3TFO: Cardinals @ Jets, Week 13
The Arizona Cardinals travel out to New York to try to put an end to their seven-game losing streak. That they will do so against a Jets team which has had 10 days rest after a humiliating home defeat in primetime on Thanksgiving will not necessarily be an easy task. Both teams have plenty of motivation to put some poor performances behind them.
If you like offensive shows, this is not your game. Both offenses are struggling to put anything together right now. The Cardinals are starting their third quarterback, a rookie no-less, and the Jets are stuck with Mark Sanchez who is not bringing any spark to the offense, to say the least.
So it will be defense time. Which team will take advantage of the opposing offense and get the win? Let’s focus on three matchups.
Cardinals Passing Game vs. Jets Passing Defense
The Cardinals quarterback situation wasn’t particularly easy on the eyes at the start of the season. It may not have seemed possible but it’s gotten worse as the season has rolled on. Ryan Lindley is the starter right now, but he doesn’t look like the solution for their problems. In his first start in the NFL he made our ‘Had a Bad Day’ Team after throwing four interceptions against the Rams. Lindley’s numbers in passes over 10 yards were awful — 6 of 17 for 96 yards and two picks, one of them returned for touchdown. All of his completions came in between the numbers, while the only two passes that were caught outside the numbers were by St Louis Ram defenders. Lindley also isn’t going to be helped by the fact that the Cardinals lost starting center Lyle Sendlein to torn knee ligaments.
The season-ending injury Darrelle Revis suffered in Week 3 prevented one of the biggest matchups of the year, when he would have faced Larry Fitzgerald this week. With Revis out, it will up to Antonio Cromartie to take Fitzgerald. This is not the best season for Fitz as the changes at the QB position haven’t helped his Deep Passing Signature Stat — as he’s had just one catchable ball on 19 targets. He could be doing better, since he already has more dropped balls, four, than he did in 2011 and 2010, three. Fitzgerald won’t be comfortable this Sunday with Cromartie shadowing him. That’s how the Jets CB plays his best, and as he has allowed just 45% of passes his way to be completed he could take away the biggest Cards’ offensive threat.
Jets Pass Rushers vs. Cardinals Tackles
The way Bobby Massie has turned around his season is worth noticing. As our Sam Monson records in his latest piece, Massie’s improvement after he saw his PPF grades is amazing. In the past four games he has allowed only seven total pressures in almost 200 pass blocking snaps. That’s less pressure than he allowed in the previous game alone vs. the Vikings. The other side of the line belongs to Nate Potter now, and he is improving what D’Anthony Batiste was doing before he got benched, but that wasn’t really hard. His Pass Blocking Efficiency is 91.6 which would be among the 10 lowest scores, so the upgrade over Batiste is not that good as it may seem.
The Cardinals’ offensive line is a favorable matchup for any opposition’s pass rush, but the Jets have had problems all season generating pressure on the quarterback. From the defensive line, Quinton Coples is having some success with a 7.0 Pass Rush Productivity, good for fifth-best among 3-4 defensive ends. Muhammad Wilkerson ranks behind him (12th with 5.6) and they have both combined for 30 total pressures in 500 snaps, with four sacks. At the outside linebacker position, Bryan Thomas and Garret McIntyre are posting some pressure from limited snaps (nine and seven total pressures in around 80 snaps) and Calvin Pace ranks 12th with 8.0 PRP. Attacking the right side of the offense where Potter plays, should be the key to improve these pass rushing numbers for the defense.
Jets Backfield vs. Cardinals Linebackers
This could be the most important matchup for the Jets offense, if Sanchez continues his struggles against quality defenses. In the past weeks, the Jets have been sharing a little bit more of the carries. Shonn Greene’s workload has been down to 50% of the carries in the past two games in favor of Bilal Powell, who took advantage of it by scoring his first three touchdowns in the NFL. This change of strategy has improved Greene’s performance as well, as he has raised his average yards after contact number to over 2.0, while he used to be around 1.5. While it’s true that none of these running backs are great playmakers, Greene and Powell can complement each other and get the rushing game going.
In the middle of their 3-4 defense, the Cardinals have Paris Lenon and Daryl Washington. Both of them rank in the Top 20 in Run Stop Percentage with 27 and 29 stops in the rushing game, though each would be well served to cut down on their missed tackle counts. They also rank in the Bottom 10 in Tackling Efficiency with four and seven missed tackles (plus three and five in the passing game). Washington seems to have focused in on this matter and he has missed only one tackle in the past four games, but Lenon has gone the other way as he missed five in the same stretch. They won’t be facing the most elusive players this week, but missed tackles can be exactly what Greene and Powell need to boost their game and the Jets chances of a victory.
Follow Gonzalo on Twitter: @PFF_Gonzalo