Atlanta Falcons: Antonio Cromartie

Julio Jones has drawn double coverage more often than not this season. Now the Atlanta Falcons receiver will face a player bold enough to play him straight up.

New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie might not have sidekick Darrelle Revis to work alongside anymore, but Cromartie is capable of being a top shutdown corner himself.

Jones realizes it.

"He’s a very athletic, long, rangy corner," Jones said of Cromartie. "And he’s got great speed."
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Jones could be shadowed by the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Cromartie during Monday night’s Falcons-Jets matchup on ESPN. At least that’s what Jones saw Cromartie do during a preseason matchup with Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson.

"He matched Johnson the whole time, so it’s a possibility," Jones said. "But when you’ve got two great receivers on one team, it’s not telling who they’re going to match: me or Roddy (White)."

But White continues to recover from a high-ankle sprain, which has limited his effectiveness. Jones has dealt with a lingering knee issue that has caused him to miss some practice time. Regardless, Jones entered Week 5 with a NFL-leading 481 receiving yards on 33 receptions.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cromartie, who has 10 interceptions since joining the Jets in 2010, hasn’t missed a single game while with New York, and has been off the field for a total of 37 opponent dropbacks during the past three seasons. During that time, the Jets have the lowest opponent QBR (42.1) on throws outside the painted numbers, and are one of 2 teams who have allowed a completion percentage less than 50 percent on those throws (Jets, 48.0 percent, and Houston, 49.3 percent).

Cromartie has a team-high 14 combined interceptions and pass breakups on those throws during the past three seasons, tied for 18th most in the league. He talked about the key to slowing down a big receiver such as Jones, who does much of his work outside the numbers.

"It’s trying to be as physical as possible," Cromartie said. "I think the bigger receivers, you want to take them out (the game) so you want to be as physical as possible. You try to take them out [of] the game early. You have to understand that there will be catches that will be made here and there. If you’re not letting up big plays, you’re doing your job."

Jones had an 81-yard catch-and-run touchdown against the St. Louis Rams in Week 2. He also made a leaping, 49-yard yard catch in double coverage during a loss to the New England Patriots. Yet the vertical game between quarterback Matt Ryan and Jones has been missing for most of the season.

Ryan has gotten the ball out quickly to compensate for protection issues. He might have to continue the trend against a potent Jets front seven.

Whatever the case, Ryan can rely on Jones to have some sort of impact, even if matched against Cromartie. Jones has three consecutive 100-yard receiving outings despite drawing added attention. And if the Jets do commit two guys to him, it will give the other Falcons receivers a chance to win their one-on-one matchups.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Unsolicited during Thursday’s conference call with the Atlanta media, New York Jets coach Rex Ryan gushed over Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.

"He’s on fire, there’s no question," the coach said of Ryan. "He’s so accurate with the football; [a] student of the game. You see his preparation obviously is tremendous. I don’t know if he’s quite there yet with [Tom] Brady and Peyton Manning, but he’s certainly close."

Matt Ryan would settle for being a lot better in the red zone.

As they continue preparation for the Jets on Monday night, questions abound about why the 1-3 Falcons can’t punch it into the end zone. They are ranked 29th in the league in red-zone efficiency, scoring just seven touchdowns in 18 trips (38.9 percent).

Irate fans are pointing the finger at Ryan, who admitted throwing a few bad red-zone passes in last Sunday’s loss to New England. Ryan understands the concerns from the outside world. At the same time, he’s been around long enough to realize how to react to negativity.

"You have to be able to eliminate kind of the noise from the outside, when things are good or bad," Ryan said. "We’ve kind of have both of those in this locker room. We’ve had it where people are on the bandwagon, then people are off the bandwagon. And it’s about trying to eliminate that and staying focused on us, and how we prepare and how we get ourselves ready to play.

"And I think regardless of good or bad, you have to have that camaraderie. And I think we do. I think we have a really good locker room. I think guys are continuing to battle, do all the things that we need to do in order to give ourselves a chance to win."

Attacking the Jets won’t be easy. Coach Ryan already has a blueprint on how to defend the Falcons based on the success his brother, New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, had during a Week 1 win over the Falcons. The Jets have a big, physical corner in Antonio Cromartie (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) capable of matching up with Julio Jones and Roddy White. Not to mention the Jets -- with seven new starters on defense -- are tied for third in the league in sacks (14) and are second in tackles for a loss (18), which is why they boast the second-best total defense and fifth-best rushing defense.

"Their front seven is extremely physical,’’ the quarterback Ryan said. "They’re in a 3-4 scheme but they play some four-down and three-down fronts. And they’re really good against the run. They’re stout. But they’re really good pass-rushers, too, which, from a 3-4 team, sometimes their two-gapping guys and their pass-rush isn’t quite as fast as some others. But the Jets' pass rush is really good."

The Jets have done their homework. Coach Ryan timed quarterback Ryan delivering the ball out of his hands in an average of two seconds. A veteran corner such as Cromartie might be inclined to jump a route knowing how quickly the quarterback is likely to deliver the ball.

Quarterback Ryan was asked about Coach Ryan’s timing claim.

"I didn’t put a stop-clock on it," Ryan said with a laugh. "That’s the way it’s been up until this point. We’ve done some things getting the ball out fairly quickly. We’ve been pretty effective.

"We haven’t score as much as we would like to, but we’ve gone against some good front sevens, too. And when you do that, you need to get the ball out."