Breaking Down the Jets vs the Bengals
The Jets will be playing their most important regular season game since the 2006 season finale when they take the field on Sunday. A Jets win puts the team in the playoffs and ends a regular season, filled with a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, on a high note. A loss and the Jets will face a long offseason of finger pointing and questions regarding the makeup of the team.
[B]Jets Defense vs. Bengals Offense[/B]
There is likely a misconception out there about the Bengals offense being a dangerous unit. People see the names Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco and immediately think of the days where the Bengals were expected to be the younger Indianapolis Colts. The truth is they score slightly less points than the Jets and rank near the bottom of the league in pass attempts per game. The team really relies on the running game to carry the team and are third in the NFL in rushing attempts. The star of the show is former Bears bust RB Cedric Benson who has run for over 1200 yards this season. Benson has become the teams workhorse that chugs out yardage and takes up time off the clock. He isn’t a big play or goalline threat, but is a steady contributor who safeguards the ball. The Bengals have made it well known they would like to get him some rest so he would be doubtful to play and the game would be turned over to RB Larry Johnson. Johnson is a shell of his former self and likely knows that this will be the final chance he gets to impress some team for 2010. Some carries also could go to former Rutgers standout Brian Leonard. Leonard is the teams 3rd down back and a good pass receiver out of the backfield. QB Carson Palmer can still dial it up if needed, but he is mainly a caretaker in this offense. Palmer, who never really fully recovered following a devastating knee injury in 2006, is going to put up his worst injury free statistical season since his rookie year but does not make many mistakes and does a good job of working the pocket and allowing plays to develop. He has been a factor late in games. How much he plays will be a big question. Palmer gets sacked a few times a game and the last thing they want is to see him get beat up before the playoffs begin against an aggressive defense. If he does not play the job will likely go to journeyman JT O’Sullivan, an interception prone QB that has flamed out at every stop in the NFL. WR Ochocinco has rebounded this season to get his 1,000 yards and score some points, but he is no longer in the elite group of wide receivers in the NFL. He does find his way open down the field and is a bigger play guy, but the days of the dominant games from him seem gone. Former Jet Laveranues Coles has more or less justified the Jets decision to not give him the extension he wanted as his numbers are all way down. Coles does find himself able to sneak open around the goal at times, but is the third target on the club. WR Andre Caldwell and TE JP Foschii are the two safety valves that are used often in the passing game. Both could see their roles expanded as they give the starting receivers a break.
The Jets defense did what they had to do last week in not allowing Peyton Manning to go off early and then abusing the backups on the team. Once the backups entered the game the Jets defense seemed to play with even more intensity and really won the game for the Jets. They will have to play the same kind of game this week. Countless times at home the Jets defense has come in overconfident against teams they should have dominated and they ended up allowing big plays to lose the game. Not all of the losses were their fault, but they allowed the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Atlanta Falcons all to drive late in games to escape the Meadowlands with a win. None of these teams are real offensive powerhouses yet each was able to make a play in crunch time that the defense could not stop. Assuming the Bengals play their starters the Jets will have to gear up to stop the run and force the Bengals into 3rd and long situations. As long as they can blitz Palmer and knock him around there is a good chance he will be quickly removed from the game. In the secondary CB Lito Sheppard has to do a far better job against Coles than he did last week against Austin Collie who abused Sheppard for three quarters. The Jets linebackers and safeties all have to be aware of Leonard out of the backfield because ehe is athletic enough to make a big play happen if he has open space.
The secondary can not lay down assuming the Bengals have nothing to play for. With nothing on the line the Bengals could try to switch up their tendencies if even for a week and try to jumpstart the passing game to be ready for a playoff run. The one thing the Bengals likely learned in the loss to the San Diego Chargers is that they are going to have to throw the ball to compete with the Big 3 of Indianapolis, San Diego, and New England if they want to reach the Super Bowl. There is a reason why Cincinnati is such a success against the grind it out teams of the AFC North, but only 4-5 out of their division, and this is a perfect opportunity to work on the offense. Such a move might catch the Jets off guard and help the Bengals gain some much needed momentum. It also does not allow the Jets to see firsthand the teams normal playing style in the event they are forced to face the Jets the following week. If and when the Bengals make the decision to begin benching the starters the Jets defense needs to swarm O’Sullivan the way they did Curtis Painter last week. Hit him. Force turnovers. Score the football. The defense has to understand they can not rely on the offense to win games. They have to win games for the team.
