Breaking Down the Jets vs the Bengals
Super fast turnaround for the 8-2 Jets, who will be matching up against a 2-8 Bengals team that may have thrown in the towel on the season.
Jets Offense vs Bengals Defense
A year after the team felt they had become a tough stout defense the wheels have come off with the Bengals giving up tons of points and being one of the most inefficient defenses in the NFL. Things will now go from bad to worse as the Bengals strength, the secondary, is decimated with injury. They will likely be without 3 starters in the secondary and are terribly thin in the replacement category, especially on a short week. The Buffalo Bills annihilated the Bengals pass defense once the secondary players began dropping. The best player, CB Leon Hall, leads the NFL in interceptions and will be the primary coverage guy on the night. Hall has good instincts and does a great job of playing the ball in the air and is arguably having the best season by a corner this year. That is about the only defensive bright spot for the club. The front 4 is among the worst in the NFL in terms of having players that can make an impact. The team has no pass rush at all as DE Antwaan Odom and DE Robert Geathers have not been able to generate any pressure, combining for only 1 sack between the two of them. An injury suffered a few weeks back to DT Tank Johnson, which ended his season, has left the team bare in the middle and is now a soft spot in the defense. Pat Sims and Domata Peko will see almost all the snaps at defensive tackle. Sims is massive but his conditioning is not good if he has to see the field too often. The lack of the pass rush gives the opposition a ton of time to get open down the field and get deep into the secondary for some big plays. The LB's play smart football but are lacking the big hitters or speed that some other teams have, in particular at MLB where Dhani Jones plays because he understands the game, but is nowhere near the athlete most teams have at the position. Ray Maulaluga and Keith Rivers are both solid on the outside, but neither are dominating players that can take over the game. Rivers should be a better player than he shows himself to be on the field. The Bengals expected a game changer and what they got was a solid player that does not stand out on a bad team. The lack of speed and strength has made the Bengals one of the worst big play run defenses in the NFL. The LB's do a good job of keeping passes in front of them and eliminating some of the intermediate routes on the field.
Regardless of how things turn out this year these last few weeks have shown the Jets that have indeed found their Quarterback for at least the next few years. It is still to early to say if QB Mark Sanchez is really going to be an elite level franchise QB, but he has already proven that the Jets will at least have an answer at the position for the foreseeable future and the days of QB competitions and bringing in veteran insurance policies are over. The team has also learned that WR Santonio Holmes is a keeper on offense and has to figure into the long term plans for the team. His skillset is so varied and the offense trusts him to do so much that he has become the player who the passing game is centered around. It is a solid nucleus to build around for years to come. WR Braylon Edwards continues to be a big play threat week in and out and is making a case for the Jets to commit to him long term as well. The offense has really been helped by new ways of using RB LaDainian Tomlinson in the passing game. It is almost as if he is getting the late game looks that would normally have gone to the injured WR Jerricho Cotchery. It is a different approach than how LT was used earlier in the year. Sanchez is making quick decisions to go to Tomlinson who is essentially coming out on designed plays whereas early in the season he was strictly a dumpoff that had no room to run. LT has made the most of those opportunities and with Cotchery a possibility to come back it will be interesting to see how they factor LT into the passing game. The offensive line has fallen apart these last two weeks and is quickly becoming the Achilles heel of the offense. Even before RT Damien Woody was lost to injury the Jets had been having trouble establishing a ground game for weeks and there is no excuse for it. Now the pass protection has fallen apart as well. The team has major money invested in the offensive line and its not paying off.
This is a team that the Jets pummeled on offense last season and that was against a team that had far more confidence than the group this year. Physically the Jets are the stronger team and they have the more athletically gifted players. There is no reason for the Jets to not put up another high 20s or low 30s output in the game. The question really becomes can the Jets put something together early in the game and fire from the start or not? The Jets first half offense has become a big worry as that is the time when you can put opponents away, especially when you are playing at home. Though it did not work for the Bengals last week, in most cases putting up close to 20 points in a half and carrying a 17 point lead usually means a cakewalk in the second half. At 8-2 the Jets are in a position where they have an excellent chance to make the playoffs and to have a half of live action to try to work things out would be a tremendous benefit. The Jets have to find out where RB Shonn Greene is both mentally and physically. He had a crucial fumble last week and has had a terrible year. They need to give him reps to see if he can be trusted with the football and if he can get his motor going against a team that he beat up last year. You only can see that happen in a one sided game. A one sided game lets the team work out T Vladimir Ducasse and see if he can factor into future plans, especially if Woody's health is an issue. But this can only happen if the Jets start out fast and can pull the QB from the game. During the early parts of the game the Jets will likely look to establish the line and get the run game going, as the staff is probably embarrassed by the fact that they no longer can run the football. Expect a good deal of Tigercat thrown in there too as WR Brad Smith ran all over this team last season. The Jets are trying to get the option working and need to get that in games to have defenses prepare more for it. They also need Edwards to avoid the illegal blocks on those plays. The Jets should also look to get TE Dustin Keller involved early. He's been MIA for a few weeks but matches up well against the Bengals, especially if they are paying extra attention to Edwards and Holmes.
