Cardinals-Jets: Preview at the Bleacher Report Roundtable

Tom HighwayCorrespondent ISeptember 27, 2008

Welcome to the Roundtable Preview of tomorrow's NFL matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and the New York Jets. Weighing in with pregame commentary are Jets' Community Leader Angel Navedo and Cardinals' Community Leader Tom Highway.

Both teams are coming off disappointing losses in Week Three. How will your team be looking to rebound on Sunday afternoon?

AN: For the Jets, the focus has to be on chemistry and continuing to simplify the offense. The Jets spend too much time in the early parts of the game feeling out their opponents before executing their own gameplan.

The problem is that once they've felt out their opponent, they've already allowed them to develop a rhythm.

Offensively, the Jets need to revert back to the pitch-and-catch style that worked well in the second half against San Diego.  

TH: The Cardinals have placed a premium on keeping their winning record intact. Deciding to spend the past 10 days on the East Coast to eliminate the fatigue of travel was smart. Will this make a difference? We’ll soon know.

But the crucial question for the Cardinals is: Will the team develop, and accept its offensive identity?

Does coach Ken Whisenhunt have the flexibility to put aside his unsuccessful “run-to-set-up-the-pass” philosophy in favor of a “pass-to-set-up-the-run” attack? 

This season, the Cardinals are ranked seventh in number of rushing attempts, yet are ranked 29th in yards-per-attempt. 

In other words, they’re stubbornly emphasizing something that simply isn’t working.

What are the feelings like in the hometown so far? Are the teams exceeding/meeting expectations from the fans this season?

AN: The New York Jets are the butt of the joke right now. An expensive offseason capped off with a trade for one of the greatest quarterbacks in the NFL set expectations beyond realistic measures. All of that is coming back to bite the fans as they cope with the growing pains.

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 aren't what the city revolves around. Especially not now with baseball season drawing to a close, and the city bidding farewell to two monuments in Yankee and Shea Stadiums.

TH: The hometown support of the Cardinals has been lukewarm thus far. 

Owner Bill Bidwill’s management of the club has drawn deserved skepticism based upon an entire lifetime of, for lack of a better word, “cheapness.” The result has been a city filled with potential fans that are wondering whether a playoff-caliber club is anywhere in their near future.

I believe that this team may be it, but most Arizonans seem to be reserving judgment. It doesn’t help that the Bidwills dumbed down expectations in the offseason when they were pressuring Whisenhunt to “ride or die” with the inferior Matt Leinart at QB.

Can the Jets stop Warner and his receivers?

TH: If Warner gets into a rhythm with his receivers, then I don't think they can. Neither Boldin nor Fitzgerald has elite speed to gain wide separation, but both have size and excellent hands. 

AN: I would think New York would try and follow Washington's blueprint from Week Three, but I'm sure that's something Whisenhunt and friends are working on this week. Regardless, New York will need to have safety support over the top.

TH: Fans who have never before watched them in action will see balls threaded into very tight spaces. 

"Q" and "Fitz" use their size, positioning, and leverage to reel it in. It’s a unique approach, but effective. But with such a heavy reliance upon accuracy, timing, and trust between Warner and the receivers, it’s important that Whisenhunt not allow them to get cold. He needs to keep feeding them a steady diet of passing plays so they don’t lose their rhythm.

AN: Warner's is a veteran, so he's instantly going to target rookie Dwight Lowery. Having someone so young out there might be a liability, but Lowery has played well these first three weeks.

He's had some mental errors, but I'm confident in his ability to disrupt the pass. So if the Cards are dependent on timing, I think Lowery has enough of a nose for the ball and good enough coverage skills to compensate.

Will Arizona be able to establish the run in New York?

TH: Whisenhunt would like for the Cardinals to be a rushing team, yet their rushing offense has ranked among the league’s worst in recent years. Edgerrin James has slowed down considerably from age and knee surgery. He's never averaged over four yards per carry in Arizona. 

