The last time the New York Jets faced the Arizona Cardinals, Quincy Carter was the starting quarterback for the injured Chad Pennington, and the Arizona Cardinals still called Sun Devil Stadium home. The Jets left the desert with a 13-3 victory.
It’s been nearly four years since that game, and both teams are immensely different. The Jets and Cardinals both have new quarterbacks, new linebackers, new coaches, new uniforms, and new fans.
There is one thing that’s been consistent since that 2004 season, though. That year marks the last time the New York Jets won the game immediately before their bye week. It’s a streak that extends over two coaching regimes, and remains a hump that Eric Mangini has yet to climb.
With that piece of history, and the Cardinals’ history of mediocrity, could the Jets be heading into their Sunday home game underestimating Arizona? Will the team be unfocused, looking forward to a week without football, or will they play with enough aggression to rebound accordingly?
It’s unlikely that the Jets will be taking the game lightly after two humiliating losses to a Tom Brady-less New England Patriots, and a fired up San Diego Chargers. But the Arizona Cardinals are a formidable opponent, and deserve the Jets’ attention for sixty minutes on Sunday afternoon.
Flying over hostile territory
The New York Jets are the butt of most NFL jokes right now. An expensive offseason capped off with a trade for one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game set expectations beyond realistic measures. All of the hopes and dreams are coming back to bite fans as they try to cope with the team’s growing pains.
The belief during the offseason was that general manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Eric Mangini were creating a team to compete in today’s NFL. Acquiring Brett Favre did nothing but propel that notion forward with more intensity. As the team looks to find their rhythm, fans are growing impatient.
It’s difficult in New York, though. This is a Giants’ town, and fresh off a Super Bowl victory, and 3-0 start, the Jets are not the team this city revolves around. And with baseball season drawing to a close, the city bidding farewell to two monuments in Yankee and Shea Stadiums, the Jets are lagging behind as the disappointing step-child.
In order to close that gap, the Jets are looking at a must-win situation. Going into the bye week at 1-3 isn’t the end of the world, but 2-2 is certainly preferred.
Creating a “No Fly Zone”
Controlling the air will be of the essence against the Arizona Cardinals. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin combine for nearly two-thirds of Kurt Warner’s numbers in 2008. Eight touchdowns thrown, and six of them belong to those two men. They’re a terrifying tandem if you’re a fan of a team with two young cornerbacks.
Arizona’s not the kind of team that likes to take a chance on the deep ball. Their offense loves exploiting mismatches, and Warner is just the man to make it happen with those receivers.
Fortunately, the Jets have been fairly successful with stopping the deep pass. Second-year cornerback Darrelle Revis has played beyond his years since entering the NFL. He’s thrown blankets over every team’s primary target this season, and has given up very little through the air.
Fourth-round rookie Dwight Lowery has responded to the challenge as well. He has excellent ball skills, and is always in the right position to knock a ball down. But is it something he can keep going for four quarters?
New York will need to have Safety support over the top. Which means the team will become vulnerable in the middle of the field. It’s an unfortunate area to give up, especially as the Jets have had difficulty stopping the slant routes that run under the coverage in a zone defense.
The return of Hank Poteat earlier this week shows New York’s dedication to protecting that area. With David Barrett the likely starter at safety opposite Kerry Rhodes, Poteat should be the nickel-back to protect against any short routes.
All reports indicate that Kris Jenkins is healthy and will be ready for the game against Arizona. His run-stopping ability, and proficiency at disrupting offensive blocking schemes was sorely missed after the first quarter on Monday night against the Chargers.
If he has returned to health, the entire Jets’ defense improves. Outside linebackers can rush the pass and stuff the run again, and the secondary can focus on coverage without having to compensate for weaknesses in the front seven.
Newly-acquired Calvin Pace should have had his brain picked this week by the offense. Signed in the offseason to a monster contract, Pace finally found success in 2007 when Ken Whisenhunt brought the 3-4 defense to the desert. He was likely the most popular man on the team this week, being asked questions about Cardinals’ players and their tendencies.
The Cardinals will be without Bertrand Berry and his pass rushing ability this week. That doesn’t mean Favre will have all the time in the world, but against a fairly stingy Arizona secondary, it certainly helps. Expecting Laveranues Coles or Jerricho Cotchery to torch the defensive backs may be asking a lot, but the ball can certainly be moved on the ground.
For your consideration
Clearly Brett Favre has been struggling with the playbook to this point. Hitting a rhythm and adjusting to the new shade of green has been a trying task for the old man. And on Sunday, he’s getting another curve-ball thrown his way when the Jets take the field in their navy blue-and-gold Titans throwback ensemble.
It may seem minor, but it’s worth acknowledging. With a QB that relies on instincts and improvisation, it may not be in New York’s best interest to have him second-guess anything for a minute. The Cardinals’ defense could have a slight advantage if Favre is looking for white helmets among the blurs of speed darting around the field.
Although the Jets have seen no success prior to the bye week for the last four years, the positive aspect is that they return to the field sharper, quicker, and more aggressive after making adjustments.
Under Mangini, the bye week has become the necessary time for the team to come back with a new attitude. In 2006, the Jets defeated the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, and in 2007, they upset the Pittsburgh Steelers in an overtime shocker.
In 2008, the Jets will face a three game stretch against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Oakland Raiders, and the Kansas City Chiefs. It’s never smart to check off victories on a schedule, but it’s not the most terrifying bunch of opponents for the Jets to face. They can certainly hit a stride before heading to Buffalo in early November.