In a way it's a good thing the Cowboys don't have to stress over winning football games in order to get into the playoffs, because what lies on the docket next is going to be a rough one. The New York Jets are a coming to town and they are bringing with them some good football. It's been a little bit of a roller coaster for the Jets this season. They started off smoking, winning four of their first five games to start the season 4-1. Then, they turned around and lost four of their next five to even themselves out at 5-5. But now, they are back to riding hot as they've won three straight games and find themselves right in the middle of a playoff battle.
The Jets are one of the more balanced teams in the league. They can beat you on both sides of the ball. It might not surprise too many people that the Jets have a top 10 defense - ranking 10th in points allowed (19.7) and 5th in yards allowed (323.8). But they also have a top 10 offense as well - ranking 10th in points scored (25.0) and 9th in yards gained (371.2).
Balance is the name of the game for the Jets and even when you break down what they're doing on offense, you'll find that it's a little bit of everything. Ryan Fitzpatrick was the number two quarterback behind Geno Smith, until a scuffle with a teammate in August landed Smith with a broken jaw. Since then, it's been Fitzpatrick's job to lose and he hasn't lost it. He's been solid for the Jets all season, but is really playing well as of late. In the last three games, Fitzpatrick is averaging 310 yards, 3 TDs, and 0 interceptions. It must be nice to have a backup quarterback who not only comes in and plays solid, but also plays well enough to never relinquish the starting job.
But the success Fitzpatrick has had isn't because he's a great quarterback. It helps immensely that he has some quality pass catching options to rely on. Eric Decker was a great free agent signing in 2014, but adding Brandon Marshall this season makes them even stronger. This duo has combined for 155 catches, over 2,000 yards receiving, and 20 touchdowns. Fitzpatrick's most reliable target is Marshall who is in the top five in receptions (89) and yards (1,187). The Jets can beat you in through the air.
As strong as they are in the passing game, their bread and butter starts with running the ball. Chris Ivory is having a great season as the lead back and is in the top five in rushing yards (914) and carries (217). He is a physical runner. For a Dallas defense that got ran over by the Packers last week, giving up 230 yards on the ground - Ivory poses a tough challenge.
It's going to be fun to watch the Jets offense go against the Cowboys defense, with each of them taking turns winning the battles. What's not going to be fun to watch is when the Cowboys have the ball. That is where the trouble starts. The Cowboys offense struggles in general, but they will reach a whole new level of ineptness when they face a tough Jets defense. With Matt Cassel unable to stretch the field, the Cowboys will rely on establishing the run game. This is bad news for Dallas because the Jets have the top run defense in the league, allowing only 78.9 yards a game. Once the Cowboys get to third and long, it will be Cassel time and that is when things will go from bad to worse.
The Jets are coming off a game where they sacked Marcus Mariota five times. Cassel is slightly less elusive than Mariotta. He's going to be in trouble. The Jets top pass rusher, Muhammad Wilkerson, is having a career season. He is in a contract year and is driving up his 2016 price with a strong performance with 53 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and 12 sacks. He had three of the five sacks on Mariotta last week.
Cassel will be trying to get the ball in the hands of his biggest playmaking receiver, Dez Bryant. That's a reason to get excited, right? Sure, if you pay no attention to the fact that Bryant is struggling this season and that he'll be on Revis Island this week. I won't ask you to think back to the last time these two faced each other because that would just dredge up more bad memories.