The Jets (8-5) have won 3 games in a row and have a chance to make the playoffs for the first time in five years. The Jets are tied with the Chiefs and Steelers for one of two AFC Wild Card slots. Meanwhile, the Cowboys (4-9) still have faint hope for postseason, but their playoff chances are on life support.
What’s the biggest difference between the fortunes of the Jets and Cowboys this season? The Jets have won 8 games with their backup quarterback.
JETS QB RYAN FITZPATRICK, #14: Fitzpatrick moved up to first team when incumbent starting QB Geno Smith was sucker-punched by a teammate and training camp and suffered a broken jaw.
Fitzpatrick, an Ivy League guy from Harvard, has started games for 6 teams in the past 11 years. This is his first year with the Jets. He’s thrown a career-high 25 TD passes which is 4 shy of the Jets’ all-time team record of 29 TD passes (Vinny Testaverde). Fitzpatrick has played particularly well of late; over the past 3 games he has 9 touchdown passes and 0 interceptions.
On Wednesday, Fitzpatrick was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week following the Jets’ 30-8 blowout win over the Titans. He’s the second consecutive Jets player to win the award. Last week, WR Brandon Marshall won the same honors.
Speaking of Marshall….
JETS WR BRANDON MARSHALL #15 & WR ERIC DECKER #87: These two receivers have combined for 20 TD catches, making them the dynamic receiving duo of the 2015 NFL season.
Also, Marshall and Decker both have receiving touchdowns in seven different games this season. That is an amazing mark. In fact, it ties an NFL record for receiving duos. Back in 1998, the Vikings’ Cris Carter and Randy Moss both caught touchdowns in 7 games. Marshall and Decker have three more games left in the 2015 regular season to break the Carter/Moss all-time record.
By the way, 15 of the 20 combined TDs by Marshall & Decker have come inside the red zone. That’s why the Jets have the best Red Zone offense in the entire league.
This is Marshall’s first year with the Jets. He arrived via trade from the Bears and his size and aggressiveness have been a godsend for the Jets. Because he gets so much attention from the defense, it opens things up for other receivers.
Marshall already has 1,187 receiving yards, and Decker has 875. And defenses must respect the Jets ground game which features RB CHRIS IVORY, a native of Longview, Texas who is big, physical, and gaining a lot of yards and TD runs (914 rushing yards, 7 rushing TDs). He is a downhill runner. This offense is on a roll. They can pound you with Ivory, or go over the top to their top-flight receivers.
JETS DEFENSIVE END MUHAMMAD WILKERSON #96: The guy is a beast. Last Sunday against the Titans, he recorded 3 sacks, 2 tackles-for-loss, forced a fumble and batted down a pass. He was a one man wrecking crew. He’s got 7 sacks in the past 5 games, and 12 sacks for the season (which is more than the Cowboys’ two top sack leaders combined, DeMarcus Lawrence & Greg Hardy).
Wilkerson is just one of many talented defenders for the Jets who are #1 in the league against the run. Sheldon Richardson, who is second team on the depth chart, is a Pro Bowl player. Rookie defensive end LEONARD WILLIAMS was the 6th overall pick of the draft. He played at USC. Cowboys LT Tyron Smith, also a USC Trojan, is looking forward to going against him. The Jets play a 3-4 and their nose tackle, DAMON HARRISON, leads the d-linemen in tackles.
The Jets allow only 79 rushing yards per game. That’s terrific. Overall, in total defense, the Jets are ranked #5. This is a tough unit in the front 7. And they’re just as tough in the defensive backfield…
JETS CORNERBACKS DARRELLE REVIS #24 and ANTONIO CROMARTIE #31:
Revis & Cromartie form the most heralded cornerback duo in the league, and with good reason. Both a savvy, veteran guys with skins on the wall.
Ever heard of Revis Island? That’s what fellow NFL players call the area that Revis defends. The old saying is that cornerbacks play on an island, isolated. Well, receivers who go against Revis find themselves castaway on Revis Island.
Revis returned to game action last Sunday after missing the previous 2 games with a concussion.
On the opposite corner is Antonio Cromartie who doubles as the Jets kickoff return specialist. He’s been to four Pro Bowls and has 31 career interceptions.
So a Cowboys passing game that has struggled mightily goes against a pass defense featuring two of the best cornerbacks in the game.
Obviously Dez Bryant will be fired-up for this game, going against Revis and Cromartie. Plus, Dez only caught 1 pass for 9 yards against the Packers last week, so he will want to make up for the low production.
By the way, this is the Jets first visit to AT&T Stadium. The last Jets game at the Cowboys took place at Texas Stadium in Irving back in 2007. The Jets don’t come here often, so Cowboys fans don’t get to see much of this team. That’s why our list of “Players to Watch” for this week’s game focuses on Jets players.
Kickoff Saturday night at AT&T Stadium is 7:25pm CST. The game will be broadcast on NFL Network nationally. Fans locally in the Dallas-Ft Worth market can also see the broadcast on CBS 11.