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Breaking Down the Jets vs the Cardinals

After 2 weeks of sloppy and more or less non competitive football the Jets need to regroup and refocus on the task at hand which is getting back to .500 and escaping to the bye week with the worst part of their schedule seemingly behind them. Itís hard to have a must win game this early in the season, but this is pretty much a must win game for the Jets. Standing in their way will be the 2-1 Arizona Cardinals, a potent offensive team playing their best football in over a decade.

Cardinals Offense vs. Jets Defense

Arizonaís offense can be scary at times. Everyone knows the names of their two star wide receivers who make up one of the deadliest, if not the deadliest, tandems in the NFL. Larry Fitzgerald is one of the top 5 wideouts in the game with great hands and great ability to get open. Anquan Boldin is a tough player that has a knack of taking a hit and not going down. He can make small plays into nightmares for a team. QB Kurt Warner still has what it takes to heave the ball all over the field and he is not afraid to take chances. Every week he and his offense go out there expecting to throw for 300 yards a game. Edgerrin James still gets the bulk of the carries for Arizona, but is nowhere near the threat he was in Indianapolis. His burst is no longer there and running behind a subpar offensive line has left him well on the downside of his career.

One of the keys to beating the Cardinals is to pressure Warner and knock him around. Warner is somewhat fragile and has always had a problem holding onto the football when he gets hit. The Cardinals offensive line isnít a strength of the team, especially up the middle, and the Jets should be able to get a good push into the interior. Warner is sacked a few times each week and is getting pressured often. When Warner is under pressure he has a tendency to force the ball down the field and often becomes annoyed with himself and the officials if he feels things arenít going their way. This is a game where David Harris needs to find his way into the backfield and hopefully Calvin Pace is motivated to show his former team they should not have let him go. Pace has been nearly non existent in the pass rush these last two games, though much of that blame goes on the Jets defensive scheme. If the Jets can not rush the passer it will be a very trying day for the secondary. While the team should have faith in Darelle Revis to take care of whatever assignment he is given, Dwight Lowery is going to have his hands full this week. Lowery got burned badly by Vincent Jackson and this is a complete upgrade in class. He will need help over the top. The Jets need to find a safety that can play alongside Rhodes this week and its time to stop the Eric Smith express. Abram Elam was a far superior player last year and you can not play any worse than Smith has this year.

The Jets have played relatively well against the run thus far and are tiring out late in games when the offense is sputtering. Arizona loves to attack the edges of the field and run outside the tackles and its going to be up to Ellis and Coleman to cut those lanes off and allow their linebackers to quickly get to the runners. If the Jets cut those ends off the Cardinals will become completely one dimensional. If ever there was a game to be aggressive its this one. If the teams strategy is to start dropping their linebackers into a zone and to send everyone into coverage its going to be a long day for the defense. Arizona had a rough time last week in Washington with the Redskins showing them different looks and pressuring Warner from all angles. The Jets need to try to recreate that attack.

Cardinals Defense vs. Jets Offense

The Cardinals defense is still a work in progress, that has shown some improvement over last years squad which was one of the worst in the NFL. Arizona plays somewhat of a hybrid 43/34 and is undersized at certain positions for the 34, something that the Jets know from their own struggles with their defense. The Cardinals come into the game banged up and bruised on the defensive line. DE Bertrand Berry, who has had a great start to the season, will miss the game with an injury. DT Darnell Dockett has a groin problem and DT Gabe Watson has yet to play a game this season. The team will likely use a rotation for the DE position this week, including moving their linebackers back down onto the line. LB Karlos Dansby can create havoc on defense. Dansby is very active, plays well in coverage and has the ability to rush the passer. He is the one player in the front 7 the teams have to gameplan for. The steady Gerald Hayes is a competent tackler on the inside and Chike Okeafor, still learning to play OLB will be seeing some time at DE depending on the defensive alignments. Arizonaís cornerbacks are a weakness for the team. They have problems keeping up with anyone with speed and problems with receivers going across the middle on short patterns. Safety Adrian Wilson may still be the best player on this defense. His career has gone largely unnoticed because he plays in Arizona, but he is a wicked hitter that can do almost anything his coaches ask of him.

