The Jets return home this week for a matchup with the upstart Arizona Cardinals. This team is heading into a needed bye week. After a rough start to the season, heading into the week off with a win would provide a psychological boost for the last three quarters of the season. These, however, are not your father's Arizona Cardinals.
The Jets are coming off a pair of losses to the two AFC finalists from a year ago. Their offense, full of new faces, has not yet looked in sync. Gang Green is coming off a very sloppy loss where the club made a ton of sloppy errors, such as missed tackles, not securing the football, and miscommunication on receiving routes. The media and many fans have come to the only logical conclusion after three games. There is no way these correctable errors can be overcome in the final thirteen games so this is a hopeless situation. The Jets must somehow overcome these seemingly insurmountable odds and beat a solid Cardinals squad to get to .500 before their bye.
The Cardinals in their second year under Ken Whisenhunt appear to be making major strides. Even if they do not meet the lofty expectations their early play has set out for them, this is not going to be a doormat for the rest of the league, which is a major step forward for a perennially awful squad.
Kurt Warner appears to have recaptured his St. Louis form. He and Brett Favre will meet in a battle of quarterbacks who could be in retirement homes. Through three games, Warner has a quarterback rating of 111.7 and has thrown 7 touchdowns against a single interception. The Cards have arguably the best receiving tandem in the league in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. They have combined for over 30 catches and 500 yards already this year. They are Warner's favorite targets by far. The next leading receiver on the team is backup running back Tim Hightower with only 7 grabs for 79 yards. There is not much receiving depth. The wideouts behind Fitzgerald and Boldin are Steve Breaston, a threat only in the return game and Jerheme Urban and Early Doucet, who have zero combined receptions in 2008. Boldin and Fitzgerald are the reasons this offense is dangerous.
Arizona's running game should inspire fear in nobody. Edgerrin James has an unspectacular 4.0 yards per carry on 62 rushes. His long is only 16 yards. James is not a threat to break a defense. The Cardinals only run to keep defenses honest.
The Cards have struggled against the run on defense, giving up over 105 yards per contest in the early going. The good news for them is that nose tackle Gabe Watson is getting healthy after suffering a fractured kneecap. He could see time in Arizona's 3-4 alignment. Things have looked better for the Cards in pass defense, where they are holding opponents to around 180 yards per game. Arizona suffered a big hit, however, this week when Bertrand Berry went down with a groin injury. He is likely to miss the game. Berry is a versatile defender who has lined up at end and outside linebacker and has registered a sack in all three games. Travis LaBoy, a free agent signing from Tennesee, had been splitting time with Berry and has 2 sacks of his own. He has converted from 4-3 defensive end and does have a decent arsenal of moves, but given the force Berry has been in applying pressure to the quarterback, his absence will hurt.
Adrian Wilson is a major playmaker with 13 tackles and 1 interception from the safety spot, but is oft-injured and is battling a hamstring injury. Arizona's corners, Eric Green and Roderick Hood, have been solid in coverage this year, playing a role in their team's success defending the throw.
Arizona's special teams are anything but special, much like that of the Jets. Punter Dirk Johnson has a pedestrian 42.4 yard average. Neil Rackers has fallen back to Earth after a spectacular 2005. He is under 80% on his kicks since then. Steve Breaston does not rank in the top 20 in return average for either kickoffs or punts.
Keys to victory:
1. Go after Warner: Warner will pick this defense apart much like Phillip Rivers did if the Jets do not attack. Arizona has surrendered 8 sacks in 3 games. If the Jets just sit back in zone coverage, Fitzgerald and Boldin will have all day to find seams and get open. This is no time for Bob Sutton to go into Sutton mode. This team needs to send Calvin Pace and Bryan Thomas aggressively to make Warner get rid of it quicker than he wants. Kurt gets rattled when he gets hit a few times.
2. Revis on Fitzgerald: Since the Cardinals have two elite receivers, one might wonder which one the Jets should stick their lockdown corner, Darrelle Revis on. The answer is Larry Fitzgerald. He is the bigger homerun threat, and Boldin is nursing a hamstring injury. Dwight Lowery might have his hands full with Boldin, but the Jets can give him help. There is not much receiving depth behind the two. Even though New York's secondary is thin, Arizona will not be able to exploit the lack of depth.
3. Quick and crisp routes: New York's offense finally started to click in the second half against San Diego. Gang Green scrapped the complicated downfield routes that left Brett Favre and his receivers crossed up and went to a series of short, safe timing routes, which got the team into a rhythm. The Redskins dinked and dunked the Cardinals to death last week in their West Coast offense. Until the club can try and get things straightened out during the bye week, the Jets should simplify their passing game. It works to their strengths and the Cardinals' weaknesses. It would negate LaBoy and the pass rush.
4. Come ready to play: The Jets looked lackadaisical early last week against a desperate opponent, making several sloppy errors in the first half. There needs to be a bigger sense of urgency. The Cardinals spent the week in Washington to avoid making three cross country flights in eight days. These guys have been away from home for over a week and are probably itching to get back. If the Jets jump on Arizona early, the Cards could pack it in.
5. Use Jones liberally: With the passing game struggling and Arizona struggling against the run, this is a game where Thomas Jones should see a lot of action.
Key Matchup: Calvin Pace vs. Levi Brown
Pace will be motivated to go against the team that let him walk in free agency. It will be his job to knock Kurt Warner off his game. If Warner has time to throw, he and his receivers will pick the Jets apart. He has to beat Brown and make the two time MVP uncomfortable in the pocket.
Best case scenario:
The Cardinals just want to get back to Arizona and mail in an uninspired performance, leading to a Jets blowout.
Worst case scenario:
Bob Sutton constantly rushes three against Warner like he did against San Diego. The former Ram has all day to sit in the pocket and carve up New York's defense. Favre's struggles continue as New York's offense continues to sputter.
What will happen:
The Jets will give a big effort. This team has to be upset with the way it acquitted itself on national television earlier this week. The Jets do not want to have to sit on a 1-3 record and a three game losing streak for two weeks. Pace will have a monster game against his former team, and Jones will have a field day on Arizona's inconsistent run defense. Last week the Chargers were in a must-win situation with their backs against the wall. This week the Jets are in that spot. The Cardinals are much like the Jets, a solid but inconsistent team that still has not proven itself. The home crowd and desperation of their situation should carry New York to a win. The Cards do not need this one as much.