Monday night’s NFL clash features two teams fighting for their playoff lives as the 1-4 New York Jets pay the 2-3 Arizona Cardinals a visit. The Jets are in must-win mode, with a loss likely ending their season. After all, they’re sitting in the basement of the AFC East, trailing the Patriots by four in the win column.
The Cardinals aren’t nearly as desperate, seeing as a win would move them to .500. However, given their struggles and lackluster performances on offense, the Cardinals don’t look anything like the team they were last season.
Arizona remains a potential contender in the NFC, and it's expected to establish itself as such on Monday night at home. The Cardinals will win this game fairly easily, and here are three reasons why.
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David Johnson will make the most of his touches
Ezekiel Elliott and LeSean McCoy get most of the attention when it comes to running backs, but it’s quite possible the Cardinals have the NFL’s best. David Johnson has rushed for 457 yards on just 91 attempts, giving him a 5.0-yard-per-carry average. He’s also contributed significantly in the passing game, hauling in 17 receptions for 238 yards in five games. As it stands, Johnson is averaging 139 yards from scrimmage per game, which is outstanding.
The Jets have had a recent history of struggling to cover running backs in the passing game. Granted, they’ve gotten younger with Darron Lee at linebacker, but David Harris isn’t great in coverage and is in danger of breaking his 121-start streak due to an injury. This will not only leave the Jets susceptible in defending the run, but having a backup linebacker trying to limit Johnson is not an ideal situation.
Sure, the Jets have allowed the fewest rushing yards in the NFL and boast an elite defensive line, but they struggled against Le’Veon Bell last week. He was limited to 66 yards on the ground, but Bell racked up 88 receiving yards on nine catches. Johnson could have a similarly productive game Monday night.
After last week’s 185-yard, two-touchdown performance without Carson Palmer, it’s very likely the Cardinals realized what a talent they have in Johnson and that they will opt to give him a similar workload against the Jets. In Week 5, Johnson had 30 touches, which was by far the most of the season for him. Not coincidentally, the Cardinals won handily.
APRoss D. Franklin
The Jets allow too many big plays, which is where Arizona thrives
There may not be a matchup more suited for the Cardinals’ offense. Arizona has made a living on big plays in the passing game with Carson Palmer at QB, boasting deep threats like Jaron Brown, John Brown and Michael Floyd in the passing game. This season, the offense has been stagnant and probably is too reliant on deep passes, but this could be the game where Arizona gets back on track.
The Jets are allowing a league-worst 9.2 yards per attempt and have surrendered 12 passing touchdowns while intercepting just two passes. Additionally, they’ve already allowed eight completions of 40-plus yards this season, five of which went for touchdowns. Surprisingly, a handful of those were with Darrelle Revis in coverage. Both of the Browns and Floyd have the speed to take the top off of a defense and make big plays downfield, which the Jets don’t have the ability to match.
For as poorly as Palmer and the Cardinals have played this season, he’s still averaging a respectable 7.5 yards per attempt, including a 9.9 mark on throws 20-plus yards downfield. If the Cardinals can hit on a few deep plays against the Jets, which they likely will, they’ll be in good shape and could finally get on the same page offensively.
With Revis questionable, the Jets’ secondary could be in serious trouble against the Cardinals’ passing attack.
The Cardinals will own the turnover battle
Oftentimes in the NFL, games are won and lost on turnovers. If you give the ball away frequently, you’re probably not going to win many games. Conversely, if you force opponents into mistakes and turnovers, the odds are significantly in your favor.
Given this trend, the Jets are in serious trouble. Only the Carolina Panthers have committed more turnovers than they have, highlighted by Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 10 interceptions. They’ve given it away 13 times this season and forced only three turnovers, which is the worst differential in the NFL (minus-10). As bad as that mark is, it’s likely to get even worse Monday night.
The Cardinals have picked off seven passes and recovered five fumbles, giving them 12 takeaways on the year – tied for the most in football. While they’ve also given it away 10 times, their swarming, ballhawking defense is the story here. They’re going to force Fitzpatrick into difficult situations with their relentless pass rush and outstanding coverage on the back end. Tyrann Mathieu has moved back to his best spot as a slot corner, while Patrick Peterson will handle Brandon Marshall.
Four of Fitzpatrick’s 10 picks have come when targeting Marshall, so Peterson will likely get his hands on a few passes this evening. He also leads the NFL with just 0.47 yards per coverage snap, according to Pro Football Focus.