Running back David Johnson tries to escape from Jets defensive lineman Steve McLendon during the Cardinals' 28-3 win Monday night.
The Cardinals were ready for Todd Bowles.
That Jets’ defense, prone to getting beat deep by the pass? Bruce Arians said he knew his former protégé would fix it. Plays that might give Carson Palmer trouble? The quarterback went back and looked at training camp plays from 2013 when Bowles was the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator so he could properly scout for Monday night.
When the game at University of Phoenix Stadium was over, the prep work paid off. As close as Arians is with Bowles, there were mixed emotions –“I’m glad it’s over. It doesn’t have a lot of enjoyment for me,” Arians said – but opponent aside, the Cardinals looked a lot like the team everyone has been expecting.
“It was an easy game to get calling after a while,” Arians said.
The Cardinals (3-3) got back to .500 on the season. They intercepted the Jets twice, they shut down the running game, and played an
excellent defensive game.
But if the intrigue was about Arians’ offense against Bowles’ defense, the mentor came out way ahead. It didn’t hurt that he had David Johnson to give the ball.
The Jets had been second in the NFL in rushing defense. Johnson put a dent in that ranking early, slashing patiently off left tackle for a 58-yard touchdown that accounted for the Cardinals’ first first-quarter points all season.
“We misfit the long run,” Bowles said. “We misfit a couple of runs late in the game, but they were out on the field and they got worn down. We’ve got to get back to trying to stop the run.”
Johnson was magnificent in gaining 111 yards on the ground, averaging 5.0 yards per carry, and scoring three of the Cardinals’ four touchdowns.
“The way our line is blocking, the tight ends, the receivers, is making my life a lot easier,” said Johnson, who also had three receptions for 27 yards. “And whenever we can run the ball like that, it eventually makes Carson’s life, and Drew (Stanton)’s life a lot easier.”
Using wide receiver J.J. Nelson on a couple of end-arounds, Andre Ellington in relief of Johnson and even third-string Stepfan Taylor late, the Cardinals battered Bowles’ defense for 171 rushing yards – and that was with backup guards Earl Watford and John Wetzel in starting roles.
“The way we ran the ball against that rush defense was incredible,” said Palmer, who added he had never gone back to look at old training camp cutups like he did for Bowles.
The Cards didn’t turn the ball over, didn’t allow a sack, and had touchdown drives of 11, 14 and 14 plays. The offense was on the field
so much that Palmer attributed his late-game hamstring injury to simple cramps, dehydrated from his time behind center.
The Jets made sure the Cards weren’t going to get the big chunk plays through the air, so the Cardinals – who were 6-for-11 on third downs and had 28 first downs total – grinded up the yards in shorter ways.
“It was a little weird, we didn’t have some of the plays we normally have in, knowing we’d probably get some of the looks that we got,” said Palmer, who had a nine-yard touchdown pass to Michael Floyd. “I want to throw the ball down the field every play. But you have to pick your poison.”
With the Jets preventing the deep ball and bringing pressure to force quick throws, the Cardinals took what was there in winning their 29th straight game when leading by double-figures.
“I felt like it was a good test for us,” tackle D.J. Humphries said.
The defense took care of the rest. The Jets (1-5) never could find a rhythm on offense. The Cardinals were tenacious, shutting running back Matt Forte down (19 yards on nine carries) and making quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick look so impotent (16-of-31, 174 yards, one interception) that Bowles turned to backup Geno Smith in the fourth quarter.
“It is probably the first time that we played as a team for 60 minutes,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “We’re going to have to do that if we want to be where we were last year.”
The Cardinals have a critical game – nationally televised on “Sunday Night Football,” no less – against the Seahawks next weekend at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“We’ve won two in a row but we’re still just a .500 ballclub,” Arians said.
Arians paused. The record is one thing, but the way the Cardinals are playing compared to a month ago is something different.
“I like the way that we look right now,” he added.
Images from the Cardinals' Week 6 matchup against the New York Jets on Monday Night Football