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Five Things to Watch: Bengals at Jets

CB Chidobe Awuzie, S Jessie Bates III
CB Chidobe Awuzie, S Jessie Bates III

The Bengals seek their first win of the season when they face the N.Y. Jets at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. The game will feature two potent offenses and a high level of familiarity on both sides.

Here are five things to watch between the Bengals and Jets on Sunday:

1. Slowing the Jets Passing Game

As Geoff Hobson wrote in his Bengals Notebook on Wednesday, Cincinnati will see a familiar face in Jets quarterback Joe Flacco.

Flacco, who has played against the Bengals 20 times in his career as longtime signal caller for the Baltimore Ravens, is off to a scorching start to the 2022 season. He eclipsed 300 passing yards in each of New York's first two games — his first time doing so in consecutive games since 2016 — and has thrown for five touchdowns against just one interception. Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur has not been hesitant to air it out, as Flacco's league-high 103 pass attempts are 14 more than the next QB (Joe Burrow, with 89).

"[Flacco] plays with a lot of confidence," said head coach Zac Taylor in his Wednesday news conference. "He plays with a lot of poise, plays on time. He can make any throw that there is to be made in all of football. He can still do that. His team probably has a lot of confidence in him because he's been there, done that."

The Jets' passing attack versus a stingy Bengals secondary will pit strength against strength. New York this season ranks third in the NFL in passing yards per game (303.0) and is eighth in total offense (391.0). On the other side, Cincinnati is in the top half of the league in total defense (seventh, 391.0 yards allowed per game) and passing defense (13th, 211.0). For the Bengals to leave East Rutherford with a win, their back end will have to slow down Flacco and perhaps get its first interception of the season.

2. Getting off to a Fast Start

Throughout the week, Taylor and Burrow have reiterated the importance of a strong start to the game. Cincinnati has faced a 14-point deficit in the first half of both contests this season, and although the Bengals clawed their way back to tie the score each time, building an early lead will allow for the offense to establish a rhythm on its own terms.

"When we're playing from behind, defenses can pin their ears back and play third-down defense," Burrow said. "They don't have to get up and challenge us. (Against Dallas), we get down 14-3 early, starting in first-and-15 for the first three drives and now they can play third-down defense, they can mix up the looks and they're not afraid of the run game because they're winning by 11 points. We've just got to quit beating ourselves, start faster and then we'll get more chances."

Recent history favors the Bengals getting out in front, as they have won each of their last six games (including postseason) when scoring first. In five of those wins, Cincinnati came up with points on its opening offensive possession.

3. Bengals Offensive Line

After facing some of the best pass rushers in the league, Cincinnati takes on a Jets defense that has produced just three sacks in two games. The new-look offensive line continues to develop its chemistry and communication. RT La'el Collins is listed as questionable, but Taylor is optimistic about him playing this week.

"Those guys are working hard to get it right," Burrow said. "I can do a lot more to help them, too, and we can do more with play calling to help them as well. We're getting this thing right — no one is panicking. We're not too worried about the excuses of why (the sacks) are happening, we're just worried about getting it fixed."

4. Battle on the Edges

Geoff Hobson’s “Matchup of the Game” this week features Bengals Pro Bowl defensive end Trey Hendrickson and Jets DL Carl Lawson. Though they won't be lining up against one another, Hendrickson and Lawson are both game-breaking defensive linemen who are hungry for big plays after a relatively quiet first two weeks.

Hendrickson is still seeking his first sack of the season. The 2021 free agent signee recorded a career-high 14 last season, ranking fifth in the NFL and second in team history. He bulldozed through the Cowboys' O-line to bring Ezekiel Elliott down for a five-yard loss last week, but if the Bengals are going to make Flacco uncomfortable in the pocket, their star edge rusher will need to fill the stat sheet.

Lawson, a former Bengals standout who amassed 20 sacks over four seasons in Cincinnati, missed the 2021 campaign with an Achilles injury. He has started on the edge in both of New York's games this season and in Week 2 picked up a half-sack. As the former Bengals fourth-round pick continues to find his old form, much of the Jets' impact at the line of scrimmage will depend on Lawson's pass rush.

5. Money Mac from Deep

Evan McPherson has rapidly earned a reputation for being one of the NFL's best kickers from long range. The second-year pro out of Florida has already hit a Bengals-record 11 field goals from 50-plus yards, and is two-for-two this season from that distance and beyond.

In Week 1 against Pittsburgh, McPherson broke his own team record with a 59-yarder to log the Bengals' first points of the season. His previous record was 58, kicked at Denver on Dec. 19 of last year. At Dallas in Week 2, he converted from 50 yards in the third quarter. Should he have a repeat performance this week against the Jets, it would be the first time in his career that he kicked a 50-plus yarder in three straight games.

For historical context, McPherson's 11 field goals from 50 yards or more are tied with Blair Walsh for the most in a player's first 18 career games in NFL history.

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