The Atlanta Falcons’ potent offense led by veteran superstar quarterback Matt Ryan take on the New York Jets and star rookie Zach Wilson this Sunday in the NFL.
Both QBs are fresh off their best showing of the season and ahead of American football’s return to London, we chatted with a pair of former NFLers who took part in the competition’s first-ever game in the UK’s capital, Jason Bell and Osi Umenyiora.
- Career path: Dallas Cowboys (2001), Houston Texans (2002 – 2005), New York Giants (2006 – 2007)
- Position: defensive back
- Career path: New York Giants (2003 – 2012), Atlanta Falcons (2013 – 2014)
- Position: pass rusher
- Major trophies/awards: Super Bowl champion x2 (XLII, XLVI), Pro Bowl x2 (2005, 2007)
These days, the duo share their insights on the BBC’s NFL weekly highlights shows, as well as The NFL Show and NFL This Week.
Ahead of Jets v Falcons at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Bell and Umenyiora were good enough to sit down with a group of writers for a media roundtable.
Q. Obviously we missed out last year due to the pandemic, but how important is it to be having the NFL back in London?
Jason Bell: Huge! It’s great. As always, I look at it from a player’s standpoint, and the opportunity to come here to London, it’s so different for the players. This is a unique experience and environment. That’s key because the players are used to playing in the United States. This is different. And this fan base is homegrown and unique. I really missed just being a part of it last year. I’m very glad it’s back. I can’t wait to see that crowd. It’s so much energy, and the players feed off of it. It makes a great environment for a great game.
Q. What is it about the Falcons that’s led to all of these ridiculous defeats in their history? Obviously, the one in Super Bowl LI (in 2017, against the New England Patriots) is the worst, but they’re just coming off of another one now – what is it about this franchise that makes it so they can’t seem to win important games? Osi, you played in one against them in the 2011 Wild Card round… you can just reel them off.
Osi Umenyiora: I wish I knew the answer to that question so I could tell them. But you’re absolutely correct. There has been a long history of them suffering absolutely heartbreaking defeats. It goes back before this current regime, and before Arthur Blank bought the franchise. I’m not sure exactly what it is but it’s something they 100% need to find a solution for, and quickly.
Q. What are your thoughts on the offensive weapons at the Atlanta Falcons’ disposal?
JB: When [Arthur Smith] came over there, everybody wondered if he was going to be able to get this offense together, and do what he did in Tennessee, with creative play designs, being able to run the ball, play action… What I really enjoy is that he was excited when he got Matt Ryan. Everybody was talking about them getting another quarterback, but Arthur Smith said ‘I’m happy with this guy’.
You also see what he’s doing with Cordarrelle Patterson. When you have a weapon like him, and you’re using him in ways that they have, it tells you that they’ve got creative play-calling. I think they’ll be able to put up points.
Their problem, though, is defense. Man, they have got to get off the field! You’ve got to stop letting other teams put all these points on the board. That’s what they’re going to have to show in the game here (in London) on Sunday. Can the defense come up with some big plays? Because the offense can move the ball and score.
Q. How do the Falcons reverse the negative momentum? Or do you see the Jets keep their positive momentum?
OU: It’s going to be a great game. If you look at the way the Jets’ defense played last week, they really got after the quarterback. It was a fantastic overall performance by the New York Jets. Now, coming into this game, what are they going to be able to do against an Atlanta offense that’s performing at a pretty high level? This isn’t the Tennessee Titans, who were missing their top two wideouts. This is an offense that’s basically firing on all cylinders over the last couple of weeks.
For Atlanta, is Kyle Pitts going to continue to emerge as a dominant force? Cordarrelle Patterson, who, like Jason said, had three touchdowns and was fantastic last week – what can he do? Calvin Ridley, in his short career is already developing into one of the best wide receivers in football. The matchup between this offense and the Jets’ defense, led by Robert Saleh, that’s what I’m most looking forward to watching.
Q. What have you made of the Jets’ Zach Wilson so far this season?
JB: Wow! I think last week showed us why they drafted him. I mean, his ability to make second reaction plays and then make the throws is unbelievable. So high-level and precise. What was very telling is on that big throw he made down the field, the adjustment by the receiver, when he points? That’s command and that’s trust.
With the way their defense is playing… they play really hard. We were talking on our show about things we look for in a team: they don’t miss a lot of tackles, and they don’t give up a lot of yards after the catch. It tells me they’re fundamentally sound. And that’s how they’re playing.
Offensively, though, they’ve got to grind to get points. But if Zach Wilson can make two or three of big plays a game, they can start to win, and then really look to turn the corner. But it is going to be, like Bruce Arians (Buccaneers’ coach) says, ‘no risk it, no biscuit’. He’s going to throw some up there. But the kid has all the arm talent in the world. He’s just having trouble seeing over the middle of the field, which makes sense, because he’s so young. Defensive coverages are confusing in NFL. Get him out of the pocket, and let him use that big arm down the field to threaten and open up defenses. Because this kid can make you pay if he gets out on the edge, throwing the ball vertically down the field.
OU: I think Jason said it all. I think the way that they should use him is the way that they used them in the second half of the last game. He has all the answers, he has the ability to do everything, and to make all the throws, but he just needs to grow in terms of reading the game, reading coverages, and being able to distribute the ball across the field. But he has the ability to do all of those things.
And defensively they’re aggressive, and they’re going to continue to get better because they have a fantastic coach. If they’re able to hold their opponents down a little bit, that might actually enable them to take a bit more risk, because they’ll know that the defense is going to hold up.
Watch Atlanta Falcons vs. New York Jets live this Sunday, 10th October at NFL London Games on Sky Sports NFL and NFL Games Pass, and Jacksonville Jaguars vs Miami Dolphins on Sunday 17th October live on BBC Two and BBC iPlayer with Jason Bell & Osi Umenyiora.