When the Arizona Cardinals played the New York Jets back in 2008, the two teams were lead by former Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks.
My how far these teams have changed since then, and not for the better.
Despite getting trounced by New York 56-35 in September 2008, the Cardinals would go on to win the NFC West that season and made the franchise’s first and only Super Bowl appearance.
The following season Kurt Warner led Arizona to another division title and an appearance in the NFC divisional round.
Since then, Ken Whisenhunt has used six quarterbacks, and the team has failed to make the playoffs each of the last two seasons.
Despite a 4-0 record to start 2012, the Cardinals appear headed for a third straight postseason-less campaign after dropping their last seven games.
Although the Jets took the last meeting between the two teams, the Brett Favre experiment in 2008 was not a successful one in the Big Apple.
However, after his departure, the team hired head coach Rex Ryan and drafted quarterback Mark Sanchez with the No. 5 overall pick before the 2009 season.
Ryan and Sanchez led the Jets to two straight AFC Championship Game appearances, and all was right in the Meadowlands.
But things can change in a New York minute as Ryan and Co. have found out in recent years. Amid turmoil and plenty of drama in 2011, the team missed the playoffs and finished an underwhelming 8-8.
This season, the organization made news in the offseason by acquiring quarterback Tim Tebow from the Denver Broncos. And while national media members flocked to the team’s training facility in Cortland, New York before the 2012 season began, the Jets haven’t given anyone much to write about since.
Sunday’s contest features to 4-7 teams, who at this point are playing for pride more so than a chance to make a late-season playoff run.
Neither Sanchez nor Ryan Lindley look to be the long-term answer at quarterback for their respective teams, but a win Sunday could stem the tide of criticism for at least one week.
The Cardinals will start Lindley for the second consecutive week.
There was some good (two first half touchdown drives) and some bad (four interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns) in Lindley’s first start against the St. Louis Rams in Week 12. But frankly that’s to be expected for a sixth-round draft pick who just turned 23 over the summer.
With Kevin Kolb still working his way back from a rib injury that has sidelined him since the fourth quarter of Week 5, giving Lindley another start makes sense.
And while they are not mathematically eliminated from playoff contention just yet, the move to the rookie quarterback is sign that the Cardinals are beginning to look towards the future.
It’s hard to know whether the team’s starting quarterback going into 2013 is currently on the roster, but the only way to find out is to see what Lindley has to offer over the final five games.
And, what better test than playing in front a rather hostile New York crowd on Sunday.
For the Jets, the quarterback position has also been somewhat of an enigma in 2012.
Despite a mediocre season a year ago, New York extended Sanchez for three years back in March. Unfortunately, the former USC star has done nothing to reward Mike Tannenbaum’s blind faith.
Sanchez has thrown for over 2,300 yards, but has turned the ball over 15 times (10 interceptions and five fumbles lost) and is ranked towards the bottom of the league in completion percentage (55.4) and a passer rating (75.6).
To make matters worse, the Jets offense is ranked No. 24 in the league in red zone efficiency. That’s has a plenty to do with Sanchez, who has thrown four of his 10 picks inside the 20-yard line.
While the $8.25 million dollars he’s owed next year in base salary most likely means he will be on New York’s roster in 2013, like Lindley, these last fives games are important for Sanchez if he wants to prove he can be a starting quarterback in the NFL.
It’s safe to say, these two are a far cry from Favre and Warner.
The Cardinals offense is largely to blame for the team’s seven-game losing streak. When a team goes through a stretch of futility as bad as the one Arizona is currently enduring, everyone has a hand in the mess.
But the offense, now on its third quarterback of the season, hasn’t been right for most of 2012.
Look the offensive line — especially rookie tackle Bobby Massie — is making progress at least in terms of sacks allowed. The front five has only allowed five over the last two weeks. And while they still lead the league in that category (46 sacks allowed), progress is progress is progress.
However the line took a bit of a hit, as ironman center Lyle Sendelien suffered a season-ending MCL injury against the Rams and will not be back until 2013. Sendelien had previously started 80 consecutive games, so veteran Rich Ohrnberger will have big shoes to fill over the remaining slate of games.
Running back Beanie Wells returned last week, and while he scored the team’s only two touchdowns against St. Louis, the former first-round pick couldn’t find any holes to burst through and averaged just 2.8 yards per carry in the loss.
