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Breaking Down the Jets vs the Bengals

After a dominating performance to close the regular season the Jets will now regroup and head out to Cincinnati to face the same team they beat up to earn their spot in the playoffs for round 2

Jets Defense vs. Bengals Offense

While the Bengals do not possess much of an offensive threat, they are not as bad as they showed themselves to be this past Sunday night. The Bengals are a ball control offense that calls on Carson Palmer to manage the game at quarterback. The one starter who the Bengals did rest on Sunday was RB Cedric Benson who will be the primary focus of this weekend’s playoff game. Benson is the workhorse of the team and is following a somewhat similar career path to former teammate and current Jet RB Thomas Jones. Both players underachieved early in their careers and neither turned into a game changer, but they both eventually settled down and found homes that suited them. Benson is not going to break off huge runs and change a game with one play, but he will gain positive yards something his replacements could not do last weekend. How much of a difference Benson makes will depend on how well the Bengals offensive line plays. This is a big physical group that prides itself on controlling the trenches, but they were eaten alive by the Jets defenders in the first matchup. They were routinely pushed back and often missed blocks looking completely confused at the Jets defensive formations. Benson and the running game have not been strong in recent weeks and the line may be wearing down. Palmer can’t possibly have a worse game than he had last week where he went 1 of 11 for 0 yards and 1 interception. Palmer was flustered by the pressure the Jets brought and was off target more than a few times. He had zero help from his wide receivers. Chad Ochocinco dropped at least 3 passes and did not seem to like the tight coverage the Jets had on him. He seemed more worried about taking a hit than holding onto the football. WR Andre Caldwell also had some drops on the day. Laveranues Coles, who claimed he signed with the Bengals to have the opportunity to play with an elite QB, spent most of the day playing with the second stringers at the end of the game and the “elite“ JT O‘Sullivan. Coles was the only player who made some nice grabs, but is basically the 3rd option in the offense. If the receivers are as bad as they were last week the Bengals do not stand a chance.

The Jets defense closed the season as the number 1 defense in almost every statistical category imaginable. The put a stamp on the season with the complete domination of the Bengals offense, holding the starters to basically zero yards. The Jets showed perhaps more energy than any game this season with the aggressive approach they took to the game. The front seven were ultra aggressive often ending up in the backfield causing tackles for losses and getting in the face of the QB. DE Marques Douglas nearly murdered RB Bernard Scott on a handoff. DE Mike DeVito and NT Sione Pouha were routinely involved with tackles. LB Bart Scott had one of his best games as a Jet showing good range and sealing the outside lanes. Bryan Thomas and Calvin Pace were creating havoc all game long. ILB David Harris did suffer a sprained ankle which could limit him in the upcoming game. There is a big step down from Harris to Ryan Fowler and Kenwin Cummings, so hopefully he can play through this next week. The Jets secondary played physical with the receivers and while some guys got open, the passing windows were not very large. Darrelle Revis held Ochocinco to zero receptions and blanketed him all game. S Kerry Rhodes may have had his best game of the season being used in every facet of the game and coming up big. If Rhodes turns up his game with the playoff spotlight shining brightly he will be a big factor in this game. The Jets blitzed a lot with their guys in the secondary and even the sub packages all got in the act. If the Jets expect to go anywhere this group is going to have to carry them and can’t afford a letdown game.

There seems to be some kind of sentiment out there that the Bengals offense was going through the motions this past week to toy with the Jets. That seems very hard to believe. The Bengals did experiment with a few different things in the passing game, but essentially played their starters, tried to do well, and got beat up. If a player is going through the motions he is not putting his head down across the middle to get knocked into next week, which is what happened when Ochocinco got buried by Rhodes after a drop. The Bengals are not a good offensive team. Anyone that claims they are simply dreams of 2005 and has not even bothered to read about how the team plays in 2009. They expect to win in the teens not in the high twenties. They only have two games this year where the team scored above 30 and in 7 of their last 9 games they scored 18 points or less. What happened Sunday night was a very good defense playing a below average offense that had nothing to play for which made it that much worse. The coaching staff apparently preached to the Jets players that if you get tough with this team they mentally break down. Whether that is true or not is debatable, but it certainly was the case in the first game. The Jets out-toughed them at the line by manhandling their offensive line and smacking the wideouts. That has to be in the Jets strategy again this week. Hit them harder than they hit you and steal the heart away from the team. In the past we have seen Ochocinco completely meltdown when he is taken out of a game. If the Jets were to hold him and the offense to nothing in the first half he is an explosion waiting to happen. The Bengals had a really rough time reading the Jets defensive fronts. Players came in untouched and that has to change this week if the Bengals want to win. They may be forced to keep a back in for protection for the QB. The Jets may vary their looks even moreso this week to try to hide where the blitz is coming from. If Harris is healthy they may use him to take advantage of inside pressures against a defense expecting the rush from the safeties in the secondary. The challenge this week will likely be 13 points or less. That should be enough to win the game.

