New York Jets: 3 players that must shine vs. Falcons
Aug 13, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; New York Jets outside linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin (55) gets past Detroit Lions tackle Michael Williams (73) during the second quarter in a preseason NFL football game at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
The New York Jets will host the Atlanta Falcons on Friday night as they look to rebound from a sloppy preseason opener in Detroit. Gang Green was waxed from start to finish and failed miserably when it came to moving the ball. New York totaled just 6 first downs while the Lions had 26. As a result, the yardage margin was no different. Detroit racked up 428 total yards while the Jets finished with 123. To be fair, the Jets are a talented team and there will be some growing pains under first-year head coach Todd Bowles, but this performance was one to forget.
Atlanta is visiting the Meadowlands fresh off a 31-24 victory over the Titans in which they caused plenty of havoc on the defensive side of the ball. On his first two drives, quarterback Marcus Mariota was picked on a screen pass and then stripped for a touchdown in what was a shaky start for the 2nd overall pick. New head coach Dan Quinn might finally be guy to fix Atlanta’s defense which was their clear Achilles heel during the Mike Smith era.
This off-season, the Falcons bulked up their pass rush by drafting Clemson standout Vic Beasley to go along with the newly acquired ex-Texan Brooks Reed. With that being said, New York’s offensive line is a unit that will be put to the test in Friday night’s action. D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Breno Giacomini will have to step up to hold off the pass rush, but there are obviously other players with more weight on their shoulders than them.
Here are 3 guys that must shine in Friday night’s action.
Next: 3. Ryan Fitzpatrick
Aug 13, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) drops back to pass during the first quarter against the Detroit Lions in a preseason NFL football game at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Despite hope that Geno Smith might miss just the preseason with his broken jaw, this team is now Fitzpatrick’s. The Harvard product is entering his 11th season in the league as a member of now six different teams, but what makes Fitzpatrick a special fit in New York is his relationship with new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. Both spent time from 2010-12 in Buffalo, so the two will be on the same page when it comes to Gailey’s spread offense.
Many people believe Fitzpatrick is an upgrade over Smith in terms of controlling the offense and simply leading the way. According to many sources close to the team, players have lost respect for Smith on and off the field. Some even say that he deserved the punch from ex-Jet IK Enemkpali. What Fitzpatrick brings to the table that gives him an edge over Smith is veteran leadership. He knows what it takes to be a quarterback in the NFL, therefore Gang Green may be upgrading at the position after all.
Fitzpatrick should definitely play more than he did against the Lions, so there is plenty to expect from him in this week’s match up. He led the Jets’ one decent drive which ended in a Nick Folk 34-yard field goal giving New York their only points on the night. If Jeff Cumberland had hauled in a third down pass deep up the right side of the field, the Jets may have came away with seven points. Regardless of the Matt Flynn signing, Fitzpatrick is the clear Week 1 starter and all eyes will be on him Friday night.
Next: 2. Lorenzo Mauldin
Jul 30, 2015; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets linebacker Julian Howsare (59 )and Daryl Richardson (35) defend against outside linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin (55) during first day of training camp at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
2. Lorenzo Mauldin
Mauldin is coming off of an abysmal preseason opener in which he missed just about every tackle he attempted to make. Running backs Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, and Zach Zenner ripped apart the Jets for 157 yards on the ground. Early in the first quarter, Mauldin swung and missed on a wide open sack opportunity on backup quarterback Kellen Moore. Moore shook off Mauldin and scrambled 8 yards for a first down.
If the Louisville product wants to earn himself a starting spot in this talented defense, he must make plays when the chances are there. Veterans Calvin Pace and Jason Babin are breathing down his neck for the job, so there isn’t much room to breath in terms of making more mistakes. Luckily, the Falcons’ backfield is currently banged up for the most part with 2015 third-rounder Tevin Coleman and sophomore Devonta Freeman dealing with hamstring strains. According to Vaughn McClure of ESPN, both are listed as game-time decisions, therefore Mauldin can catch a break when stuffing the run if the two choose to sit out.
More good news for Mauldin is that Atlanta’s offensive line is arguably the worst part of their team. Last year’s 6th overall selection Jake Matthews had one of the worst rookie campaigns a player could have. On Pro Football Focus, he ranked as the worst tackle in all of football with an overall grade of -36.8. If Bowles chooses to line Mauldin up against Matthews, that could be what he needs to boost his confidence heading into the regular season. This may be his chance to take full control of that starting outside linebacker spot opposite Quinton Coples.
Next: 1. Marcus Gilchrist
Jul 30, 2015; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive back Marcus Gilchrist (21) during drills on the first day of training camp at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
Gilchrist is one of the Jets’ few question marks on defense heading into this season simply because he isn’t a true free safety. During his time in San Diego, the Clemson graduate played snaps at both corner and strong safety only to struggle at both positions. New general Mike Maccagnan thinks a move to free safety is what Gilchrist needs, so that’s why he inked him to a 4-year deal worth $22 million. Only $10 million is guaranteed which makes him expendable if his struggles continue.
Unfortunately, the former Charger started off 2015 on the wrong foot last Thursday in Detroit. Gilchrist took a bad angle on a pass over the middle to Golden Tate and found himself trailing the play as the Lions’ receiver trotted his way into the endzone.
In a zone defense look, a safety can’t afford to get greedy on passes over the middle because most of the time there’s never a corner retreating to back him up. On the next drive he picked up an illegal hands to the face penalty that was declined due to a huge 45-yard run by Abdullah. On PFF, Gilchrist actually ranks as one of the worst safeties in preseason action thus far with a -2.8. He’s currently tied for 195th out of the 200 safeties that have taken the field.
Gilchrist still has plenty of time to bounce back and find his groove in the new defense. Let’s not forget, he’s still recovering from a shoulder injury that lingered throughout his final season in San Diego, so things may come slow for the veteran these next few weeks. Hopefully for him those things start piecing together on Friday night.
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