1. Corey Peters leads rejuvenated defensive line
The Arizona Cardinals' defensive line took over in the second half of the team's last victory over the San Francisco 49ers, and the unit set the tone for the Cardinals' defense in the first half against a sputtering New York Jets' offense.
Against the 49ers, it was veteran Calais Campbell who jump-started Arizona's pressure scheme, but on Monday, it was nose tackle Corey Peters leading the charge, as he enjoyed his best game as a Cardinal.
Peters was stuck with a difficult matchup against Jets' center Nick Mangold, yet he held his own and contributed to a defense that surrendered just 22 first half rushing yards and 32 total rushing yards.
Peters' ability to handle double teams freed up blitzing linebackers and allowed Campbell, Chandler Jones and Markus Golden to play in one-on-one matchups throughout the night, and when that's the case, the Cardinals' defense is at its best.
Aside from Peters, rotational players Josh Mauro, Rodney Gunter and even rookie Robert Nkemdiche made their presences felt. Mauro had a tackle for loss on the first Jets' play, Gunter nearly recorded his first sack of the season on a takedown of Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Nkemdiche had an important batted pass at the end of the first half.
If the Cardinals' defensive front can build off of this output and feed off of the push Peters can provide, Arizona may be able to turn things around sooner rather than later.
2. David Johnson didn't care about the stats
The New York Jets entered Monday's contest with the No. 1 rushing defense in the league, allowing just 68.4 yards per game on the ground.
Even with a pair of backup guards starting, a second-year right tackle making his sixth-career start, and a journeyman center leading the way, Cardinals' running back David Johnson scoffed at the notion of the Jets shutting him down.
Johnson romped for 69 yards on 11 first half carries, and finished the night with 111 yards on 22 attempts with three touchdowns, which is especially impressive considering the situation.
A week after carrying the ball 27 times for 157 yards against San Francisco, Johnson was stellar as he scored a pair of touchdowns including one 58-yard run Jets' defenders and Cardinals' fans won't soon forget.
Led by outstanding blocks from right guard Earl Watford and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Johnson scampered to the end zone on a patient run that demonstrated his elite vision, speed and ability to cut on a dime.
In pass protection, Johnson was mostly solid against a Jets defense that peppered the Cardinals' offense with blitzes, as his ability to neutralize linebackers paid dividends for quarterback Carson Palmer.
Week after week, we make the claim Johnson should be considered among the NFL's elite players, not just running backs, and this week is no different. Oh, Johnson's eight touchdowns lead all NFL players, too.
3. The Cardinals aren't satisfied with Michael Floyd
After the Cardinals largely abandoned Floyd against the San Francisco 49ers last Thursday, there was the possibility an extended off week could allow the former first round draft pick to clear his head and reassume the Cardinals' No. 2 receiver role.
Early on against the Jets, it became painfully obvious that was far from what was taking place. Instead, Floyd served as Arizona's fifth receiver for much of the night against New York, and barely saw the field on a night where the Cardinals faced one of the league's worst passing defenses.
Floyd had 12 catches on the year entering the night, and all his 2016 season has done is reduce the overall value of the contract he'll likely sign with a different franchise on the open market this offseason.
Floyd's struggles have been related to drops this year, but head coach Bruce Arians has indicated it's more than that. Arians suggested Floyd hasn't been mentally prepared to play, and on Monday, it became apparent the Cardinals' head coach just doesn't trust him ahead of other emerging options like Jaron Brown and J.J. Nelson.
In one second quarter possession, the Cardinals targeted Nelson twice and also handed him the ball on an end-around in which he picked up a first down. That's the type of production Arians values, and it's the type of production Floyd hasn't consistently provided this season.
While Floyd saw the field more in the second half and came up with a fourth quarter touchdown to put the game out of reach, his usage didn't inspire much confidence from the Cardinals' coaching staff.
4. Bettcher's wrinkle pays off
Arizona defensive coordinator James Bettcher has come under fire a bit publicly this season, which is the case for most coordinators on a losing team. Now that the Cardinals are back to .500 on the year, Bettcher may not have as much to worry about.
The 38-year-old up-and-coming play caller introduced a new wrinkle to the Cardinals' defense Monday against the Jets that placed seven defensive backs on the field at once.
The Cardinals have used six defensive backs on the field at time in their dime package frequently under Bettcher in the past, but the seven-defensive back look was intriguing, especially against a quarterback like Fitzpatrick who has struggled to find rhythm this season.
Fitzgerald finished the night 16-for-31 before being pulled in favor of Geno Smith and the Jets went just 1-for-12 on third down conversions with Fitzgerald under center on what turned out to be a brutal offensive night for New York.
The wrinkle paid off for Arizona in a number of ways, because it allowed the Cardinals to play both Tyrann Mathieu and Cooper in the slot and put waiver-wire acquisition Tharold Simon on the field on the perimeter where he excelled. Simon did a great job staying in phase against the Jets' wide receivers running go-routes, and it was clear why Simon was on the field and rookie Brandon Williams was inactive.
A seven-defensive back look may not work against better quarterbacks who can pick apart defenses when they're not being pressured, but it did the trick against Fitzpatrick and helped the Cardinals secure the victory.
5. The Cardinals offensive line did just enough
Jared Veldheer. John Wetzel. A.Q. Shipley. Earl Watford. D.J. Humphries.
No, it's not the most impressive offensive line in the NFL, and yes, it's probably the least experienced group among any unit out there, but the unit protected Palmer well enough for him to make good throws against a Jets' defense that primarily stuck in man coverage.
There were plenty of plays in which Johnson was stopped for no gain or Palmer was hurried and forced to release a pass early because of pressure, but Monday night was about giving the Cardinals enough opportunities to take advantage of an unbalanced Jets' defense missing its best playmaker in linebacker David Harris.
Watford and Veldheer helped pave the way for Johnson's 58-yard touchdown run, Shipley and Humphries paved the way for Johnson to walk in on his second touchdown, and the entire offensive line hit its marks on Johnson's third score. At that point, the game was pretty much out of reach and the offensive line knew it could sleep well.
Aside from aiding Johnson in the run game, the line kept Palmer upright for most of the evening against a Jets' front that boats some of the most impressive size and speed in the league.
Part of the reason Palmer was able to have success was because the Jets played so much man coverage, which he typically excels against. Even though Jets' head coach Todd Bowles spent two season with Arizona as its defensive coordinator, Bowles barely called any zone blitzes, which have troubled Palmer for much of the season so far.
Palmer finished the night without an interception, and the Cardinals finished the game without a turnover, which is a great indicator of a game's ultimate outcome.
With a serviceable effort up front, the Cardinals improved to 3-3 and allowed left guard Mike Iupati a key week of rest that may help him recover in time for a critical divisional showdown with the first place Seattle Seahawks on Sunday night.null