[B]Jets Offense vs. Bengals Defense[/B]
The true strength of the team lies in the Bengals defense which just barely trails the league leading Jets defense in almost every major category. While the team does not have many standout players, they play very smart team defense and rarely make bad decisions or bad plays. The major improvement on defense this year has come from the growth of their secondary. CB Leon Hall has six interceptions on the season and has developed into one of the top cover corners in the game. He never gives up a big play and is usually in a strong position to make a tackle on a receiver. CB Jonathan Joseph, also with six intercepts on the year, is basically the 1A on the team and also does a tremendous job. This is arguably the best starting group of corners in the NFL. S Chris Crocker, nursing an ankle injury, expects to play against the Jets and should help in coverage while S Chinedum Ndukwe is primarily used in run support. The Bengals defensive line is solid against the run, but does not generate a consistent pass rush up front with most of the groups sacks being coverage sacks. DE Robert Geathers is strong against the run while the other players on the team all do an adequate job of sticking to their spots and getting hands on runners as they make their way through the line. If there is a weak spot on the defense it is likely in the linebacker corp. The team was just dealt a blow when they lose starting OLB Ray Maualuga for the season. This is not a deep position for the Bengals and they will be scrambling to fill his shoes. He was one of their big run stoppers and will likely be missed. Rashad Jeanty will likely take his spot. Jeanty had started in 2008, but had basically fallen out of favor and completely out of the rotation. Keith Rivers and Brandon Johnson typically split snaps at the WLB position with Rivers basically being there for run support and Johnson being the pass guy who is better at rushing the passer. MLB Dhani Jones is an average player who does nothing well but nothing poorly either.
The Jets offense is in a complete funk right now and will have to try to grind the game out if the Bengals leave the starting corners in for the entire game. QB Mark Sanchez did an excellent job of managing the game against the Colts, but Sanchez has been terrible at home with 12 interceptions in 7 games. For whatever reason he seems to try to do too much when he is at home and it has cost the team in almost every game this season. This week will only be harder on him as he will be playing at night in the freezing cold, a completely new experience for the USC product. The Jets will have to severely limit him against these corners and force him to use his running back out of the backfield, which is one of the areas the Bengals LB’s and Safeties do a poor job. This is also the game where the Jets will need a 3rd WR to emerge. Brad Smith has been more involved with the team in recent weeks and he would be a far smarter play than David Clowney. The Bengals third and fourth coverage guys are liabilities on the field. The primary weapons this week are going to be RB’s Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene. Jones has been somewhat slowed down as of late and last week the Jets made a bold move by replacing him for the middle portion of the game with the faster Greene. It worked very well as Jones looked very fresh in the 4th quarter when he milked the clock and sealed the game for the Jets. With the Jets banking on a playoff run and knowing they need Jones as well rested as possible that will likely be the game plan this week. If Greene can stretch plays to the outside he has the potential to break some nice mid sized runs off. The two key battles in that respect are going to be RT Damien Woody vs. Geathers and LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson vs. DE Jonathan Fanene. The Jets usually are not crazy about running on Bricks side of the field but it is a big advantage if they can run that way and Ferguson can seal his man. Running to Woody’s side is what the Jets like to do most, but that is also the strength of the Bengals defense. If Woody can neutralize Geathers it give the Jets a chance to let Faneca pull and put the hit on one of the Cincy backup Lb’s which could result in a big play. Jones will get the job of working the inside and picking up the tough yardage and will likely be the featured back in the 4th quarter if the outcome of the game is in doubt. Expect the Jets to use multiple tight ends in the game to aid in the blocking.
The Bengals do not bring much to the table in special teams. For the first time in awhile the Jets coverage units on kickoffs should get a breather as the Bengals have nobody in that regard that is even average. Punt returner Quan Crosby has a few big returns on the season. K Shayne Graham is inconsistent on field goals and poor on kickoffs. P Kevin Huber is average, but has a tendency to kick the ball low which leads to longer return opportunities and the potential to block a kick.
Brad Smith is coming on nicely as a return man and all those years blocking for Leon Washington and Justin Miller have paid off. Unlike last week he should get plenty of opportunities to return kicks and the Bengals have given up a few nice returns this year. Steve Weatherford has played better of late and it would not be a surprise if the team allows him to try a fake this week. As long as he continues to drive the ball it should eliminate the Bengals punt returns. The one area the Jets must concern themselves is in the field goal game in the cold. For as good as Jay Feely has been the special teams have had problems in the two cold games they played this year. Feely missed a kick in both the Bills and Falcons game, and the snapper/holder tandem had multiple problems in both those games. With the weather expected to be cold the Jets can not continue to botch points in the kicking game.
