It’s 2018, you’re looking ahead to Cardinals-Jets in a 2020 regular season matchup, and here’s what you see:
Todd Bowles matching wits with Steve Wilks.
Sam Darnold vs. Josh Rosen.
Star safety Jamal Adams vs. star running back David Johnson.
On Sunday, you will see none of the above.
Yes, life comes at you fast in the NFL.
Sam Darnold (out Sunday) is the only one of the protagonists still with the Jets, but everyone else has moved on.
Bowles and Wilks were fired after the 2018 season, with Wilks lasting just one year and Bowles shown the door after four.
Rosen was a one-and-done in Arizona and is now on his third team, having been traded to the Dolphins and then released before joining this year’s Bucs practice squad. Adams was traded to the Seahawks and Johnson dealt to the Texans in a blockbuster deal that sent All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals.
Now it’s Adam Gase vs. Kliff Kingsbury. And Joe Flacco vs. Kyler Murray, as Darnold rests an ailing shoulder. And Marcus Maye vs. Hopkins and Johnson’s successor, Kenyan Drake.
Jets-Cardinals is clearly on the undercard in Week 5, as marquee matchups like Kansas City-Las Vegas, Buffalo-Tennesse, Minnesota-Seattle and Indianapolis-Cleveland take center stage. But this may be an instructive experience for Jets fans as they examine this week’s opponent. In fact, this year’s Cardinals could very well resemble next year’s Jets.
The Cardinals made a bold move to clean house after just one year of the Wilks-Rosen era, deciding to cast their lot with Kingsbury, who’d been a highly regarded college coach, and Murray, the first overall draft pick in 2019. General manager Steve Keim added Hopkins earlier this year, and the 2-2 Cardinals look like a much-improved team with plenty of upside looking ahead.
With Gase needing close to a miracle to survive into 2021 as the head coach, it’s quite possible that GM Joe Douglas will be working alongside another coach next year. And possibly another quarterback. Darnold is clearly a better player than Rosen, who simply hasn’t panned out, and it’s still possible the Jets will keep him and try to build around him.
But with Darnold expected to begin negotiations on an expensive second contract either next year or, at the latest, in 2022, the Jets may decide to do a total rebuild, starting at quarterback. If they finish with the No. 1 pick and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence is there, it wouldn’t be shocking to see them partner a new head coach with a new quarterback next year.
Keim was second-guessed for missing on Rosen, but he admitted his mistake early and wound up with a better player in Murray and an offensive-minded coach in Kingsbury, who had recruited Murray to Texas A & M. Arizona may not be ready for a playoff run just yet, but it may not be much longer.
The Jets are an utter mess right now, and it’s not a fair fight for Darnold, who has been a victim of circumstances with poor coaching and inadequate talent around him. Look at his 2018 draft classmate, Josh Allen, in Buffalo, and you see a quarterback benefiting from good coaching and smart roster building. The Bills are now a legitimate playoff contender – and maybe even a Super Bowl contender – while the Jets languish at the bottom of the AFC East with little hope of an immediate turnaround.
Jets-Cardinals is certainly not the matchup we might have envisioned just two years ago at this time. But one of those teams is doing things the right way and has a bright future.
The other one is the Jets.
Can Daniel Jones develop at warp speed?
The demands of an NFL quarterback have never been greater, but the opportunity to flourish has never been more accessible.
In a league where the rules allow much greater success in the passing game, the development of young quarterbacks has led to many examples of success – starting with Patrick Mahomes of Kansas City, Deshaun Watson of Houston and Lamar Jackson of Baltimore. And while it’s still early for a second-year quarterback like Daniel Jones of the Giants, there has been some legitimate concern about whether he can take that all-important next step in his progression.
He’s 3-13 as a starter, although he’s not solely to blame due to the Giants’ problems on the offensive line and in the running game. But offensive coordinator Jason Garrett has been around long enough as a player and coach to know that there is no time to waste.
"I think the way the salary cap is, and the way rosters are structured, a lot of young players are making teams now, and maybe they wouldn’t have before," Garrett said. "A lot of young players at all positions are playing earlier than they would have before. It’s just the nature of how the salary cap works and how rosters are structured, and that’s probably been in place for at least the last 10 years, and maybe longer than that.
"In regards to the quarterback position, that’s been a great debate through the years," he said. "I don’t think there’s any question that the more recent trend is that if you draft a guy high, you typically want to play him early. What I would say going back really throughout at least the recent history in the NFL, typically, quarterbacks play best when they’re in a really good environment. That’s younger quarterbacks and that’s older quarterbacks. What everyone’s trying to do in an organization is create a good environment for their quarterback and give them a good supporting cast."
That supporting cast for Jones hasn’t always been there. General manager Dave Gettleman, who made the controversial decision to draft Jones at No. 6 overall in 2019 despite a consensus that Jones didn’t have top 10 talent, has had to rebuild the offensive line, albeit with mixed results. Jones is consistently under pressure and often doesn’t have time to throw with his feet set, and the absence of running back Saquon Barkley puts even more pressure on him.
