Can the Jets Beat the Cowboys?

Coming off of an improbable win in the Meadowlands last week, the Jets continue into the crucible of a brutal six week stretch of football with a road game against the Cowboys, Sunday at four o' clock. On the one hand, this game features a Dallas team that was absolutely dominating in shutting out the Giants 40-0 in their season opener. Big Blue actually started that matchup fairly strong, ripping off sizable chunks of yardage, particularly in the straight ahead run game, before their first drive stalled and they lined up to settle for a field goal. Which Dallas promptly blocked and returned for a touchdown. On the ensuing possession, the Giants punted, then gave up more points on a field goal. Dallas then pinned them deep, and after being sacked for the second time on consecutive drives, Jones threw a weak pass into the flat and off the receiver after he got hit; ball popped up, Cowboys picked it off and ran it in for another six. 16-0, and it was all downhill, and steeply from there.

By contrast, we all know what happened to the Jets on the same field the next day. After holding on, inexplicably, to the ball after a whiffed cut block designed to get the ball out quickly, Aaron Rodgers Achilles tendon ripped away from his calf muscle as he tried to get away from Leonard Floyd. That brought Zack Wilson on in improbable relief, and in a situation in which a demoralized team was destined to fold and lose the game. The Jets wound up doing just the opposite. On one side of the ball, the defense displayed pro bowl, championship type wile, grit and determination, sacking Josh Allen five times, and forcing him to fumble twice, the second of which led to the go ahead score as time wound down in the fourth quarter. The defensive scheme was straightforward and simple, predicated on four man pressure up front and man coverage under with zone support in back. Allen had only limited successes; by the fourth quarter and even when he finally found Stephon Diggs in desperation, that was only after he had been seeing ghosts all day. On the other side of the ball, Breece Hall, coming off grueling rehabilitation after a season ending knee injury and reconstructive surgery, appeared, incredibly, to have never missed a beat. His 127 yards rushing now lead the AFC; second in the league overall only to the 49'ers Mc Cafferey. To his credit, Paul Hackett, who must have been as devastated as anyone, player or coach, on the team when Rodgers went down, kept his composure. He modified the game plan and kept his cards close to his chest; Wilson passed short, but passed accurate, finding his top target Garrett Wilson in the end zone on a spectacular catch, and later with a lazer beam into the size of a shoe box on third down to set up that game tying field goal. He did what he had to do. Then Gipson ran it back for the win in overtime.

To find success in Dallas this weekend, the Jets will first need to acknowledge the fact that as bad as the Giants might have been in collapsing on their own home field last week, the Cowboys may nontheless still have the league's best defense. They are a lightning fast, aggressive and physical bunch of marauding hawks and hunters. The plan is to get on you fast, intimidate, harrass and brutalize you, then take the ball away and either score themselves or put the offense in positon to cash in with turnovers and field position. They are legitimate at all levels, including linebacker, secondary, and perhaps most important, off the edge, where a healthy Micah Parsons could well be the league's best outside pass rusher. But. As tough as the Cowboys are, a great deal of their defensive attack depends not simply on speed, but on your playing into their strength by trying to run away from them. And when you run, they catch you. When you run AT them, however, they not only have to recalibrate, but they are forced to adjust their scheme to adapt away from what they do best. They want you to pass and miss on first down, run short or miss again on second so they can force you into third downs and turn their dogs loose. They want you to believe that you know that they know that you know so you can "fool" them, take advantage of their ignorance, and somehow catch them off guard in pass defense. That wont work. The answer to solving the puzzle actually isnt that complicated; to beat Dallas in this game, the Jets will have to stay patient, and not simply take what the defense gives them, but get the Cowboys on their heels, literally on the defensive, by running right at them. Period.

If that strategy doesnt look pretty and initially fails, then that strategy doesnt look pretty and initially fails, so be it. Punt and play d. But the plan has to involve running the ball to set up more control in the run game if it succeeds, or passing the ball short to move through progressions for intermediate completions and the occassional deep attempt to keep Dallas honest. Cowboys are gonna pack that box. If they insist on playing bully ball and bringing eight guys up to force the issue, then the Jets need to go ahead and take what's behind that high risk pressure. But against that base four man front? Load it up and pound that ball between and off tackle. All day long.

When Dallas has the ball, Prescott is mobile and has superb targets (although Brandin Cooks, a solid pro with speed, excellent route running and reliable hands may be out with a knee). Lamb is one of football's best receivers, he had 1500 yards and nine touches last year. The Cowboys want to throw it, they dont really care who's defending, they think they can beat you with skill and prowess. Part of the problem, though, is Prescott, who's good when he's good, but ultimately might be relatively limited, especially when you can get pressure directly into his face, on the throwing side of the football. He's not that mobile, and it looks like both starting guards, including the Pro Bowler Zack Martin, will be out for this game. When Chuma Edoga, a Jet castoff, is starting at left guard, against the likes of a returning Carl Lawson, Quentin Jefferson, Al Woods, and Micheal Clemons? Its gonna be a long day. Settle into that four man rush, man under and cover deep. And get into that pocket and beat Prescott's brains in. Once he gets hit, much like Josh Allen last week, that ball will start to wobble and come out funny. And the Jets will pick him off.

Stay in this game early. Dont be intimidated by the huffing and puffing,the noise and the hype. Dont ask Zack to do too much beyond managing the game. Keep it simple, keep him clean and composed, be wary of tricks in short coverage, and get that ball out quick. Let him probe and take shots as the game wears on, but stay patient in the run game to control tempo, move the sticks and get on the board. Punt when you have to, take threes if they're there. And, perhaps most important, attack and turn Dallas over. If the Jets execute at this level, stay focused on the road, and eliminate mistakes, I think the chances are very good that they can get out of this game with a win. You heard it here first. Jets 27-21....

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