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'Monday Night Football': Five things to watch

One month ago, tonight's "Monday Night Football" offering between the Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets looked like a bloodbath in the making.

Everything we knew about the Jets told us they were heading for Nowheresville this season. Pitting them on the national stage against a Falcons squad that came within a play of the Super Bowl seemed cruel -- especially to viewers.

But nobody knows anything, because Atlanta (1-3) is fighting for its life while the Jets (2-2) roll in with a super-feisty defense and the kind of challenge coach Rex Ryan adores.

Here's five things to watch Monday night:

1. Say what you will about Ryan, but the man can draw up a defense. New York had become -- to use a Warren Sappism -- "old and slow" on that side of the ball, but an influx of young talent has flipped the switch. Teams can't run on the Jets this autumn. C.J. Spiller totaled nine yards on 10 carries and Chris Johnson rushed for just 21 yards on 15 attempts. Two ascendant defensive tackles -- Damon "Snacks" Harrison and rookie Sheldon Richardson -- have turned the middle of New York's defense into a wall.

2. Stopping Atlanta's air attack will be the trick. Receiver Julio Jones has emerged as one of the game's most dynamic pass-catchers, but he's questionable with a knee injury. Roddy White (ankle) isn't 100 percent, either, but I still love this passing game. Throw in Tony Gonzalez for kicks and New York's secondary is in for its biggest test yet.

3. The Jets have issues of their own on offense. Receiver Santonio Holmes is out and Stephen Hill is coming off a concussion. Look for Hill to pair with slot man Jeremy Kerley, who will see plenty of looks from Geno Smith. The rookie quarterback has been a hot-and-cold grab bag of frustration and potential. He throws the ball with purpose, but Smith has a whopping 11 turnovers in just four games. Geno's picks have come in spurts and crushed the Jets. He'll need to play crisp ball or this could get ugly.


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4. The key battle is New York's pass rush against Atlanta's super-shaky offensive line. Out of the 70 tackles graded by Pro Football Focus, Lamar Holmes (No. 67) and Sam Baker (No. 70) are bottom of the barrel material. Watch for Gang Green's pass rush to key on Atlanta's weak front five early and often. New York's Antwan Barnes has been disruptive, Muhammad Wilkerson is a load and Quinton Coples is healthy again.

5. Who would have thought Atlanta would be three games behind the New Orleans Saints in early October? This is a must-win tilt for Falcons coach Mike Smith. And how about Rexy? Considered a dead man walking, Ryan has a chance to pull the Jets into the thick of the AFC East with a road win. Atlanta is 34-8 at home since 2008, but this Falcons team hasn't been itself recently.

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