"Typically, it’s a strong offensive line, it’s playmakers outside, it’s a good run game," Garrett said of the ingredients for successful quarterback play. "I think those things help that quarterback transition more smoothly. If he’s in a situation where he’s carrying too much of a burden early on because the team is young and in their rebuilding stage, sometimes it’s a little bit harder for that guy to transition. I think that’s probably a common denominator for a lot of guys. Sometimes quarterbacks have to take their lumps because they’re really in the ground floor of the rebuilding process."
The Giants will show patience with Jones – head coach Joe Judge made that clear this week after he fell to 0-4 – but that patience will not be open-ended. Best-case scenario is Jones weathers the early storm and becomes a better quarterback as a result.
"The best ones I’ve been around have come out the other end of those experiences," Garrett said. "Sometimes the transition happens smoother because the team is further along in their cycle of rebuilding, and that quarterback comes into that environment and is that much better."
Jones doesn’t have the luxury of a reliable supporting cast just yet, and there have certainly been flashes of terrific play. But there have also been disconcerting moments that make you wonder whether time will ultimately be on Jones’ side. Or whether he simply isn’t as good as the Giants thought he was.
Niners back on the rise?
It has been a rough go for the defending NFC champion 49ers, who are 2-2 thanks in part to injuries to key players like cornerback Richard Sherman, defensive end Nick Bosa, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, running back Raheem Mostert and tight end George Kittle.
But it looks like they’ll have their full complement of offensive stars together for Sunday’s game against the Dolphins. Garoppolo is back, and so is Kittle and most likely Mostert.
"Just get .everyone out there, get everyone back healthy and get the weapons back," said Garoppolo, who suffered an ankle injury in a Week 2 win over the Jets. "It’s all about building chemistry, and the more days we can stack days together, be out there together talking the same language, all those little intricacies that go into it, I think it'll just make us better. The Dolphins have got some serious speed on that defense, and it will be a good challenge for us."
Burrow-Jackson, Round 1
In what could be the first chapter of a long-standing rivalry – let’s hope it is, anyway – Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow faces reigning MVP Lamar Jackson of the Ravens on Sunday in Baltimore.
"I’m excited to compete against [Jackson]," Burrow said. "He’s obviously one of the best players in the league right now, going back two or three years. He’s unbelievable. He’s fun to watch. Teams that play him, I catch myself watching Lamar (on film) instead of watching the defense that I’m studying and I have to go back and rewatch the game because shoot, I just watched Lamar the whole time and I didn’t get anything from that one hour of tape."
Burrow has been terrific so far, throwing for over 300 yards in each of his last games and producing six touchdown passes and just one interception in that span. He’s got his work cut out against the Ravens, though.
"They’re really, really good," Burrow said. "They have a lot of really good players, well coached. It’s going to be a challenge. The Ravens are unique, they present a lot of different problems, problems we have not seen yet. A lot of blitzing. A lot of blitz and a lot of man, and I anticipate a little more than usual because I’m a rookie quarterback and they’re going to see how I handle it."
Scoring at historic levels
With no in-person offseason program and a preseason that didn’t include any exhibition games due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you’d figure scoring might suffer this season. But that hasn’t been the case.
In fact, league-wide scoring is at an historic trend, with 371 touchdowns and 3,233 points scored – the most in NFL history through four weeks.
Eight teams are averaging at least 30 points per game, the most through four weeks, and the 51.3 points per game is the highest total at this point since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
Too bad the Giants and Jets can’t get in on the action.
Mahomes keeps rolling on
Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes continues to rewrite history. The fourth-year quarterback has 35 starts, averaging 301.3 passing yards per game. With 300 yards against the Raiders on Sunday, Mahomes can become just the fourth quarterback with 20 games of 300 or more passing yards in his first four seasons. Kurt Warner leads the way with 26, while Dan Marino had 22 and Andrew Luck 21.
Garrett’s redemption season
Browns defensive end Myles Garrett vowed to make amends after being suspended last year for his involvement in an ugly melee near the end of a Week 11 game against the Steelers. Garrett pulled off Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph’s helmet and swung it at his head. Garrett received an indefinite suspension and was reinstated in February.
He is making the most of his second chance, channeling all his emotions into being the kind of dominant player the Browns expected when they made him their first overall draft choice in 2017.
Garrett has been a major contributor in Cleveland’s surprising 3-1 start. He leads the NFL in sacks (5.0) and forced fumbles (three), and he’s had a sack and a forced fumble in each of his last three games. If he gets a sack and forced fumble in Sunday’s game against the Colts, he’d become just the fourth player since 2000 to produce that many in four straight games, joining Khalil Mack of the Bears in 2018, Robert Mathis of the Colts in 2005 and Tampa’s Simeon Rice in 2002.