The last time the Arizona Cardinals stepped on the turf at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., it went pretty well. Arizona defeated the New York Giants 27-21 as outside linebacker Chandler Jones racked up four sacks and running back Chase Edmonds had a career day with 126 rushing yards.
This time, the Cardinals are facing the other inhabitant of MetLife, the 0-4 Jets, at 10 a.m. PST on Sunday.
How to Watch/Listen
TV: FOX with Kevin Kugler, Chris Spielman and Laura Okmin.
Radio: 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station with Dave Pasch, Ron Wolfley and Paul Calvisi.
The Cardinals shortcomings in their Week 4 loss in Carolina came from struggling to find offensive consistency and failing to stop the Panthers on third down.
Offensive consistency was an issue during the first quarter of the season. There are times when the Cardinals look unstoppable, with quarterback Kyler Murray dazzling with his arm and legs. But there are aspects that have not clicked yet.
The running game has not gotten going aside from Murray taking off. Turnovers have been an issue as Murray has five interceptions this year and lost a fumble last week. Penalties haven’t helped either (eight per game).
On the other hand, Murray leads the league in yards per carry, and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is nine catches away from breaking an NFL record for most receptions in the first five games of a season.
Defensively, the Cardinals were strong through three weeks. They had the best third-down defense in the NFL and were limiting the pass attack, something that plagued them last year. Last week, they were picked apart by a fast-paced offense that kept them off balance with screens, bootlegs, crossers and rubs.
“We just have to do a better job of cleaning up certain techniques, being in better leverage,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said this week. “It’s nothing that’s broken; we just have to make sure that we’re sticking to the game plan and sticking to the basics to help us win out of those downs.”
The Jets are a different offense than the Panthers though. They have been much less accurate and less effective on the ground. They get former All-Pro halfback Le’Veon Bell back this week, as he was activated from reserve/injured Saturday. However, he has struggled to fit in Jets head coach Adam Gabe’s offense. At quarterback, veteran Joe Flacco takes over for the injured Sam Darnold (right shoulder).
New York has the second-worst point differential in football, averaging each loss by 16.5 points. It has the second-lowest scoring offense and allowed the third-most points.
Multiple Cardinals talked about this game as a must-win for them. The Jets are an opponent that on paper presents the perfect opportunity for the Cardinals to get back on track. A loss, and it may be panic time.
“If we focus on ourselves and the things that we didn’t do last week, and hone in on the things that we have done early in the season, we feel that we’re going to have a good day,” safety Budda Baker said on Friday.
Who’s out, Who’s in
The Cardinals received good news this week that Baker is good to go after what he called a successful surgery on his right thumb last week. The Pro Bowler will play in a cast Sunday.
“He’s so fast,” Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said this week. “He’s a great tackler. You have certain breakdowns from your front seven that Budda can make right for you.”
The bad news is that outside linebacker Devon Kennard will miss his second straight game with a calf injury. He is tied for the team lead in sacks with two and is second behind Chandler Jones in quarterback hits.
The Cardinals have three players questionable for Sunday: safety Chris Banjo (hamstring), defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (illness) and tight end Darrell Daniels (thigh).
Meanwhile, the Cardinals promoted safety Curtis Riley and tight end Evan Baylis from the practice squad. Teams can call up two players each week and send them back down after the game without going through waivers. This move seems to be a backup plan in case Daniels or Banjo cannot play.
The Jets have had injury issues throughout the season, and they will be hit hard this week. Darnold (shoulder) is out, and receiver Breshad Perriman (ankle) and tackle Mekhi Becton (shoulder) are doubtful to play. The Jets also have a longer list of questionables: cornerback Bless Austin (calf), safety Ashtyn Davis (groin), defensive lineman John Franklin-Myers (foot), receiver Chris Hogan (ribs/knee) and linebacker Jordan Jenkins (shoulder/calf).
Matchups to Watch
Kyler Murray Against an Ailing Defense
Murray is having a start to the season that nobody before him has had. He is the only player in history with 900 passing yards and 250 rushing yards in the first four games of a season.
The Jets struggled against the only other dual-threat quarterback they faced, the Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen. Allen had 324 passing yards along with 41 rushing and a touchdown run. Murray runs more often than Allen, perhaps presenting a new challenge for New York. More on what Gase said about Murray here.
Cardinals Defense Rebounding
The Cardinals allowed first downs on seven of 11 third downs last week, which allowed the Panthers to extend drives and dominate the time of possession. Teh final two misses came with the game essentially over. But, the Cardinals are still fifth in football in opponent third-down percentage. The Jets meanwhile, have struggled to move the chains at just 35.7 percent on third downs. That is fifth-worst in the league.
An early issue Arizona had with its defense was stopping the run. It has allowed 124 yards per game on the ground, including 168 last week. The Jets, meanwhile, had their season high for rushing yards last week, 129, albeit that was primarily due to Darnold’s 45-yard touchdown run. Flacco is not a mobile quarterback, but getting Bell back may help their cause. More on what the Cardinals expect from the Jets offense here.
Cardinals Pass Rush vs Jets O-Line
The Cardinals did a strong job of getting to quarterbacks through three weeks. They had 11 sacks from seven different players. Jones only has one so far after 19 last season, but he has seven quarterback hits. He has owned MetLife Stadium in the past with seven sacks in five games.
The Jets have allowed 12 sacks this year, and now have a stationary quarterback without his starting left tackle.
Isaiah Simmons time?
This week, AllCardinals publisher Howard Balzer made the case that rookie inside linebacker Isaiah Simmons is due for more snaps. He had just 27 over the past three weeks. Sunday could be a game, if all goes as planned, where the Cardinals could jump out to a big lead. Wouldn’t that be the perfect time for the eighth overall pick to get more chances? More on Balzer’s thoughts here.
The consensus over the past two weeks was that the Cardinals would win. Neither came true, but the Jets present perhaps the best chance for the Cardinals to dominate an opponent this season. Maybe three times is the charm.
Howard Balzer: Cardinals win 30-16
Mason Kern: Cardinals win 28-13
Alex Weiner: Cardinals win 35-13
The line: Cardinals -7