Jets Defense vs. Bengals Offense
The Bengals have finally come to the realization that they can no longer build a team around QB Carson Palmer. Palmer, who came highly touted out of USC in 2003, never really made that leap to stardom after a devastating knee injury and has seen his star diminish for 3 seasons. Palmer makes critical mistakes at the worst times in games and does not deal well in the face of pressure. His biggest asset, which is a strong arm, is hampered by the ultra conservative offense that the team runs which does not allow him to throw deep often enough. He is flanked by two aging stars at Wide Receiver. One of them, Terrell Owens, is having an all star type season, ranking 3rd in yards and 6th in touchdowns. Owens is still one of the best big play threats in the NFL. The other star receiver, Chad Ochocinco, has had a terrible season by his standards. His numbers were expected to rise greatly with Owens on the team, but instead they have declined and he does not get the same kind of separation he used to get in the past. He is still capable of the occasional big game, but those have only come in blowout losses this season where he is padding his statistics. Slot WR Jordan Shipley, a rookie out of Texas, may actually be the more productive player. Shipley does a great job of catching the ball on the run and turning a short gain into a long one. TE Jermaine Gresham is the safety valve. The Bengals were a power running team last season and hoped to do the same this year, but they have been able to run the football. RB Cedric Benson has been unable to get his legs going and gets stacked up at the line. He is not taking any pressure off the passing game and has grown frustrated in the offense. Benson is also one of the worst backs in the league when it comes to ball security this year. The offensive line has done an adequate job in pass protection. The left side of the line has been very good, with LT Andre Whitworth only allowing 2.5 sacks on the season. The right side has been a problem, with the two starters allowing a combined 7.5 sacks and 7 penalties. RT Dennis Roland may miss the game with an injury.
This is now two weeks in a row that the Jets defense has fallen apart late and nearly cost the team the game. This inability of the defense to close out a football game dates back to last season and they simply got a pass because the offense was so bad that it was hard to blame the defense for giving up a late score when they only allowed 13 points in a game. But the reality is they lost games to Miami, Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Buffalo by allowing end of the game drives to result in a score. Its noticeable now because they are allowing points in the 20s most games, not under 16, which is a major difference. The Jets big play defense is horrible. It almost defies explanation. They give up more big 3rd downs than anyone in the NFL. They completely forget to cover deep routes and they cant chase down players off screens. What makes it so strange is that the team plays so well, more or less stuffing the opponent for 8 out of 10 plays, but those 2 plays where they connect are killers. Last week the lack of communication in the secondary was astounding. Corners thought they had deep support when both Safety spots were on a blitz. Guys thought they had coverage in when they were supposed to cover out. Linebackers forgot their coverage zone letting RB's just stand wide open for a screen. The head coach demands more out of this unit and there are times where they seem to play as if they have some reputation from last season and that the reputation will carry them in the game. That can not continue. The Safety issue is a problem. The team is desperate to find an answer between Brodney Pool and Eric Smith, but both are a problem and its going to be a high priority to fix next season. The pass rush is another issue. The blitz is no longer working for the Jets and they need to come up with new ways to get to the QB. That is easier said than done, but teams seems to have caught up with the scheme and the talent is not good enough to get it done man on man. The Jets may have to consider using their best athletes- LB's David Harris and Bart Scott along with CB's Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie- as rushers and hope the other players can pick up the slack. Relying on Calvin Pace, Jason Taylor and Jim Leonhard and James Ihedigbo is not going to work.