It wouldn't even be accurate to say he’s “lost a step.” He seems to have lost two steps, which is why he cannot make defenses pay dearly for cheating toward the pass. 

Furthermore, he lacks the receiving and pass-blocking skills exhibited by recent premier running backs, such as Clinton Portis, Tiki Barber, Marshall Faulk, and Frank Gore, to name a few.

AN: But with the pass working so well, I don't think the Cards' will need to. But if the Jets can put a blanket on the receivers, I don't think James or Tim Hightower will be able to move the ball effectively enough.

But a lot of that is contingent upon Kris Jenkins' health. If his back injury suffered from Monday night is really healed up, the defense will be able to roll on all cylinders.

That means the run will be stifled, and OLBs Bryan Thomas and former Arizona Cardinal Calvin Pace will be able to rush the passer more effectively.

TH: After the 49ers game, the Cards abandoned the run against the Dolphins and decided to attack through the air. The first play was a 79-yard touchdown to Boldin.

But against the Redskins, Whisenhunt went back to a run-first strategy. With 116 rushing yards and five-yards per carry, it would appear that the run was effective. But considering that Washington played nickel packages almost exclusively, the Cards’ running game was a dismal failure. 

However, they gained just enough yards that Whisenhunt kept going back to it. Was he lulled into following the Redskins’ plan? It sure seemed that way.

The Jets' kick-return unit features the elusive Leon Washington, currently ranked sixth in the NFL in kick returns. How does the Cards’ special-teams stack up?

TH: Leon Washington and his 33.1-yards-per-return will be difficult to contain. But the bigger problem is Arizona’s subpar kicking. 

In both the first and second games this season, Cardinal kicker Neil Rackers booted a kickoff out of bounds. Against the Redskins, with the wind at his back, Rackers popped up the opening kickoff to the 23-yard line. The 'Skins' returned that to the 40, setting up an opening-drive touchdown.

AN: Leon's stats are incredible, but that average was definitely helped by San Diego scoring so much in Week Three. He made some incredible returns, without a doubt, but if the Jets' defense does their job, he won't have the same opportunities.

Kicking woes are very familiar here. Our starting kicker, Mike Nugent, has been injured since Week One, and newly-signed Jay Feely's first field-goal attempt as a Jet went very wide right. It'll be scary if the Jets need to rely on field goals to stay in the game.

TH: Rackers also missed a short field goal in the opener, and they missed another short field goal at home versus the Dolphins, although it was negated by a penalty.

Cardinal fans were hoping that his consistency would drastically improve over his 2007 performance. He single-handedly lost three games with missed extra points and field goals. 

If Rackers makes another mistake Sunday, he should be cut. 

Yes, he’s that big of a liability.

What are the keys for the opposition to win?

AN: If the Cards' want to beat the Jets, they need to play tough on defense.

They need to throw blitz packages out, and disguise their schemes often. Brett Favre doesn't like sending players in motion. Most teams call for motion to see if the defense is in man-to-man or zone. If Favre continues to limit that, he'll be forced to improvise and find out what the defense is doing the hard way.

On the offensive side of the ball, it's clear that Warner likes to air it out, but that may not be best.

In their two losses, the Jets have shown the most vulnerability against screen plays and slants. It's slow, boring football, but those plays can be worth as much as eight yards—more if blocked properly.

TH: Last weekend, by simply setting up in predominantly nickel defenses, the Redskins successfully tempted Whisenhunt to abandon the passing attack. If the Cards allow other teams to dictate their approach so easily, then they will continue to be vulnerable—especially on the road. 

Defensively, the Cardinals feature a good pass rush along the line, creative blitzing, and good coverage in the backfield. However, the Cardinals' defense is weak against runs between the tackles and against screen passes.

If the Jets get out to an early lead, they may be able to run out the clock by attacking these soft spots.


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