Bengals to Jet into playoffs?

Posted Jan 2, 2010


JANUARY 3, 2010

Even his players aren’t quite sure how Marvin Lewis is going to play Sunday’s regular-season finale in The Meadowlands. “They wouldn’t tell us anyway,” said one Bengal, so you can imagine how tough it is for the Roundtable to call this one.

Naturally, it would be a split decision with the ex-players giving the nod to the Jets because they need it more than the Bengals and the NFL scout giving it to the Bengals because he believes their No. 2 rushing defense stacks up better than the Jets No. 1 rush offense because they’ve played better running backs during the season.

Complicating any call is that with a win the Jets would secure next week’s Wild Card berth against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium, probably on Saturday. If the Patriots lose in Houston earlier in the day and don’t wrap up the third seed, the Bengals figure to play their starters in an effort to get that seed.

“I give the edge to the Jets on this one, but the Bengals would win at home the next week. I don’t think the Jets are a good playoff team,” says Big Bird, a former NFL player with double-digit seasons in the league. “If the Bengals get a shot to win the third seed, they should go for it. They don’t want to go to Indianapolis for the second round. If the Patriots win, I don’t think the Bengals play their starters. Maybe for a series or two, but maybe not even that. But for this week, I think the Jets win, 20-17.”

Our other former NFL player with double-digit seasons, The Sage, agrees with the Steelers’ LaMarr Woodley. He thinks Cincinnati and New England fear Pittsburgh enough that they’d prefer to lose so they would get the fourth seed and play the fifth-seeded Jets instead of the Steelers if Pittsburgh sneaks in as the sixth seed.

But he’s not sure that is going to dictate how the Bengals play.

“I don’t think this one is going to be low scoring. I’m thinking it’s going to be 28-14 Jets,” The Sage says. “I don’t think it’s a great matchup for the Bengals. The Jets have some offensive threats and their defense is very difficult and the Bengals struggled against one of the worst defenses last week. I do think Marvin has a dilemma if New England loses and Baltimore wins. Do you prefer to play the Jets and their rookie quarterback at home with the fourth seed? Or do you win the third seed so you can go against a team you beat twice and know like the Ravens and then possibly be at home for the championship game if the Bengals beat a team they almost beat two weeks ago in San Diego and the Patriots beat the Colts? I don’t know.”

The Eye, an NFL scout familiar with the Bengals and the AFC North, gives the nod to the Bengals, something like 20-10, because they have the better quarterback in the more experienced Carson Palmer, and because they’ve kept better running backs in check like Ray Rice and Rashard Mendenhall.

The Jets are the most similar team the Bengals are going to play. “Look at the stats,” says Jets head coach Rex Ryan.

The Jets are first in defense, first against the run, first running the ball and they are giving up a league-low 15.7 points per game. The Bengals are fourth in defense, second against the run, sixth running the ball and giving up 16.9 points per game.

“It’s going to be the fastest game in the league,” Ryan says.

WR C. Ochocinco vs. Jets CB Darrelle Revis

The game’s marquee matchup. The Ocho vs. the guy that Big Bird calls the NFL’s best cover corner. The stats back him up. Revis has allowed just two touchdown passes this season, a short one to Randy Moss and a long one to Ted Ginn, Jr. And look what he’s given the best receivers this season: Andre Johnson four catches for 35 yards; Moss 4-24; Marques Colston 2-33; Terrell Owens 3-13; Moss again 5-34; Carolina’s Steve Smith 1-5; Owens again 3-31; Atlanta’s Roddy White 4-33.

“Revis is great at the line of scrimmage,” Bird Bird says. “He’s got what they call, ‘The high-five technique.’ He gets on top of the receiver for the first five yards and when the quarterback looks his way, the receiver always looks covered. And he’s never in bad position. He intercepts both comeback routes and fades. No other guy in the league follows No. 1 guys around like he does and if they don’t have to give help on Chad that is going to open up the Jets blitz.