Palmer is one of those players who the Jets are very familiar with due to the time Rex Ryan spent coaching the Ravens. It was evident in the week 17 and 18 games against the Bengals that Ryan knew everything that had to be done to make Palmer look awful and one would have to expect it to happen this year as well. Even though the Jets defense is not playing as well as it did last season, the Bengals do not have the personnel on the line or the brains on the sideline to have made major adjustments capable of stopping the Jets. The Jets already have a very good run defense and are not going to have to do anything exotic to stop Benson in the running game. Most likely it will just be the job of either Harris or Scott to fill the gap and meet him at the line. The Jets players are very good at putting contact onto the football and it is almost a guarantee that they will be leading with a helmet towards the ball or having guys come from behind to try to strip Benson of the ball. Turnovers are a major problem for the Bengals and the Jets are one of the best at following the ball once it hit's the ground. The war of words has already begun between Owens and Revis, with Owens taking the shot this time around calling Revis an average corner, which may not be terribly far off based on some of the play this year. Revis got the better of Owens last year but this is a new season. Owens has already publicly berated his team for being awful, but unlike a Randy Moss there is no quit in Owens. Owens knows he is auditioning to stay in the NFL and there is no better way to do it than to beat Revis on national TV. Owens knows he may even get a look by the Jets in the offseason in the event that WR Braylon Edwards takes his talents elsewhere. Owens would be the perfect short term deep play replacement for Edwards since Owens will come at a low cost since his attitude scares most teams away. Cromartie will get the Ochocinco assignment which may make Ochocinco mentally check out of the game. Chad is one of the most emotionally fragile players in the NFL and he will not take kindly to the fact that the Jets are putting their primary coverage on Owens as Ochocinco has talked about this Revis matchup since last year. The dark horse player is Shipley. The Jets have almost no ability to cover the slot and Palmer will get rid of the ball quick enough to avoid delayed pressure. The Jets best option here may be to disguise their rushers and drop linemen and linebackers into coverage and hope that Palmer does not see them. The one thing the Jets have to be aware of is the Bengals comeback ability. Cincinnati plays its best when there is no pressure on them which has allowed them to erase some big deficits. The Bengals have come back in a number of games to have a chance to win after getting wiped out for most of the game.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis may be playing out the string. He has had a long time in Cincinnati and they never got over the hump. At this point the Carson Palmer injury is so long ago that its not an excuse anymore. It can be an excuse for why the team never reached elite status, but not for 2-8 and multiple disappointing years. Lewis' calling card was his defense and they are awful. Now with a team devastated by injury on a short week he has to find a way to motivate his players to at least show up for him, never an easy task for a losing team going on the road on Thanksgiving.
Rex Ryan made some statements last week about getting off to a fast start and fixing the defense and he failed to deliver. It was a strange game for the coach who made some good halftime adjustments but had no answers when Shonn Greene fumbled the ball. It was as if the Jets had already packed it in and were looking ahead towards next week. The team looked like they mentally had no clue what to do on the field and again there were problems with substitutions and having the right personnel on the field, a theme that seems to pop up every now and then with Ryan. Ryan's team, despite the 8-2 record, rarely seems to play for 60 minutes and he has to find a way to correct that as they make the turn into December.
Both of these teams have some experience playing on Thursday nights, but only the Jets have the recent experience of playing on Thanksgiving. Getting prepared for the Thursday games is always hard, but it becomes even more difficult on Thanksgiving due to family concerns and other things going on in the personal lives of the players. This holds moreso for the road team, especially one with nothing to play for, as those Jets who were here in 2007 can attest to. That team did not even show up when they got walloped in Dallas and it could be the same problem that affects Cincinnati this week.
This is a game where the Jets have to look to come out fast on offense and aggressive on defense to build a quick lead and hope the Bengals decide to pack it in for the night. The players on the team are frustrated and probably at a boiling point which can spill over to the sidelines if the Jets jump out on them. Though the Bengals have fought back in some games, the fast turnaround should make that harder on them. If the Jets are able to attack whomever lines up opposite Hall in the secondary they should put up huge yards and points through the air.
The Jets, in some ways, should benefit by this game being so early in the week. With the Patriots on the horizon this is a classic trap game, if it takes place on a Sunday. By being so far out from the actual next game and also being able to know if the Patriots won or lost their game the trap aspect of the game should be lost.
This is a game the Jets can not afford to lose. The biggest reason of course is that the team does not want to fall a game behind the Patriots in the divisional race. It seems as if there is a good chance that the best two records in the AFC will be coming from the East, but being second best is not good enough, especially when you consider that the Colts and Chargers are dominant home teams that play completely different football than they do when they are on the road. If the Jets were to lose next week and also lose this game the Patriots would basically have the division locked up. They would have a two game lead and likely own the conference tiebreaker at seasons end. By moving on to 9-2 the Jets can withstand a loss next week and still have a chance to win the division. 9-2 and a win next week would almost clinch the division for NY.
The Jets have talked a big game for some time now and show flashes every week. Maybe this is the week it all comes together. They do not have the time to overthink or overanalyze the opponent. They should just be able to line up and play football, something, on paper, the Jets should be extremely good at. Look for a very aggressive gameplan to get the ball rolling early as the Jets get ready for the huge showdown in Foxboro the following week.
Jets 34 Bengals 14