For Todd Bowles and the New York Jets, the next few weeks are vital to the their playoff hopes.
Now sitting pretty at 8-5 and riding a three-game winning streak, the New York Jets find themselves in another match-up that can be considered a trap game as they travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys.
It may seem foolish to be even the least bit concerned about a Tony Romo-less Cowboys team but in December, every game is a trap game, especially if you’re the New York Jets.
Despite their top five defense and top ten offense, the New York Jets are still on the outside looking in when it comes to the AFC Wild Card race. The Kansas City Chiefs and the Pittsburgh Steelers own the tiebreaker, should all three teams win out the rest of the season, and so the Jets are the odd team out.
But as Bowles said in his press conference this week, “I’m just rooting for our team right now, everything else will take care of itself.”
I can’t say if everything else will take care of itself—though Pittsburgh does have a tough match-up with Denver this week—but Bowles has the right idea when he says he’s just rooting for his team.
While Jets Nation has the freedom to argue over New York’s playoff chances on a daily basis, the New York Jets themselves should be worrying about nothing but the next team on the schedule. That’s the only thing they have control over at this point.
And so this week that team is the Tony Romo-less Dallas Cowboys.
Though they lost Romo on offense, the Cowboys have remained fairly strong on defense, ranking ninth in the league in total defense. Their rankings against the pass and against the run however, are lopsided. They rank fourth against the pass and 18th against the run, meaning Chan Gailey’s game plan is most likely going to feature a lot of Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Gailey this season however, it’s that the guy doesn’t like to be lopsided in his play calling. Gailey tries to stay balanced for the most part on offense, getting Ivory ample opportunities on the ground while also giving Marshall and Decker opportunities out wide.
I expect him to attack the Dallas defense through the air early in the game to try and create some running lanes up front for Ivory and Powell.
Dallas’ defense may rank well against the pass statistically, but their secondary doesn’t match-up well against the Jets dynamic duo out wide. Brandon Carr will most likely line up against Marshall, which is a match-up he should win, leaving Orlando Scandrick, Morris Claiborne or rookie Byron Jones to cover Decker.
All three match-ups lean in Decker’s favor, except perhaps Jones who is physically capable of covering the veteran but is still a rookie. Scandrick remains one of the most overpaid slot corners in the league, while Claiborne has drawn a team-high nine penalties in the secondary.
As long as the offensive line holds up against Greg Hardy and company, Fitzpatrick should have no problem getting the ball out to his playmakers. Once he’s able to do that, Ivory and Powell will be able to get going on the ground.
On the other side of the ball, Darrelle Revis gets an opportunity to prove he’s still the lock down corner Jet fans think he is, as he faces off against Dez Bryant. Revis hasn’t looked like his usual self this season, but with the playoff implications imminent it’s hard to imagine him not locking down Dez tonight.
Bryant has had a pretty rough 2015 season himself, missing essentially the entire first half of the season with a foot injury and then returning only to have Tony Romo re-injured and Greg Hardy yell at him on the sidelines. We still don’t know why he was yelling, but he was yelling.
So that figures to be an interesting match-up with both players looking to prove they’re still worthy of the “elite” tag. Unfortunately for Bryant though, he may not see many targets because his quarterback may or may not be on the ground for the majority of this game.
Dallas’ offensive line hasn’t played as well this season as they did last season, but they’re still a solid group. That being said, they have a very tough match-up this week against the Jets front seven.
The foursome of Wilkerson/Richardson/Harrison/Williams has been a nightmare for opposing offensive coordinators and quarterbacks this season because of the versatility each one of them provides.
All four are stellar against the run, but on passing downs they’ve almost been taking turns. One drive Mo Wilk will be eating up blocks and opening up opportunities for Williams and Richardson, and the next drive it will be Richardson who’s attracting double teams and creating one-on-one’s for big number 96.
The Jets have a lot of different looks they can give up front and they can follow it with different looks in the secondary as well. Calvin Pryor has been playing at a pro bowl level this season, and he’s capable of stepping into the box and playing a linebacker role.
I expect Bowles to get creative in his blitz packages as he did last week, in an attempt to get to Cassel and force the veteran quarterback to make some poor decisions. This means more Calvin Pryor and maybe even a Buster Skrine dog blitz here and there.
If Bowles’ defense is able to set the tone early on in this game and give Fitzpatrick plenty of time to work with, the veteran quarterback should be able to pick apart Dallas’ shaky secondary with his dynamic duo of Marshall and Decker.
NFC East teams have given the Jets trouble this season however, with the exception of Washington. So I urge fans not to sleep on these Cowboys. Greg Hardy is still a monster, both on and off the field, and can change this game if the Jets offensive line isn’t on its best behavior.
If they are though, and Fitz remains in one piece, the Jets will have no problem taking care of business tonight and will head into their Week 17 match-up with New England riding a four-game winning streak.