GLENDALE, Ariz. — When Bruce Arians first met Todd Bowles, he immediately knew his young safety with the Temple Owls would make a great coach one day.
“He'd be calling out what play you're getting ready to run,” the Cardinals head coach said. “He just had a great feel for the game as a safety. … Smart, tough. Just like he is as a coach.”
Thirty-three years later, Arians and Bowles will square off as NFL head coaches for the first time when Arians' Cardinals (2-3) meet Bowles and the New York Jets (1-4) on Monday night at University of Phoenix Stadium. Neither team is off to a very good start, which will make their friendly rivalry play second fiddle to the game itself.
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Not that it won't be on both coaches' mind, of course.
“Personally, with a guy that almost taught me half of my football life, you try not to let him down,” Bowles said. “In order to not let him down, you've got to win the game. It's gratifying to see him get his due, and I try to work hard as best I can not to make him out to be a liar for giving me an opportunity and then giving me this opportunity.
“But, he's like my uncle, my big brother. He taught me so much in life and in football. Words can't describe how I feel about him.”
Both coaches need a win Monday in the worst of ways.
Arians and the Cardinals can't afford a third loss at home this early into the season, one that most observers pegged Arizona as a legitimate Super Bowl contender following a 13-3 record a year ago. Bowles and the Jets, meanwhile, might not recover if they lose their fourth consecutive game to fall to 1-5.
Things have already gone in the Cardinals' favor as Arizona welcomed the return of quarterback Carson Palmer back to practice this week after he missed last Thursday night's win at the 49ers because of a concussion.
“Exciting. It was a lot of different emotions, but exciting,” Palmer said of watching the game from his couch. “Obviously, you're bummed because you're not playing, but to see our defense play that way, to see us run the ball that way, to see Drew (Stanton) come in and have not gotten any reps and play the way he did, Fitz (Larry Fitzgerald) do what he did, and the offensive line. It was just great to see us go on the road in a tough place to play and get a division game and get on a winning track.”
The Jets got some bad news this week when it was learned star receiver Eric Decker has been lost for the season. He was placed on injured reserve and was scheduled to undergo shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. Decker's absence puts that much more pressure on veteran wideout Brandon Marshall and, to a lesser extent, the Jets' collection of young receivers.
“Eric's a great football player,” quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. “He was very productive for us last year. He was going to be productive again for us this year, so we've got to have other guys step up now. There is nobody that's really going to be able to replace him, because he was and is such a special player, but we've got to supplement and get different guys going and play to their strengths, the other guys that we have stepping up.
“It's a tough blow for us to lose a player like Eric, but it happens to everybody, and again, nobody is going to feel sorry for us that he's not going to be out there. We've just got to push through and have other guys step up.”
New York's defense has been giving up big plays at an alarming rate and it could get even worse against the Cardinals, especially if cornerback Darrelle Revis can't play or is limited because of a nagging hamstring injury. Overall, the Jets rank last in average yards per pass (9.2) and are tied for second-to-last in passing yards per game (302).
“I don't know if Revis is going to play or not, but there's some experience,” said Palmer, who has thrown six touchdowns against five interceptions. “There are some guys that have played a lot of football back there. It's on Monday night. They're reeling for a win. We know they're coming in here, expecting to win and we're going to get their best shot.”
The Jets need a clean game from Fitzpatrick, an Arizona native that played high school football at Gilbert Highlands. He's been intercepted a league-high 10 times, which included six picks during a recent loss to the Chiefs.
“It starts with me. I need to play better,” Fitzpatrick said. “You're not going to be a very good offense if your quarterback isn't playing well, so I think that's the easiest solution. … I've been frustrated with my play. I haven't played up to my abilities and what I expect out of myself, so I think as I play better, the offense is going to become more explosive and more consistent.”
The Cardinals have plenty of firepower in second-year running back David Johnson, who was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for a single-season NFL-high 157 yards and running for two touchdowns in the win over San Francisco. With veteran Chris Johnson on injured reserve because of a groin injury, David Johnson figures to get more touches than even previously expected.
When Bowles looks at Johnson, who ranks third in the league in rushing with 457 yards and first in scrimmage yards with 695 yards, he sees a younger version of his own star running back, Matt Forte.
“Obviously Matt's older. David's explosive now,” Bowles said. “He can do a lot of things that Matt does. He has great feet and good patience in the hole. He can juke you when he has to and he can run you over when he has to. He has outstanding hands, so he has the full trifecta.”
The Cardinals will be playing without both of their starting guards because of ankle injuries as right guard Evan Mathis is on IR and Mike Iupati is expected to miss at least one to two more weeks. Both John Wetzel and Earl Watford filled in adequately last week, Arians said, but the competition gets a lot tougher this week against the Jets' ferocious defensive line.
“Yeah, they've got their hands full,” Arians said. “They were uncovered for most of the game in San Francisco, blocking linebackers. They're going to have big, strong dudes on top of them this game.”