game. He’s obviously got a very difficult challenge this week with the Jets front, so Atlanta will need him to continue his growth in a big way. On defense, it’s got to be linebacker Nate Landman. After 2022 second-rounder Troy Andersen wound up on IR early in the season, the former UDFA was thrust into the starting lineup and has emerged as one of the best run defending linebackers in the NFL. Landman has athletic limitations in coverage, but has been outstanding against the run and is rarely out of position.
3. Tell us about Kyle Pitts. When he was drafted 4th overall in 2021 many spoke of him as having Hall of Fame potential, and that seemed to be the early trajectory after a 1000+ yard rookie season, almost unheard of for rookie tight ends. Then in 2022 he was banged up a bit and played in just 10 games, amassing just 356 receiving yards. Now in year 3 of his career, when he should be coming into his peak performance years, Pitts seems like almost an afterthought in the Falcons’ offense. What has gone wrong with Pitts? Were the talent evaluators wrong? Is he a poor fit in the current Falcons offense? Do you think he will rebound with the Falcons? Should he be re-signed when his contract comes up, or should he be traded?
Ask three different Falcons fans, and they’ll give you three different opinions on Kyle Pitts. I personally refuse to believe Kyle Pitts is not talented. It could be that he’s still recovering from a season-ending knee injury in 2022 and is somewhat limited athletically this season, but he looks as electric as ever when he’s targeted. The fact is that the targets simply aren’t there. Pitts is being asked to play inline and block a lot in this offense, and that’s never been his game. Arthur Smith seems convinced that Pitts must be able to block to be on the field and that stubbornness has hurt the offense in a big way. Atlanta is lacking a #2 threat in the passing game, and there’s no question that it SHOULD be Kyle Pitts. Instead, he’s blocking on many of his snaps and has few if any plays actually designed to take advantage of his talents. I think he’s being completely squandered by this coaching staff and it’s one of my biggest criticisms of the current regime.
4. If you were the head coach of a rival team, how would you go about attacking this Atlanta Falcons team on offense and on defense?
Load up and stop the run as best you can. If the Falcons struggle to run the football, they struggle to move the ball. Desmond Ridder is capable of flashes of brilliance as a passer and has a few good games under his belt, but he will also turn the ball over — either through the air or on the ground. Atlanta has turned the ball over on offense in 10 out of 12 games this season, and have turned it over 2 or more times in 6 games. They’re a sloppy, mistake prone offense—particularly when they get off schedule or behind the sticks. Atlanta has still been able to find success running the ball against stacked boxes, but they’ve been much more inconsistent this season. However, the run game has definitely improved since the coaching staff has given the reins to Bijan Robinson. In the past two weeks with Bijan receiving 15+ carries (which he only did once in the first 9 games), Atlanta has put up 184 and 228 rushing yards.
5. If you were a betting man, which team would you bet on DraftKings for winning this game, and why?
The Falcons have been much sloppier on the road than at home, but the Jets are looking equally as sloppy. Given New York’s relative weakness against the run and the offense...well, starting Tim Boyle...this game sets up well for Atlanta to just stick to a run-heavy game script and grind down the Jets and the clock. I’m not expecting any dominance from Atlanta and they’re absolutely capable of blowing it, but I see this as a 17-13 Falcons sort of game.