Jets Offense vs. Bengals Defense

This was the side of the football where the Bengals did rest some key players last week where they may have made a big difference. Cincinnati was without their best run stopper, DE Robert Geathers, who was held out to rest a knee injury. Geathers is excellent versus the run and the Jets manhandled his replacement Frostee Rucker. DT Domata Peko was also held out and has missed the last 5 games of the year with injury, but should return for this game. Despite not being a major factor against the run the Bengals will need him as they lost their primary DT backup in Pat Sims for the season to a broken arm. Sims was basically saw starter minutes rotating in and out to keep Peko and DT Tank Johnson fresh. A major area of concern for the defense is life without LB Ray Maualuga. The LB corps. was already the weak area on defense and they looked terrible without Maualuga. Their ability to contain the outside of cut the inside lanes off was non existent. Dhani Jones and Rashad Jeanty, two players probably just hanging onto jobs in the NFL, need to step up this week to aid in the run game. The one spot where the Bengals did not disappoint on Sunday was in their pass defense. CB’s Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph, who have combined for 12 interceptions this year, kept the Jets receivers under tight wraps when they did throw the football. Even the Jets completions were into tight coverage. If the Bengals can get a lead late and force the Jets into throwing the football the defense will have a major advantage due to these two players. The secondary will also get a boost from S Chris Crocker. Crocker can blitz and will also be an added layer of run support if the Jets break through the first seven defenders again.

The Jets linemen were the unsung stars of the Sunday night victory as they battered the Bengals defensive fronts and were playing at a different speed. RT Damien Woody and RG Brandon Moore delivered huge blocks. LG Alan Faneca and C Nick Mangold were seen making blocks well down the field. The team gained 15 first downs by the way of the run which says something about the way the line played. The Jets need them again this week to play with that type of power and intensity if they want a chance to advance in the playoffs. They also did an excellent job the few times QB Mark Sanchez passed the ball in keeping him untouched. With ball hawks in the secondary it is very important to not let the young QB get flustered. RB Thomas Jones looks to have noticeably slowed down as the season has progressed, but is a steady runner who rarely gets caught going backwards. He style contrasts so much with backup RB Shonn Greene that Greene is extremely effective when he spells Jones. Both players will be expected to be a significant contributor to the offense. The wildcard in the rushing attack will be WR Brad Smith who tortured the Bengals while running the option. Smith looked too fast, shifty, and smart for the defense. He will be in at QB again this week to run that style of offense and if he is a success it will mean good things for the team. All the Jets will be expecting from Sanchez once again is to play it safe and keep the ball in the Jets possession. He is an offensive liability at QB and the team has to gameplan as if he barely even exists. If the Jets offense runs like they expect he will basically be a casual observer gaining valuable experience by being in the playoffs. If he is to do well he needs a better effort from WR Braylon Edwards. Edwards, who promised the playoffs and typically is an excellent prime time player, had a bad game last week. His only highlight was breaking up a potential interception. He misjudged a potential TD pass and missed a play call which saw the football hit him in the back while he engaged to run block. The Jets know that they will get a steady performance out of WR Jerricho Cotchery but have to find a way to use Cotchery and Edwards to get TE Dustin Keller and the Rbs used in the short passing game. Keller has been a disappointment down the stretch and the Jets rarely seem to look his way anymore.

It would seem clear that the Jets are going to try to maul the Bengals defenders once again and simply run them into the ground. It could be known very early in the game whether or not last week was a fluke by the Bengals or if the Jets are simply that much better. The Jets were manhandled defensively by the Miami Dolphins earlier in the season much in the way they manhandled the Bengals last week. In the second meeting they bounced back to prove that was just an aberration and they proved it very early in the football game. That is the type of effort the Jets must be prepared for this week. The Jets will likely be trying to exploit the interior if the run defense by using Jones to pound the ball inside against Peko and Johnson. While it may not pay dividends at first that is the area where the team will likely wear down the quickest. In general the run defense of the Bengals has worn down over the final month of the season allowing three 100 yard games at over 4.1 YPC. This is due to both injuries and the fact that these players are playing meaningful football late in the season for the first time in many years. The last time the Bengals were really alive in December was back in 2005, a season where they began pulling guys with two games left in the season. The Jets may try to target Geathers early as well just to test if he makes a big difference in the run defense or not. If he does the Jets will likely switch directions with Greene and have him run to the left side, where the Bengals have been bad all season. Greene has to protect the football. He had another fumble last week, but was saved when the Bengals committed a penalty prior to the fumble. The Jets need his explosiveness but can not allow him to put the ball on the ground. The most interesting game within the game might be the Smith playbook. The Bengals were completely unprepared for the option in week 17, but one has to think they have now studied those plays multiple times over and have a sub package ready when Smith comes in at QB. The Jets should try to take advantage of the fact that the Bengals will be overpursuing Smith when he goes to run the ball. Earlier this season Leon Washington hit a completion to a wide open Sanchez that was called back due to a penalty. Such a play could be in the playbook this week. Flipping the ball back to Sanchez for a deep throw may also work. Expect the Jets to fake Smith right, where he had all his success last game, and have the play actually go left, whether off an end around or toss. The Jets were able to hit some quick patterns last week and take advantage of the cushion the Bengals corners sometimes give which will likely remain in the playbook until the Bengals prove they can stop those plays. The passing game will only be high percentage throws with minimal chances of being picked off. The biggest key of the week is simply setting the physical tone of the game very early and taking the game over late.