“It is interesting because Chad’s strength is getting off the line.”


WR L. Coles vs. Jets CB Dwight Lowery

Coles played more in the slot last week than he ever has for the Bengals with Andre Caldwell playing on the outside more than he ever has. The Jets nickel corner, Donald Strickland, is injured and the nod goes to Lowery, a second-year fourth-round pick, against the former long-time Jet. Coles played seven of his 10 seasons in New York and keeps his skein intact of playing at least one game every season of the decade in The Meadowlands.

“The slot receiver is extremely important in a game against a great blitzing team,” The Eye says. “Whenever they played the Ravens, it’s why T.J. Houshmandzadeh would have so much success. He is the hot read, the guy that the quarterback has to get the ball to right away. Coles doesn’t know the defense, but he knows the defensive backs.”

The Bengals will need anything they get because they know that Ryan predicates his blitz scheme on different unconventional looks that keep changing.


TE JP Foschi and RB B. Leonard vs. Jets WLB Bart Scott

When Ryan coordinated the Ravens defense the Bengal he feared the most besides Palmer was tight end Reggie Kelly. Kelly blocks like a tackle and foiled a lot of Ryan’s schemes that are based on mismatches because of his size and tenacity.

“Rex’s whole thing is getting guys running free, getting big guys on little guys,” The Sage says. “Scott is a tough physical player. He talks a lot. A lot of it is like Chad. He talks because he can back it up and it motivates him and makes him better.”

Big Bird thinks the Bengals are going to have to max protect and have a lot of two-man routes against the blitz: “The way they blitz, it is just hard to pick up and you have to keep people in. The tight ends don’t catch anything anyway so I would think they’re going to keep them in.”

Another guy to figure in here is right tackle Dennis Roland, who often reports as a tight end. Not as nimble as Kelly, the 6-9 Roland obviously takes longer to get around.


RB C. Benson vs. Jets RB Thomas Jones

Benson tees it up against the top-ranked Jets run defense and Jones, his archrival in the Bears backfield, where there was no love lost. They couldn’t live together and it forced Jones’s trade to the Jets and this season they are both bell cows for playoff teams and contenders well over 1,000 yards and alternates in the Pro Bowl.

“The Jets have a really good front. They’re not as big as the Steelers or Ravens, but they are still very hard to move up there,” The Eye says.

The Bengals coveted middle linebacker David Harris in the ’07 draft, but watched the Jets take him just a few picks before them in the second round, but they’ll see him plenty both on the blitz and in the run game.

The Sage eyes the tackles matchup with the rotating Bengals right side of Roland and Andre Smith and left tackle Andrew Whitworth against end Shaun Ellis, a guy that switches sides.

“Ellis isn’t real big (285 pounds), but he’s physical and smart, a 10-year guy that has been around,” The Sage says. “I like the way Andre has looked. They’re easing him in there just about right and not giving him 40 snaps a game. I think Whitworth is going to be OK against (OLB) Calvin Pace on passing downs. Pace is kind of like Simeon Rice: Athletic and long. He’s a little more muscular than Simeon, but not as savvy. You can probably run at him. If he’s going to beat you, it’s around the edge.”

At 31, Jones remains a tough guy to bring down and he does a lot of his damage between the tackles. The Jets have cut back on his carries lately and given the ball to rookie Shonn Greene, a guy 20 pounds heavier than Jones at 226 pounds who has shown some burst as well as a penchant for fumbling. He’s fumbled three times, but averages five yards per carry. A total of 144 of his 478 yards and both touchdowns (one a 33-yarder) came against the Raiders.


QB Mark Sanchez vs. Bengals S T. Nelson

A battle of rookies from the opposite ends of the draft. Sanchez, the No. 5 pick in the draft from USC, vs. Tom Nelson, the free agent from the Missouri Valley Conference and Illinois State.

