By Ernie Palladino
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If the Jets expect to save their season Monday night in Arizona, Quincy Enunwa is going to have to step up.
Think about that for a second.
Doesn’t offer a lot of confidence, does it? But that’s the case with a passing game that features Brandon Marshall and, uh, um, not much else unless one counts running back Matt Forte, who hasn’t done much catching either the past few weeks.
Losing Marshall’s complement Eric Decker for the season was nothing short of a devastating blow, considering he was Ryan Fitzpatrick’s red zone and third-down go-to guy.
It was easy to see how his absence affected the passing game.
For a short while, there remained some faint hope that Decker could play through a torn rotator cuff, at least enough to restore some legitimacy to the passing game. That ended Wednesday when he went on season-ending injured reserve.
So now most of the pressure of replacing Decker falls on the third-year pro Enunwa and, of course, offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. And, to an extent, rookies like Jalin Marshall, Robby Anderson, and Charone Peake.
Of course, it would be nice if Fitzpatrick gets the ball to them on some sort of consistent basis, especially since the Cardinals will double up on Marshall. But that has been a problem throughout this 1-4 start, too. There’s a reason Fitz’ quarterback rating sits at a lowly 64.7, behind even Blaine Gabbert, who just lost his job to Colin Kaepernick.
In fact, that’s the worst rating among starters.
Lucky for him, the Jets’ lack of a legitimate backup will likely keep Fitzpatrick behind the wheel no matter what happens Monday. But if Gailey and Fitzpatrick can’t find some way to succeed against the league’s fourth-best pass defense, the current cries for third-stringer Bryce Petty — note that Geno Smith has become a forgotten figure in all this — will surely intensify.
This is where Enunwa comes in. The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder has a team-high 37 receptions. He’s shown himself tough enough to go over the middle, But his 10.9-yard per catch average places him 147th among league receivers.
In other words, he’s no Marshall. He’s strictly a possession receiver right now. Their best downfield complement to Marshall is Anderson, but he’s raw.
Enunwa has to step up, especially inside the 20, where the Jets rank 29th with a 40-percent touchdown efficiency.
Of course, Enunwa can’t be the Jets’ total salvation. They need to get a running game going, which is where Forte comes in. Since blowing up for 100 yards and three touchdowns against Buffalo, he hasn’t sniffed the end zone during this three-game losing streak. Nor has he approached the century mark, going for 65, 27, and 53 yards against Kansas City, Seattle, and Pittsburgh, respectively.
Getting him going against the league’s 23rd-ranked run defense would certainly loosen up the passing game. And his catching ability out of the backfield, a facet Gailey seems to have abandoned since he targeted Forte seven times for five catches and 59 yards against the Bengals in the opener, can only help the development of a solid ground game.
The defense will probably go without iron-willed linebacker David Harris. The pass rush has slacked off since it tortured Andy Dalton in the opener.
Going 1-5 would virtually extinguish any hopes of a successful season. Let’s face it, the Jets are not going to beat the Patriots twice. The Rams in Week 10 appear an improved team. The Ravens are perfectly capable of beating Todd Bowles’ club.
The Jets needed to come out of this killer six-game stretch with two wins. This is their last shot at it.
It’s just a shame that Fitzpatrick’s security blanket is now named Quincy Enunwa instead of Eric Decker.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino