NEW YORK (CBS New York) -- To say that the first quarter of the season has been a disappointment for Jets fans would be an understatement.
Adam Gase's team, which had been pegged by many as a potential playoff contender, has been beset by injuries, inconsistent play, and a seeming lack of ideas offensively in their 0-4 start. In Sunday's 31-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, third-string quarterback Luke Falk was dumped 10 times and gave up two turnovers that turned into immediate touchdowns. It took until the fourth quarter for the team to get on the board, ending a 12-quarter scoring drought for the offense.
As we said at the start, it has been bleak. But, there is light peeking through the tunnel, as starting quarterback Sam Darnold is set to make his return to the lineup this Sunday following a bout with mononucleosis. It would be unrealistic to expect one player to cure all of the offensive ills, but at the very least Darnold's return allows for some hope that the unit will show more life. NFL On CBS lead sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson is among those who believe that Darnold coming back could give the team a spark this week.
"I think that just having Sam Darnold back will kind of right the ship a little bit. You saw what a lot of the players came out and leaders stepped up this week and talked about sticking together. We always hear that from teams, but I think that is important, especially with your leader, your quarterback coming back at this time," said Wolfson. "It takes some time and this is a big challenge with the Cowboys coming in, but when you get someone like that back, sometimes that is the spark that you need."
A spark of any kind would be welcomed, as the offense ranks dead-last in the league in yards per play (3.2), which is a fairly good indicator of an offense's efficiency. Obviously, having a third-string quarterback start the last two games and come in for relief duty in Week 2 drags those numbers down. Falk has not shown the ability to get the ball out of his hand quickly, leading to a lot of dump offs to Le'Veon Bell that end up picking up just a few yards. Darnold should help in that regard.
But, the offensive line, which saw key free agent acquisition Kelechi Osemele miss Sunday's game against the Eagles, has to improve. While Falk can be blamed for some of Sunday's 10 sacks, the line has allowed a 15.3 percent adjusted sack rate this season which ranks dead last in the league. Making matters more complicated for Darnold in his return has been the play of the receivers. Robbie Anderson, Jamison Crowder and Demaryius Thomas found little room to operate Sunday, despite playing against an Eagles defense that had just one of their top four corners that started the season on the roster.
On the plus side for the offense, they do get one of Darnold's favorite targets from last season, tight end Chris Herndon, back. Herndon missed the first four games due to a suspension for PEDs, but he returns to the lineup this week which should give the team another boost. In addition to Herndon's return, there could be an opportunity for the running game to get going this week. The Packers mauled the Cowboys last Sunday, with 120 yards on the ground and four rushing touchdowns from Aaron Jones.
On paper, the matchup with the Cowboys looks difficult, as Dallas enters at 3-2 on the season and has really beat up on bad teams. The Cowboys feasted against the Giants, Dolphins and Redskins, averaging over 32 points per game. But in their losses to the Saints (10 points) and Packers (24) the offense has been less effective. As usual, things are built off of the running game, and the threat of the running game with Ezekiel Elliott. But, Wolfson points out, this isn't the same offensive line we have come to expect in recent years from the Cowboys.
"One of the strengths for Dallas over the years has been their offensive line and they are extremely banged up there," said Wolfson. "They're not playing to their potential in that phase of the game and it is certainly hurting the team and Dak Prescott."
Tackle Tyron Smith missed last week's game due to an ankle injury. Tackle La'el Collins had to leave the game due to a back injury. As a result, the line allowed three sacks, and the Packers were able to pressure Prescott into some bad decisions. The Jets haven't shown great ability to get after the passer this season, ranking 29th in the league with just six sacks on the year. But, one area the defense has been strong in is stopping the run, ranking just outside the Top 10 in Football Outsiders' DVOA. That bodes well for possibly being able to contain Elliott, though whether the secondary can hold up against Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup is a different story.
In the end, oddsmakers see this as a fairly easy Dallas win, with the Cowboys being favored by seven points on the road. But, Wolfson believes it could be a tighter affair.
"I think this game is going to be closer than people think," said Wolfson. "Dallas and the Jets both have something to prove."
Tracy will be on the call along with Jim Nantz and Tony Romo when the Cowboys and Jets kickoff at MetLife Stadium on Sunday at 4:25 p.m. Eastern Time.
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