Marvin Lewis, who many people believed should have been let go last season, has done a good job in turning the team around. He has been able to mold the team in the style of the AFC North traditional powerhouses and it has led to a 6-0 record in the division and a divisional title. He has done a good job of holding the team together following the death of one of his players and certainly exceeded expectations this year. Lewis’ main job this week will be to decide just how to play the game. It will be up to him to determine just how hard they should play for a 3 seed, if that path is even open to him. They cant afford more injuries this week and he will also consider who he would like to face next week in the playoffs. If they play the starters sparingly and lose they will likely have an advantage next week against these same Jets. If they play them hard for 60 minutes and lose that advantage is gone. If they play them hard and win and end up matching up against the Ravens it probably does not bode well for the Bengals either.
Rex Ryan has to be overjoyed at the situation his team finds itself in. After countless bad losses he still controls his own destiny and has a chance to finally make that statement game in front of a national TV audience. Ryan has to make sure his team is not drinking the Kool-Aid just yet and thinking that they are in the playoffs. The one thing we have seen from this Jets team is no mental toughness when they get hit with an unexpected punch. The Jets have lost so many games as a favorite this year and their last prime time game was an embarrassment against the Miami Dolphins. Ryan has to keep his team from being overconfident as they take the field regardless of who plays for the Bengals.
The Jets had best be reminded of the lesson that was learned by the 2004 Buffalo Bills. The Bills were playing at home against a Pittsburgh Steelers team that had locked up the AFC North and had nothing to play for. The Bills came into that game as big favorites needing a win to likely get into the playoffs. The Steelers basically benched everyone for the game and it looked to be a cakewalk. The final result was the Bills losing 29-24 in a game the Steelers controlled more or less from start to finish. The Bills lost out on the playoffs and the franchise has never really recovered and has yet to post a winning record since then. The Jets can not let such a thing happen to them this week.
This should be the best home crowd of the season and maybe the best since the 2002 finale. It is going to be the final home game ever in this stadium and for many the last game they see as a season ticket holder. There is also something different about this Jets team than the 2006 team that closed out the season with a win to get to the playoffs. The 2006 team was a team everyone knew was going nowhere and it was basically a veteran club with little upside. There is much more excitement about this team. People do believe that maybe they could get on a run on defense and win a game in the playoffs. They have some young players and a coach that does bring something to the team.
The Jets absolutely have to win this game. They can not break the hearts of the fans of this team like they have done so many times in the past. A win this week finally puts an end to the disaster that was the 2008 collapse. A loss this week only magnifies what could have been both in 2008 and 2009. A loss this week will bring on all kinds of offseason criticism and finger pointing both at the players and coaching staff. The most important player for the future of the organization is Sanchez. Sanchez has already come under fire for his poor play and at times seemingly carefree attitude. A trip to the playoffs helps lessen some of that criticism similarly to how Eli Manning survived on the Giants for three years before finally going on that special playoff run in 2007. If the Jets do not make the playoffs Sanchez is going to deal with a ton of criticism and that can only hurt his development.
These are two very similar teams that will be facing each other this week. Both like to run the football to control the tempo of the game. Both believe in playing strong defense and not letting a big play beat you. Both believe that a 16-13 win is just as pretty as a 30-10 victory. The big question is do the Jets get the real Bengals or do they get a team that goes through the motions and pulls up in the middle of the fight? Probably the latter. With a depleted group of linebackers, an overused runner, aging wideouts, and a team that probably needs a mental break this just seems like a team that is best suited to play this game as a tune up for the real show the following week. If they win, great. If they lose, who cares?
The Bengals may come out of this game experimenting with some new things for the playoffs. Offensively they will likely sit Benson completely and see if they can spread the field and jumpstart the passing offense. As long as they can keep Palmer from getting hit, this is the type of work they need in order to prepare to face the upper echelon teams in the playoffs. Defensively they may use a lot more blitz packages and may try to get as much work as possible for the backup linebackers and corners. They cant afford injuries to their starters at any of those positions so getting some experience for the backups is probably a wise choice. Such moves also keep the Jets from seeing the primary Bengals playbook and personnel in the event they play again the following week. The Bengals will get a firsthand look at the Jets primary personnel and playbook which plays to their advantage in a rematch.
Last year the Jets were technically still alive when they took the field in a do or die game in week 17 and laid down for the Miami Dolphins. Many of these same players are on this team and have to look at this as some kind of vindication for last year. That team left such a bad taste in the mouths of the fans and they have a chance to make things right by putting forth a great effort and being perhaps the most unlikely team to reach the playoffs in 2009. Getting to the playoffs will only help the franchise grow in the future and one day finally fulfill the dream of returning to the Super Bowl.
This game won’t be easy and there will probably be a few moments where a lot of people start thinking “Same Old Jets” and “How can they do this to me again”, but at the end of the day the Jets will pull this one out and enter the playoffs for the first time since 2006.