Of late, starts have not been the main problem for Arizona’s offense. In each of the last two weeks, the Cardinals have scored touchdowns on their opening drive. In fact in their 31-17 loss to the Rams last Sunday, the Cardinals went 91 yards to score their first touchdown.
The main problem for the offense, as is the case for most below .500 teams, is finishing.
Arizona was shut out in the second half against St. Louis and only managed to score three points in the second half during their Week 11 loss to the Falcons.
Turnovers are somewhat expected with a rookie quarterback, but with that said, Arizona has just not found a way to get Pro Bowler Larry Fitzgerald (four combined catches the last two weeks) the ball. No knock on Andre Roberts (leads the team with 639 receiving yards), but if Fitzgerald isn’t getting the ball early and often, Whisenhunt’s squad has little chance the rest of the way.
A struggling offense needs to take advantage of the few weapons it does have, but the Cardinals continue to leave Fitzgerald out in the cold. And because of that, they tend to struggle late in games.
The Jets offense won’t have much sympathy for Arizona, though. While Sanchez has most certainly not lived up to his recent contract extension, it’s not as if he has a ton of weapons to throw to.
The team drafted Stephen Hill in the second round of April’s draft, but he’s been limited by inconsistency and injuries.
Santonio Holmes was stripped of his captaincy before the season began, but that was only the beginning of his problems. The veteran wideout suffered a Lisfranc injury in a blowout loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 4. While he had successful surgery, Holmes was placed on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.
Chaz Schillens has had one of his better years (226 receiving and two touchdowns) in the NFL during his first season in New York, but a concussion and hip injury will likely hamper his productivity in Sunday’s contest.
Clyde Gates has also provided some depth at the wide receiver position, with 13 catches for 159 yards in 2012. But a concussion has him listed as doubtful to play vs. the Cardinals.
Former TCU star Jeremy Curley is the team’s leading rereceiver (45 catches for 669 yards), but at five-foot-nine, he isn’t exactly a pro-typical threat down the field.
In the run game, Shon Greene has had a nice year for Gang Green, but his 702 rushing yards is about all the team has received productivity-wise out of the position. Bilial Powell and Joe McKnight have had some positive moments, but overall one of the team’s projected main strengths has been mostly mediocre (ranked No. 15 in the league) through 11 games.
As bad as the Cardinals offense has been, Ray Horton’s defense has been that good defensively. While Arizona gave up 31 points last Sunday, 14 of those points can be credited to Lindley and the other 17 came on just eight completions from Sam Braford.
Horton’s unit is No. 3 in sacks (30), No. 4 in the league in pass defense (203.7 yards allowed), No. 4 in total defense (327.9 yards per game) and No. 5 in interceptions (15).
The defense has been one of the few bright spots in 2012, so bright that Horton will likely get a few head coaching interviews when the season comes to an end.
If there is a weak spot in a defense that has been nicked up throughout the year, it’s against opposing running backs. The Cardinals are No. 24 in the league in rush defense, allowing more than 124 yards per game. Stephen Jackson ran wild last weekend in Glendale for 139 yards. Greene is a similar type of back, so Arizona will have to game plan heavily against the run.
Calais Campbell, who has missed the last two games with a groin injury, said this week he is ‘optimistic’ about returning against the Jets, but he’s listed as questionable heading into Sunday’s game.
For New York, it’s a tale of two defenses. Mike Pattine’s pass defense has shown signs of being elite this season, allowing just 211.3 yards through the air this season. The Jets don’t have a big-time pass rusher, but Calvin Pace, Quentin Coples, Bryan Thomas and Garrett McIntyre have all played the role at times in 2012.
Against the run, it’s safe to say New York is atrocious. The Jets are No. 30 in the league in rushing yards allowed (142.8 yards per game), but that doesn’t even tell the full story.
Last season, STATS Inc. ranked the Jets as the second-best team in the NFL in terms of fewest rushing first downs allowed (70). In 2012, Gang Green has already allowed 77 first downs on run attempts.
It’s bad in the Big Apple, real bad.
Will Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling and William Powell make the most of their opportunities? Well, that’s another story.
Both teams could use a little positivity, especially the Cardinals, who haven’t won since Week 4. Arizona has already won on the East Coast this season (beat New England back in Week 2), so you can throw out all of the meaningless time change statistics when these two get together on Sunday. The Jets have been susceptible at home, while Arizona hasn’t exactly inspired any level of fear on the road. It’s a game of weakness vs. weakness, so if nothing else the outcome will likely be close.