Unlike the last two weeks where the Jets should have been a pass first offense, this is a game where a truly balanced attack will keep the Cardinals defense on their heels. Brett Favre needs a good game as he has had a slow start to the season. Favre is a historically slow starter, but he has never played under these circumstances and is obviously pressing on the field. Between Coles, Cotchery, Stuckey, Keller, and Baker its hard to imagine Arizona having the personnel to cover the field when the Jets line up with 3 and 4 pass catchers at a time, provided the receivers and QB are on the same page. While very little good came out of the game against the Chargers, if Favreís last few drives built the team some confidence that is the kind of gameplan to use. Quick strikes on slant patterns will go for 10-15 yards every time against Arizona. Complete enough of those and Favre can take his shots down the field. Both Jones and Washington will likely get enough carries to keep them happy. The Jets should think more about playing the hot hand when it comes to those two as both have proven to be very streaky players. The team could probably find big success running Washington off a hurry up offense where the defense doesnt have time to sub. Those off balance plays are plays where Leon can do big damage. The Jets need to find some consistency and some rhythm to their offense this weekend.

Special Teams

The Jets return game came up huge last week in San Diego. Leon Washington had two monster returns and Cotchery even got into the act as well. The team recovered an onsides kick and should have recovered two of them. Thatís the type of play they need this week. It goes without saying they can not leave points on the field with their field goal kicker nor give the Cardinals easy chances to score. Arizonaís kicker, Neil Rackers, has a huge leg, but is wildly inconsistent while their punting game is right at the bottom of the NFL. There is no return game to worry about.

Coaching

Eric Mangini is probably going through the worst coaching stretch of his career. For 9 quarters his team has looked unprepared, untalented, and uncoached. His gameplans are beginning to come under heavy criticism as the Jets have not changed their philosophy one bit from the Clemens/Pennington team philosophy last season. Mangini needs this win in the worst way or the fan support is going to reach a very verbal low when they return from the bye week. Ken Whisenhunt is doing a good job in Arizona trying to change the losing culture that has permeated that team. He was able to get the team to .500 last year and made the team believe they can do better than that this season when he made the tough decision to bench his expensive young QB Matt Leinart and go with the better and much more popular Warner to lead the team. Whisenhunts team, whether due to coaching or lack of talent, is a very undisciplined group that will rack up penalty after penalty after penalty more often than not.

Overall

Is the season over if the Jets lose? No, but its barely hanging by a thread if that happens. This is a team with a fragile psyche and one more loss could send them over the edge. With all the changes the team has made the overall results are the same---inept play in almost every single facet of the game. It is very hard to build a winning culture in the NFL and the bottom line is that the Jets have been unsuccessful since 2005. Most of the home grown players on the team donít really know about winning and, outside of Alan Faneca and Brett Favre, the other veterans are pretty far removed from being parts of long time success stories. Losses that pile up have a habit of making players pack it in and forget about the rest of the season. Sitting at 1-3 and looking up at a 4-0 Buffalo Bills team and realizing you could not beat the historically bad Cardinals nor the damaged Patriots is not a place where the Jets want to be.

This is a game the Jets can win and must win. For all of the Cardinals weapons they have not shown that same firepower nor the ability to win a tough game away from home. The team is playing the back end of back to back road games and wonít have been home for 2 weeks come kickoff time as they made the decision to remain on the east coast after their game against Washington. This is the kind of game where you can take an opponent out early and withstand a potential late charge if the team ever gets their feet under them. Arizona is a mistake prone team and if the Jets play mistake free its a huge advantage.

The Jets need to seize the moment the way the Chargers did last Monday night or the Eagles did last week against the Steelers. Both were teams that had questions, especially defensively, and they dominated their opponents to end the questions and the negative thoughts. The Jets failed to seize the moment two weeks ago when they played New England and they likely wont get another opportunity until much later in the season, if at all, to do that again if they lose this week. Thatís on both the coaching staff and on the players. Play aggressive and look like you are having a good time on the field and on the sidelines. If the team looks tight on Sunday the season is probably close to being one of the biggest disappointments most Jets fans will remember. Jets hang on to win.

Jets 23 Cardinals 17