A glance at the top storylines for the Cardinals-Jets game Monday at University of Phoenix Stadium.:
The Cardinals made it work against the 49ers with backup quarterback Drew Stanton, but obviously, getting their starting QB on the field was paramount as they keep pushing toward a steadier season. Palmer's season hasn't been what anyone had hoped, nor has the offense been top-notch. Can the time off re-set a passing offense that has yet to find a groove? Can it re-set Palmer? The Cardinals were very, very good in 2015 because they were explosive and scored a lot of points. Getting back to that level this season may not happen, but the hope is that it still can.
B.A. and Bowles
Bruce Arians said he wants to put the emotion aside at kickoff when it comes to competing with one of his close friends and his protégé, Jets coach (and former Cardinals defensive coordinator) Todd Bowles. Forget about the emotion for a minute, though, and look at the strategy coming from two coaches that know each other's football philosophy oh so well. Bowles knows when Arians wants to take his shots. Arians knows how Bowles goes about his blitzes. Both sides downplayed that this week – Bowles said he didn't think it'd have an impact, and Arians said it can be a mistake to ask players to suddenly do things different than they have been doing all season. It's an intriguing chess match.
Player of the Week versus a weak backend
The Jets have a secondary that is struggling. Palmer is back. So maybe the Cardinals should attack down the field. Except …
Except they have reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week David Johnson running the ball. It may not be easy to find running lanes against a defensive line with three former No. 1 draft picks, but Johnson has been the Cardinals' top offensive weapon this season. It's a fine line to walk – leaning on Johnson, or going against the Jets' top defensive weakness, which is their problem defending down the field. Knowing Arians, he won't be able to pass up deep attempts. All they have to do is protect Palmer to do so.
Guarding against the Jets' front
Protecting Palmer, however, isn't a given. Not with the New York defensive line, and not with the Cardinals installing a pair of backup guards in the lineup with Evan Mathis done for the season and Mike Iupati hurting. The middle of the line, with John Wetzel and Earl Watford flanking center A.Q. Shipley, certainly will draw Bowles' attention as a place to attack. The Jets' pass rush had trouble getting to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger last week, but it's always a danger and the Cards have to find a way to hold up.
The quest for .500
It's simple really: A win and the Cardinals climb back to .500, and in this attempt to get into the playoff race, that's crucial. The schedule does not line up favorably over the next six or seven weeks, including a looming three-road-trips-in-four-games stretch. There isn't a lot of room for error, not with how the NFC is playing out. Each game is vital, but a home game against a struggling 1-4 team has to be one you manage to win.