Go to bed early and set your alarms, because the NFL heads back overseas for the London Games this weekend.
On Sunday morning, the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons will do battle at the new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. And while the spectacle of the game will be a reason enough to tune in, fans of both teams know that it also represents a winnable game for two teams that have had their share of struggles to start the campaign.
Before things kick off in north London, here are a few key points for the NFL’s return to Europe.
Can the Falcons fly without Calvin Ridley?
The complexion of this game completely changed on Friday when news broke that Calvin Ridley, the Falcons’ top receiver who went for almost 1,400 yards a season ago, wasn’t on the plane to London due to a “personal matter”.
Ridley’s 2021 has left some to be desired so far, but he still leads the team in targets, receptions, and receiving yards. He’s also in the top ten in the league in targets and receptions, hinting that even if we haven’t yet seen that big play explosiveness that we’re used to seeing from Ridley, his workload and involvement in the offense haven’t decreased from a season ago. He’ll be a big miss.
So who can fill the shoes? Cordarrelle Patterson has been one of the stories of the season in his first year with Atlanta, giving opposing defenses all sorts of nightmares thanks to his ability to line up as a running back or receiver anywhere on the field. Kyle Pitts has gotten off to a good start to life in the NFL and he drew praise from Jets head coach Robert Saleh in his Friday press conference. Mike Davis can be effective in both the run game and the passing game. But will they be enough to fill a Calvin Ridley-sized hole?
Get the second one
“We got this two-game stretch before the bye, and we couldn’t get the second one without getting the first. And we got the first.”
That was Jets cornerback Justin Hardee in the locker room after New York knocked off Tennessee for their first win of the season.
After three weeks of disappointment, Robert Saleh, Zach Wilson, and the Jets showed their first signs of life in Week 4 and finally got into the win column. Wilson looked fantastic in the second half and overtime, the defense found a way to slow down Derrick Henry when it mattered, and they got a stroke of luck when Randy Bullock missed a 49-yard field goal that would force a tie.
Now, New York needs to stack. A win feels much better than a loss heading into a bye week, and for a young team like the Jets, a winning streak would instill some belief that what they’re doing is working. For a pair of rookies in Wilson and Saleh, finding a way to build upon an emotional Week 4 win as opposed to regressing back to their early-season woes is paramount against Atlanta.
The Jets need the defense to lead…
Quietly, the Jets defense has been shown some impressive things through the first quarter of the season. They allow the seventh-fewest yards per play in the league, they’re in the top half of the league in both points allowed and yards allowed despite playing the fifth-most snaps, and they’ve only allowed two passing touchdowns – the fewest in the league.
They’re led by veterans C.J. Mosley and Marcus Maye (though Maye is expected to miss some time due to legal issues), but the bulk of the defense is composed of young talent. Bryce Hall is one of the highest-rated cornerbacks according to Pro Football Focus, Quinnen and Quincy Williams combined for 3.0 sacks against Tennessee, and 25-year-old John Franklin-Myers signed a 4-year, $55 million extension because he’s been so impressive in the opening weeks.
The offense still needs time to grow, and that’s fine. In the meantime, the defense needs to hold down the fort against a Falcons offense that is still scary, even without one of the best wide receivers in the league.
…while Atlanta’s defense just has to show something
Where New York can look at the defensive side of the ball as a strength, Atlanta looks at the defensive side of the ball and hopes it can stay off the field for as long as possible.
It’s been a truly abysmal opening four weeks for Dean Pees’ unit. They’re allowing the most yards through the air, they’ve yet to record an interception, and they’re posting the highest opposing QBR in the league. Atlanta has also allowed 128 points through four weeks – the most in the league – and they’re allowing the seventh-most yards per play.
All of that being said, Week 5 represents an opportunity for a coming-out party against a Jets offense that is still learning how to play together despite showing flashes in their last time out.
And not everything is cause for concern on that side of the ball. Atlanta has limited opposing quarterbacks to under 300 passing yards in every game so far, they’re middle-of-the-pack in the run game, and they showed what they’re capable of in a 17-14 win over the Giants earlier in the season. But it’s still one of the league’s worst defensive groups, and a good showing against a poor offense in London may go a long way in quelling the frustrations of Falcons fans everywhere.