A week after Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh handed him his head, Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton knows that Jets head coach Rex Ryan has the means and will to hand him everything else in Sunday's preseason game (7 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in The New Meadowlands.
But Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is also telling his young wide receivers that they are athletic enough to challenge one of the NFL's most feared defenses.
"If they load up in the box, we're going to have to grip it and rip it against the two best corners in football," Gruden said this week. "They like their odds and we have to challenge our receivers that we like the odds, too. We'll take a single high safety bump and run man-to-man. We have very athletic receivers. It will be a great test for them also, not just the quarterback."
The Jets win with defense, talent and confusion, and not necessarily in that order. The NFL's best cornerback tandem has allowed the always over-the-top Ryan to go ballistic with the Xs and Os in a scheme where the best of veteran quarterbacks go to melt down. Last year opposing passers barely completed half their throws against the Jets while getting sacked 40 times.
"I don't think he's going to feel sorry for (Dalton); Suh sure didn't," Gruden said. "I don't think anyone is going to have mercy on him. Everyone is going to try and force their will on him, make the young guy do it. That's why preseason games are so important. How resilient is he? We think he is, but that position is different than any other in football. You can't get away without being mentally and physically tough. You find out in a hurry."
Gruden has faith in his guy, particularly after Dalton weathered some early body shots in his NFL debut last Friday night and bounced off the ropes to complete 11 of his last 13 passes.
But Gruden is also looking for his unit to continue the evolution of what he calls an identity against a team that has whipped the Bengals in both trenches.
Dalton only has to look at the three games the Bengals have played against Ryan's Jets over the past two seasons. Quarterback Carson Palmer's 39.4 passer rating (36-85, 281 yards, two TDs, four picks) says all you need to know.
"Teams tried to move around in college, but not anywhere close to what the Jets do," Dalton said. "They may have two guys down; they may have no guys down. Sometimes they'll have seven defensive backs in the game. You don't know what they're going to do. The big thing is to see the look, figure out what they're doing, and be confident. That's what (Gruden) is telling me. Be confident. If you're going to check it, then make the check, and take what they give you."
Jordan Palmer, in the news Thursday for an odd story floating around the Internet, is telling Dalton much the same thing. Yes, Palmer, generous with his Xs and Os, is helping Dalton with the Jets stuff since he spent those three games helping his brother prepare for Pressursaurus Rex.
"There isn't anything like it," Palmer said. "I think the big thing against the Jets is being decisive. If you get out of a play, you've got to do it right away. They try to win with confusion. If they have seven DBs on the field, it's usually not because they think they are their seven best pass rushers. Sometimes you have to know when it's time to figure out who's who and block them up and when it's got be something different."
According to ProFootballTalk.com, Dennis Janson of Cincinnati's WCPO-TV reported that Carson Palmer told a "friend" he thinks the Bengals are "toying" with his brother by giving him few snaps and eventually releasing him so late he won't be able to get another NFL gig.
"There's no truth to it," Jordan allowed Thursday. "I'm not worried about anything other than getting better and figuring out a way to help this team. That's my only focus right now."
The reps clearly give the No. 1 and No. 2 jobs to Dalton and Bruce Gradkowski, respectively, and while the No. 3 job looks to be up for grabs between Palmer and Dan LeFevour, Palmer's experience with teams like the Jets gives him an edge. Of course, there's always the possibility the No. 3 quarterback isn't here yet. Twice in the last four years the Bengals have added a quarterback on Cutdown Day.
"I'm trying to help out as much as I can. I've seen these guys three times and I've been trying to figure out what they're doing and how," Jordan Palmer said. "I think (Dalton) is doing a good job of being decisive and it's a reason why he's been having success as a decision-maker."
Dalton has turned to both Palmer and Gradkowski. He did last week, too, but the Lions were as vanilla as the ice cream by rushing four and dropping seven with no pressures. The opposite of what takes place Sunday.
"It's great having the guys in the room," Dalton said. "Jordan has been here for awhile. He's seen different looks and different things he's seen (preparing) against them. I don't know if Bruce has played them or what the deal is there, but just the experience he brings to the looks."
Gruden is not looking for fireworks. But he'd like to get more than last Friday's flashlight.
"It's going to come fast at (Dalton)," Gruden said. "How he reacts and how he responds to that type pressure will tell a lot. It won't be the end of the world if he doesn't perform perfectly because there aren't many quarterbacks that have succeeded against that defense. We're just looking for him to respond, take the challenge, look it in the eye and see what happens."
Dalton, who averaged only 4.6 yards per attempt Friday, thinks the offense is getting close to some big plays, and that if the Jets give them the right look, "we have to take advantage."
"We went with the quick-game last week and if we break a tackle, those gains are going to be a lot bigger than what they were," he said. "We're getting there."
Gruden says at this point the destination is an intangible as much as a score.
"It won't be the end of the world if we don't score 30 points," he said. "We're just looking to continue to get better, keep the pad level down and do some things we're comfortable with and create an identity for ourselves being physically tough and mentally tough no matter what the circumstances."
The quarterback knows it starts with him.
"I like our plan," Dalton said. "We just have to execute it."