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Our Jets expert Michael Nania takes a look at their matchup with the Cowboys this week

Michael Nania takes an in-depth look at the Jets match against the Cowboys on Sunday. How does the recent form of the two teams compare? Where will the game be won and lost? 

Last Game

Jets – lost 6-31 @ Eagles

The Jets’ biggest blow in their loss to Philadelphia came days before the ball was even kicked off. After entering Eagles week with hopes that Sam Darnold would be making his return, the 22-year old quarterback was not cleared by doctors to play, meaning Luke Falk would be leading the team once again.

With competent quarterback play, the Jets might have had a chance to pull off the upset in South Philly. The Eagles did not bring their best performance. Offensively, they committed lots of penalties, botched plays, and dealt with an off day from Carson Wentz. Defensively, they also struggled with penalties, while Jets receivers were open much of the afternoon.

Yet, Luke Falk was so bad that the Jets could not even come remotely close to competing in the game. He was inaccurate and showed an immense lack of pocket presence and vision. Falk took sacks he shouldn’t have, failed to see open receivers, and missed on short-range throws. His performance was about as bad as it gets from the quarterback position in the NFL.

The Jets were competent defensively (they allowed just 17 points), but as mentioned earlier, they got some help from an out-of-sync Eagles offense. There were a few issues that kept the Jets from taking full advantage of Philadelphia’s struggles and truly shutting them down, most notably the awful performances by Trumaine Johnson and Leonard Williams.

Gang Green’s performance in Philadelphia clearly showed that they are not even close to good enough to win without Darnold.

Cowboys – lost 24-34 vs. Packers

Dallas did what it needed to do and dominated its soft early slate, going 3-0 with an average point of differential of +17.7 against the Giants, Redskins, and Dolphins (2-12 combined record) to start the season.

The tough challenges are starting to roll in, and so far the Cowboys are 0-for-2. Dallas dropped a Sunday night slugfest with the Saints in Week 4. Last week, they lost in embarrassing fashion to the Packers, falling down 31-3 on their own field before losing 34-24 as their comeback bid fell short.

Lots of issues led to the defeat. The run defense allowed four touchdowns to Aaron Jones in the red zone. The offense could not get anything going early on. Dak Prescott struggled. Altogether, the Cowboys seemed to be losing all of the momentum they built early in the season.

Jason Garrett’s team needs to figure things out soon. Of the team’s next 10 games, eight are against teams that currently have a winning record. The other two are road games at MetLife Stadium, starting this week against the Jets.

State of the Division

Jets – 0-4, T-3rd AFC East, T-14th AFC

The AFC East is already out of reach for the Jets, as the Patriots have a stranglehold on the division at 5-0 with a road win against the 4-1 Bills secured.

If the Jets are going to make a miraculous postseason chase, it would have to be for a wild card. Luckily, the AFC isn’t looking too deep right now. Nine of the AFC’s 16 teams currently have a losing record. Only three (Patriots, Bills, Chiefs) have a record better than 3-2.

Only one team has escaped 0-4 to make the playoffs – the 1992 Chargers, who finished the season 11-1 to win their division. Some hope for Jets fans to cling on to.

Cowboys – 3-2, T-1st NFC East, T-7th NFC

Dallas looked like it may have been running away with the NFC East three weeks ago, when they already had a two-game cushion on the rest of the division. Things have changed quickly, as the Cowboys now find themselves tied with the Eagles for the division lead. The Giants, who are 2-1 under Daniel Jones, lurk just one game back with 3 of their 4 games against Dallas and Philadelphia still to come.

It’s way too early to look at this yet, but tiebreakers give the NFC East lead to Philadelphia over Dallas (due to win percentage in common games). If the playoffs started today, the Eagles would be the 4th seed, while the Cowboys would be tied for 7th in the NFC. They share the same record with the Bears, Panthers, Rams, and Vikings, who all sit just mere percentage points behind the current holders of the final wild card, the 2-1-1 Lions.

Statistical strengths

Jets – Run defense

Another week, another game in which run defense is all the Jets are good at. New York’s defense ranks fourth in fewest yards per rush attempt allowed (3.4), seventh in fewest rush yards per game allowed (87.5), and 11th in rush defense DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average).

The Jets have stuffed 27 percent of opponent runs for no gain or a loss, which is the third-highest rate in football. They have also allowed a conversion rate of just 57 percent in short yardage situations (3rd or 4th down with two yards or less to go), which is tied for 10th-best.

Cowboys – Third down

The Cowboys have owned third down on both sides of the football. Offensively, they have converted 48 percent of third down plays, which ranks fourth-best in the league.

On the defensive side, the Cowboys have allowed opponents to convert on third down just 26.2 percent of the time, the league’s second-lowest rate.

Statistical weaknesses

Jets – Everything offensive line

Quarterback is one problem that may be fixed by Sam Darnold, but he cannot fix the offensive line that he will be playing behind.

The Jets have allowed the worst sack rate in football, a whopping 16.1 percent.  Le’Veon Bell has gained only 12 of his 206 rushing yards before contact.

Darnold will not be bringing new offensive linemen on to the field with him, but maybe having a better communicator under center could stabilize the front five just a bit.

Cowboys – Interceptions

Dallas has had a tough time with the interception battle this season.

On the offensive side, Dak Prescott is struggling with picks a lot more than usual. He already has six interceptions after tying his career-high with three against the Packers in Week 5. Prescott has also thrown at least one pick in four straight games, after never having more than two straight games with an interception prior to 2018.

Prescott’s 3.5 percent interception rate is a career-high, and it places the Cowboys fifth-worst in the league as a team.

Defensively, the Cowboys have only been able to grab one interception. Their 0.5 percent interception rate is the second-lowest in the league.

Matchup of the Game: Sam Darnold vs. Everybody

It’s quite simple – Sam Darnold will be coming back with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Without Darnold, the Jets offense was one of the worst in NFL history for three weeks. The unit was only able to put up 3.0 points per game without him.

Over 2018 and 2019, the Jets are now 0-6 without Darnold, averaging 7.8 points per game on offense in those games. Five of those six losses were by double digit margins.

The Jets have been nothing without Darnold. Now at 0-4, his return is their only hope at turning this season into something positive.

In a few ways, the Jets being so awful without Darnold takes some pressure off of him. We know how terrible the team is when he isn’t out there. He barely has to do anything to be an upgrade, and at 0-4, the team isn’t necessarily in the heat of a playoff chase.

All Darnold has to do is go out and play some football. That mentality is what has made him the high-level prospect he is today.

If Darnold can just play loose and show off the even-keeled, free-flowing style of football he always has, things should start turning in the right direction for the Jets – not just offensively, but as an organization.

Even if they don’t win on Sunday, the Jets just need to generate some positive energy to build their future around. Whether or not they get that all depends on the performance of their franchise quarterback.

Michael Nania

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