Cardinals Looking to Keep Momentum Against Jets
It will have been 11 days since the Cardinals last played when they take the field Monday night against the Jets. During that time, they have gotten some much needed rest, allowing some key starters to get healthy and return from injury, while also finding renewed optimism after their 33-21 win over the 49ers ended a two game skid and has them on the verge of .500 at 2-3.
Make no mistake about it, despite the win and the swagger it has restored, the Cardinals are not without issues. Quarterback Carson Palmer has been cleared to play after missing the 49ers game while in the league’s concussion protocol, but his return will not be a magic fix for what ails the team. The passing game continues to lack the downfield success of a year ago, receivers Michael Floyd and John Brown are having down years so far and miscommunication between Palmer and both of them have led to easy interceptions for opposing defenses.
Keeping that in mind, it may be time for the Cardinals to lean on the aspect of their offense that is firing on all cylinders, the running game. As a team, the Cardinals rank 11th in the NFL, averaging 115 yards per game on the ground. David Johnson, however, has established himself as the workhorse back and is third in the NFL with 457 yards. Even with injuries to both starting guards, the Cardinals have displayed depth along the offensive line and Head Coach Bruce Arians says he has total confidence in the players who have stepped in to replace Evan Mathis and Mike Iupati. This bodes well for the Cardinals since Mathis is headed for ankle surgery and likely done for the year.
If the Cardinals do attempt to pound the ball against the Jets, it won’t be easy. With a formidable front of Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams, New York ranks fourth in the NFL against the run, holding opposing teams to three yards per carry and 68 yards per game. They have held LeSean McCoy and Le’Veon Bell to 59 and 66 yards respectively.
While the offense-defense matchup may not favor the Cardinals, the defense-offense matchup certainly does. Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has already thrown 10 picks this year and the Cardinals secondary received a needed boost with the return of Tyrann Mathieu. Improved play on the back end should only help an already potent pass rush. Led by Markus Golden and his six sacks, the Cardinals rank third in the NFL with 18 sacks, including the seven times they dropped Blaine Gabbert in the win over the 49ers. And the pressure on opposing quarterbacks has allowed the Cardinals to intercept seven passes this season, tied for second in the NFL, while holding opposing offenses to just 190 yards passing per game.
So, the defensive game plan against the Jets is simple. Continue attacking, blitz Fitzpatrick at will and wait for him to throw you some gifts. On offense, the Cardinals need to lean on the running game, but if the Jets stuff it and force the inconsistent passing game into action, the Cardinals should still be ok because the Jets secondary is so thin that they recently tried to claim former Panthers corner Bene Benwikere (the guy Julio Jones torched for 228 of his 300 yards through the air in the Falcons 48-33 win over the Panthers) off waivers, but he was awarded to the Dolphins. Either way, if the line can give Palmer time and the running game gets going, this could be a breakout game for the Cardinals offense.