FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Another road game for the Falcons (3-3) – this time to the Big Apple – will mark the end of a tough stretch against the AFC East. Their upcoming matchup against the Jets (3-4) is certainly an important one, as the Falcons look to put an end to their current three-game skid.
The big storyline this week has been Atlanta's offense, which mustered just seven points against New England. While it might be easy for some to condemn offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian as the reason for the struggles, the fact of the matter is that the Falcons' offense hasn't gotten the ball enough and hasn't capitalized on their opportunities when they've had them.
Quarterback Matt Ryan said it best after Wednesday's practice: "This game, this league is all about situations, and we haven't done a good enough job up until this point of the season making plays in critical situations like the red zone and like third down."
Let's dive into this week's key matchup.
KEY MATCHUP: Falcons' run game vs. Jets' run defense
With thunderstorms virtually guaranteed for Sunday afternoon, there might be plenty of handoffs occurring in MetLife Stadium. That's certainly not a bad thing, as both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are ranked in the top 10 in yards per carry among NFL running backs. The duo has combined to carry the ball 135 times for 654 yards and six touchdowns this season.
The Falcons' passing game is very much dependent upon success on the ground, but they may stick to running the ball often against the Jets. Coach Dan Quinn said this week that he would like to see the number of rushes the Falcons average each game in the "high twenties" or thirties, which has not been the case in recent weeks. Atlanta ran the ball just 19 times against Miami and 23 times against New England, three of which were Matt Ryan scrambles.
Although the Jets are 28th in the NFL in rushing yards per game allowed, giving up 126.6 yards to opponents, they've been better of late. According to the team's website, New York has allowed 3.42 yards per carry to opposing running backs since Week 3, which is the sixth-best mark in that time. In their last game, the Jets held Dolphins star running back Jay Ajayi to 51 yards on 23 carries.
It would behoove Atlanta to get the run game going, and thus far few teams have been able to slow down Freeman and Coleman. With the way the Jets have defended the run recently, however, they won't roll over on Sunday afternoon.
Five more things to know about Falcons-Jets 1. The AFC East hasn't been kind to either team
The Falcons and the Jets are a combined 1-6 against the AFC East this season. Of course, the Jets are actually in that division, and they have the lone win among these teams, beating the Miami Dolphins 20-6 in Week 3. While Atlanta has dropped three straight games against AFC East teams, New York is also coming off back-to-back losses in its division.
Those losses are especially painful to the Jets, who had a potential game-tying touchdown erased in their 24-17 loss against the Patriots and surrendered a 28-14 lead against the Dolphins in the fourth quarter, eventually losing 28-31. 2. The Falcons are still taking shots, they just aren't connecting
Through the first six games in 2016, Ryan was 14-of-23 on passes that traveled over 20 yards in the air – a completion percentage of 61 percent. That success is a large reason why Atlanta earned its initial reputation of being so dangerous, and it helped open up other aspects of the offense.
This year, Ryan is just 4-of-21 on such passes through the first six games – a stunning 19 percent rate of success. The Falcons have taken nearly the same number of chances downfield, they just haven't been connecting.
Just as many people used the "regression to the mean" argument to support the claim that Atlanta's offense would take a step back this season, so it can be applied here too. Ryan finished 2016 completing 50 percent of passes that traveled over 20 yards through the air, which is more along the line of what we should expect from him. He cooled off after his fast start on deep passes last year, and it's entirely reasonable to expect Ryan to hit more of those throws this year. 3. Jets are seeing yellow
New York has been one of the most-penalized teams this season. The Jets have been called for a penalty 57 times, which is just one behind the Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers for the most in the NFL. Their 546 penalty yards are the most in the league by 10 yards.
The Falcons, meanwhile, have been one of the cleanest teams through six games. Atlanta has been called for a penalty just 38 times, which is tied for the third-fewest in the NFL. 4. Atlanta's offensive tendencies haven't changed
For all of the talk that the Falcons' offense has somehow changed, it's worth repeating that execution has been the problem. While the practice of questioning play-calling will never cease, NFL coaches put in more hours watching game film in one week than most people will in their lives. There is a reason for every call they make. NFL Research tweeted out a snapshot of the Falcons' offense compared to last year's, and, well …
5. Rookie safeties playing well for New York
The first two draft picks for the Jets in April were both safeties from the SEC. With their first pick, the Jets selected LSU star Jamal Adams; with their second, the Jets selected Florida safety Marcus Maye. So far, the picks have panned out splendidly. Maye and Adams are third and fourth on the team in combined tackles with 36 and 34, respectively. Adams, who plays strong safety, is a good defender in the box and has already registered two sacks. Maye is a competent center fielder at free safety and leads the team with two interceptions.