Special Teams

The Jets have to do a better job this week in their coverage game. Once again they gave up big returns and while they did not cost the team the Jets can not afford to lose field position in what should be a game of field position, If the Jets can play better in their coverage packages they will hold a decided advantage in this phase of the game. The Jets have better return men, and the better kicking game.

Coaching

Marvin Lewis coached a strange game last week. He seemed caught somewhere in between trying to win and resting his guys for the playoffs and it helped lead to a blowout. He left his starters playing into the 3rd quarter to be further embarrassed by the Jets. He has to protect his team from being mentally beaten as they head into this game. The Bengals go into the playoffs as losers of 3 of their last 4 games and a 4-6 record outside of the NFC North. The team has faced a lot of adversity this season and the word has leaked all over the airwaves that the Jets believe this is a mentally fragile team. Lewis has to have his team prepared to feed off the crowd and to win the battle in the trenches early if he wants to avoid a loss in the playoffs.

Rex Ryan delivered the message to his team last week and they answered with their best effort of the season. Ryan has had his ups and downs this year, but has found a way to get his team into the playoffs and has to reiterate that the goal was not just making the playoffs, but winning in the playoffs. Ryan has already created an “us vs. them” mentality trying to fuel his team by giving them extra motivation to win this game. Ryan knows he has to keep his team from believing that this will be a cakewalk just like last week and keep them working hard to stay focused. The Jets have not won a playoff game since 2004 and a win would be a major accomplishment for the young coach.

Overall

Despite being the number 5 seed in the playoffs, the Jets have gotten very little respect going into the playoffs as a 45-1 longshot to win the Super Bowl. The Jets only had one game this season, the loss to New England, where they were out of the game right from the start and five of their seven losses were by five points or less. Even if the Jets won two of those games and were 11-5 the perception would be entirely different. The only defense that may be hotter going into the playoffs than the Jets defense is that of the Dallas Cowboys, who shut their last two opponents out. The Jets defense has allowed a total of 47 points over their final six games, an average of 7.8 points a game, against a schedule that averages just under 20 points a game. That is the type of defense that can get to the Super Bowl, yet nobody gives them any shot.

These two teams have very similar philosophies and are almost mirror images of one another. Both teams rely on defense and the run game. Both teams have a defense that is fueled by their secondary and does not have the great athletes up front to create a pass rush without a blitz. Offensively both team rely on steady runners, running behind very good offensive lines. Both teams want to control the time of possession and play as safe as possible rather than allowing the chance of a turnover to change the outcome of the game.

From a personnel standpoint the Jets are slightly better almost everywhere on the field with the exception of Quarterback and the secondary corner position. The question becomes can the Bengals use those advantages, specifically the one behind center, to their benefit? Probably not. On paper it is wonderful to say you have Carson Palmer going against Mark Sanchez, but when your own team treats Palmer as if he is Trent Dilfer, the Bengals one area of unquestioned advantage is more or less neutralized. From a Jets perspective, strategically it becomes very simple to combat those two advantages. Staying far enough ahead of the Bengals does not allow the secondary vs. Sanchez to be a factor and it eliminates the late game heroics from Palmer. Palmer has three last minute drives to win games this year and had a last minute drive to take the lead or tie on two separate occasions where the defense gave the lead right back up. If the Jets can bring a double digit margin into the 4th quarter they will be in good shape.

The Jets can really use their veteran leaders on the team to talk about what it takes to win in the playoffs. Shaun Ellis, Thomas Jones, Alan Faneca, Damien Woody, Tony Richardson, Brandon Moore, Lito Sheppard, and Bryan Thomas have all been around teams that have won playoff games. They have much more playoff experience than the Bengals players bring to the game. That kind of experience can not be underscored in a game like this one. They have to explain to the young players about how the intensity changes in the playoffs and how the teams that hit harder and play more intense games often win.

The Jets need to come out and just lay into the Bengals right at the start. The excuses after last weeks game already began from the Bengals. They talked of injuries. They said that they really treated it as a third preseason game, after a full week of claiming it was a real game. They said how it was not their building and how it meant nothing and is out of their system. Teams that make excuses like that are often simply trying to convince themselves about why something happened. Former players who have been in a similar situation almost all have said that those kind of games stay with you and if the rematch starts out badly it a much bigger uphill battle than had the loss never occurred. The Jets have to seize that opportunity and force the Bengals to start scratching their heads by the time the first quarter is over.

The Jets just seem to be going into this game with all the momentum and upside. The big difference this week is that the Bengals defense seems to be wearing down while the Jets defense seems to be peaking. They look like two teams going in opposite directions. If the Jets do not turn the ball over or allow their special teams to lose the game they will win their first playoff game in five years.

Jets 23 Bengals 10