Everyone wants to play Sanchez in the playoffs with his 20 interceptions against 12 touchdowns.

“But he’s going to be good,” The Eye says. “He can make every throw. He’s like any rookie quarterback. He’s made some bad decisions; he’s been put into some bad situations. So you can confuse him. They’re keeping it pretty simple. They don’t seem to check at the line. They just call a play and go.”

Because the Jets run it so often and so well, Sanchez’s play-action pass behind a line of max protection has become a weapon. With Chris Crocker looking like he’s going to miss his third straight game with an ankle injury, Nelson is going to have to play the pass better than he has the past two games. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer wasn’t enamored with how Nelson played last week’s 20-yard touchdown pass on third-and-10 to a running back.

“I think Sanchez will give them some problems,” The Sage says. “They don’t have a pass rush and they’ve got a good tight end in Dustin Keller, plus a big receiver in Braylon Edwards.”


C Nick Mangold vs. Bengals DT D. Peko

A nice matchup of AFC emerging stars. Mangold is a Pro Bower and Peko is a second alternate even though he missed the last four weeks with a knee scope. He had a limited week of practice and it’s doubtful the Bengals would play him much even if they are going for the third seed.

But there’s no question that Peko’s absence has hurt the Bengals against the run. They’ve allowed four 100-yard games this season, two in the last four games.

“Mangold never gets pushed back; tough matchup for Peko,” Big Bird says.

“Peko is a good nose tackle who doesn’t blow you up like Shaun Rogers,” The Sage says. “He knows angles, he plays off you and he’s strong, but he’s able to use his hands. Yeah, I’d call it a push, but I’m not sure they’re going to play him or if they should.”

“You’d probably at least want to give him a few snaps to get the rust off, but why even risk it?” Bird asks.


FB Tony Richardson vs. Bengals SLB R. Jeanty

The 238-pound, 38-year-old Richardson is a big factor in the Jets No. 1 running game and The Eye sounds like he’d almost pay to see this matchup of two guys that don’t mind banging heads. Jeanty is making his first start since last season with Rey Maualuga out for the rest of the year with a broken ankle.

“I’d love to watch these two guys hit each other. They just slam it,” The Eye says. “This is Jeanty’s kind of game. You know, if the Bengals were playing a team like the Cardinals who use a lot of two backs and four wides, it wouldn’t be his kind of deal. But this is a physical game and Jeanty is one of their most physical players.”


WR Braylon Edwards vs. Bengals CB L. Hall

If he had a chip, Hall wouldn’t show it, but he should have one. He should have done better in the Pro Bowl balloting than fourth alternate. And he’s sharing the field with Revis, the man with whom he shares the AFC interceptions lead among cornerbacks with six and that includes teammate Johnathan Joseph. Plus, Revis was the first cornerback taken in the 2007 draft, Hall the second. Not only that, he practiced against Edwards at Michigan and it was Edwards that gave Hall such a rough pro baptism in his second pro game.

How things change. Hall and Joseph blanked Edwards in five quarters back on Oct. 4 in Cleveland, spurring his exit from the Browns that week. But he’s found a life with the Jets.

“He’s playing harder,” Hall said. “He can make plays on you.”

The Sage: “Edwards can run past you, he is a playmaker. But he’s dropped three or four passes that could have been touchdowns. Still, he’s a dangerous threat.”


ST Coordinator Mike Westhoff vs. Bengals ST Coordinator Darrin Simmons and S K. Hebert

This is a cerebral matchup more than anything else because the Bengals have to be alert against Westhoff’s bevy of reverses and varying alignments. Since Westhoff joined the Jets in 2001, they’ve returned 12 kicks for TDs. Even though Pro Bowler Leon Washington is out for the year, the Jets got one this year when Brad Smith went 106 yards for a touchdown and even that was a bit of a trick. Everyone thought he was going to down it.

“The big thing with the Jets in the kicking game is you have to be aware of where everyone is and account for them,” The Eye says.


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