New York Jets (1-4) vs. Arizona Cardinals (2-3)
8:30pm ET Monday on ESPN
With Carson Palmer back in the saddle, a breakout season from a young running back, and a seasoned defense, the Arizona Cardinals are poised to leave the Jets in a ditch by the side of Highway 101 and serve notice that they themselves are not to be counted out for the 2016 playoffs.
After losing three games in a row by an aggregate score of 82-33, the Jets got word over the weekend that a tragic car crash Saturday morning on an Oklahoma highway took the life of Dennis Byrd, one of the most beloved and inspiring players in the team’s history. Byrd had been a talented defensive end in his fourth season with the Jets in 1990 when a freak collision with a teammate shattered his spine badly enough that he was told he’d never walk again. But through determination and countless hours of rehab, he managed to walk to midfield for the home opener just months later to serve as honorary captain. And on top of all that, they’ve got a slew of injured guys who may not suit up, including cornerback Darelle Revis, center Nick Mangold, and linebacker David Harris, and starting running back Matt Forte and wide receiver Brandon Marshall are dinged up, but expected to play. Suffice it to say, the Jets are in rough shape.
The Jets offense, which was 11th in scoring last year with 24.2 points per game, has fallen off dramatically, to 18.4 (28th in the NFL), as 2015 Pro Bowl running back Chris Ivory decamped for Jacksonville, only to be replaced by the aging Forte, whose yards per carry has been trending downward season his 2011 peak of 4.9, and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has rediscovered his penchant for throwing interceptions.
Fitzpatrick’s 23 INTs while with the Bills in 2011 led the league, and this year he’s again at the top (bottom?) of the heap with 10 – on pace for 32 – yet has thrown just 5 TDs. He’s also tied for the lowest adjusted yard per attempt at 4.8, and completion percentage, 57.8. Dude’s a mess. And the situation is made worse by the season-ending injury to wide receiver Eric Decker, one of the best second options in the game, having averaged more than 1,000 yards over the previous four seasons.
After being one of the top defensive units in the game, the Jets defense has allowed the fewest rushing yards per game, 68.4, but the second-most passing yards, which in turn has led to 27.2 points per game, near the bottom of the league. Revis’ diminished health and play have hurt the secondary, while the pass rush is a shell of its former self, with Muhammad Wilkerson on pace for half as many sacks as last year.
The 2016 season is looking like a huge comedown for the Arizona Cardinals, who are on pace to win 6 games, after racking up double-digit victories in each of the previous three years Maybe things aren’t as bleak as they appear, however, as they’ve actually outscored the opposition by an average of 4.8 points per game. Yeah, they’re record ain’t great, but the Cards lost a tough one to the Bills, 33-18, as they ran into one of Rex Ryan’s tailor-made defenses, and they lost the first game of the season to Jimmy Garoppolo and the Patriots, a team everyone was underestimating.
QB Carson Palmer, who is back after a week off in the league’s concussion protocol, has numbers that aren’t nearly as bad as they appear if you throw out the Bills game: 62.1% completion percentage, 6 TD, 1 INT, 288 yards per game. Palmer can still sling it, and Larry Fitzgerald can still run it down, as he has 361 yards and a league-leading 5 TD catches. The development of second-year running back David Johnson, who is now fifth in the league in rushing after rolling up 157 yards and 2 TDs in a win against the Niners last week, has given the Cards the kind of three-headed monster every team lusts after.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Cardinals brought back four Pro Bowlers – Tyrann Mathieu, Calais Campbell, Patrick Peterson and Justin Bethel – and are holding teams to the fifth-fewest yards per game in the league at 308. They’re particularly tough against the pass, with 7 interceptions and 18 sacks, holding opposing passers to the second-lowest rating, 65.3, behind only the Vikings.
The Cardinals are the best losing team in football, while the Jets are just losing. This won’t be close.
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