By Shawn S. Lealos
The Dallas Cowboys entered last weekend with a chance to still make the postseason. However, a bad loss to the Green Bay Packers finds the Cowboys just one loss away from looking forward to the 2016 NFL Draft. Here is a look at their opponents this week, the New York Jets.
Maybe the only people not surprised by the success of the New York Jets this season is the Jets themselves. After struggling with Rex Ryan as their head coach, the team fired Ryan last year and hired a defensive minded coach in Todd Bowles. The hire paid off instantly. With little change outside of a new coaching philosophy, Bowles has the Jets believing they can win. They sit in second place in the AFC East with eight wins and only need one more win to finish with their best season since 2010, when the Jets made it to the AFC Championship game.
New York Jets On Offense
The one area that the New York Jets have struggled the past few seasons was with their offense. This year, they are surprisingly good with a journeyman quarterback and a solid running attack. Ryan Fitzpatrick, who played with the Houston Texans in 2014, signed with the Jets and beat out incumbent starter Geno Smith and has been consistently good this season. With the exception of the Oakland game, where he was injured, he has eclipsed 200 yards in all but two other games this year. Even more impressive is his 25 touchdown passes compared to just 11 interceptions. Over the last three games, he has thrown nine touchdown passes and no picks.
Chris Ivory has stepped up and is enjoying his best season as a starter. He already has career highs in rushing yards with 914 and touchdown runs with seven and currently ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing yards. He is complimented well by Bilal Powell, a do-everything running back. While not a household name, Powell does have 232 yards rushing and has caught 49 passes for another 300 yards.
The biggest weapon on this team is Brandon Marshall. No matter where he has played, Marshall has been one of the best receivers in the NFL. While his outspoken personality has seen Denver and Chicago let him go, he has been consistent and uncontroversial this year in New York. He ranks fourth in the NFL this season in both rushing yards with 1,187 and receptions with 89. He also ranks third in touchdown catches with 11.
New York Jets On Defense
Rex Ryan always prided himself on putting one of the best defenses on the field every season. That defense failed him in 2014, but Todd Bowles has the team playing a great defense once again. The Jets rank fifth in the NFL in total defense, allowing only 323 yards a game. They are not very good against the pass, allowing 245 yards passing a game with 23 touchdowns surrendered. However, Dallas struggles mightily with the passing game without Tony Romo, so that is not a weakness here.
However, the Jets rank first in the NFL against the run, allowing only 78.9 yards a game. With the running game the only thing that showed up for Dallas in the Green Bay loss, this could be a long game for the Dallas offense, since they won’t be running against the Jets. It also won’t help that Dallas ranks last in the NFL in turnover ratio with a negative 15, but the Jets rank seventh with a plus five.
Linebacker David Harris leads the team with 86 total tackles while Muhammad Wilkerson has an impressive 12 sacks on the year. As a team, the Jets have 33 sacks, so Matt Cassel won’t have a lot of time to throw the ball. Marcus Williams leads the team with five interceptions to go along with his nine passes defensed.
New York Jets’ Players To Watch
Brandon Marshall: Brandon Marshall doesn’t seem to lose a step no matter who is throwing him the ball. His 141 targets leads the other receivers on the team by a huge margin and his 11 touchdowns in the most by any non-quarterback offensive player. The 1,187 yards receiving is also the best on the team. In the win over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, he caught six passes for 125 yards and a touchdown and he has eight 100-yard-receiving games and has caught a touchdown in every game but two.
Muhammad Wilkerson: Wilkerson is a monster on this Jets’ defensive unit. As a defensive lineman, he has a nice 53 tackles on the season, keeping most running backs stuffed at the line. He also has two forced fumbles and six passes defensed. However, the area where he dominates is getting to the quarterback. His 12 sacks in 13 games ranks fourth in the NFL.
Heading into the season, it looked like Dallas had an easy end stretch to the year. However, the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills proved to be two teams that exceeded expectations while the Cowboys fell apart. The Jets have a nice offense that will score against Dallas through the air, while their defense is equipped to stop the run and limit the Cowboys offense with both turnovers and sacks. This is a game that weighs heavily in the favor of the New York Jets.
Shawn S. Lealos is a freelance writer who graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2000 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. He writes for a variety of national publications and has over 15 years of sports journalism experience. Follow Shawn on Twitter @sslealos. Examiner.com.