Playoffs? You talkin' about PLAYOFFS?!?!
Not often does an NFL team face the same opponent twice in two weeks. Yet somehow that is the case in three of the four divisional playoff games to be played this weekend . Luckily, the Jets get the benefit of playing the team that hasn't won a playoff game since 1990 (longest current drought in the NFL).
As rare as it is, the Jets actually found themselves in this same predicament in 2001. They beat the Oakland Raiders in week 17, 24-22, but then lost to them the following week in the divisional playoffs. Let's hope history doesn't repeat itself.
It's been a long, up-and-down season for both Jets fans and players. Many thought our season was over after the loss to Atlanta. The Jets even found themselves in a stretch this year when they went 1-4 at Giants Stadium, and have lost four games in the final two minutes this season. Yet, here we stand, as the Jets once again find themselves pitted against the team that employs a very similar style of football to theirs.
Let's take a look at Saturday's matchup (which is scheduled for a 4:30 EST kickoff):
- The Jets field the #1-ranked defense in both yards and points allowed
- They are the #1-ranked rushing attack in the NFL, and will be up against Cincy's #7-ranked rush defense (which, before last game's thrashing, was previously ranked #2).
- Cincy ranks #4 in YPG allowed, and #6 in PPG allowed. They are the #9-ranked rushing attack in the NFL.
- The Bengals have a weak passing game, and is ranked 26th in passing yards. The Jets field the #1-ranked defense against the pass.
- The Jets rushed for a franchise-record 2,756 yards this year.
- GangGreen have 26 players on their active roster who have played in a playoff game, while the Bengals have only 13.
Keys to Victory on Saturday:
Stop The Run/Make Cincy One-Dimensional:
Like the Jets, Cincy's offense is predicated upon running the football. In the games which Cedric Benson has carried the ball 20 times or more, the Bengals are 6-1. The Jets did a great job of stopping Cincy's rushing attack (sans Benson) on Sunday night, which forced Cincy into many 'third and long' situations and rendered them predictable in their offensive play-calling. It also gives the Jets defense more opportunity to unleash some exotic blitzes.
Opposing teams are finally feeling the effects of Darelle Revis and what he brings to the table. Having a shutdown corner really does wonders for a defense. Sunday's game showed us that a lot of Cincy's success on the ground is based on Ocho Cinco stretching defenses by running vertical routes, as many teams have had to keep a safety over the top to help cover him. Thanks to the strong play on Revis Island and blanketing of Ocho, the Jets had the flexibility to use Leonhard and Rhodes in a variety of zone blitzes on Sunday night. They were very aggressive on defense.
Jets Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has said on Saturday he will be playing some Cover-1 defense --- which involves Kerry Rhodes covering a lot of ground and being the last line of defense. This will provide the other safety (whether it be Leonhard or Smith) with the flexibility to either come up and help stop the run or blitz off the edge. This is all possible because of how great Revis has been in defending against the deep ball this year.
Bring the Heat:
The Jets did a great job of getting pressure on Palmer Sunday and effectively moving the pocket. We will likely see more of that on Saturday. Pettine is certainly no stranger to the blitz, and he disguises it well with well-timed/delayed rushes.
Carson Palmer is not the mobile QB he was back in '06. He has been banged up for the better part of the last 3 years. His statistics drop off significantly when facing 5 or more rushers:
- Carson Palmer against 4 rushers- 65% completion rate, 14 TD's, 7 INT's
- Carson Palmer when facing 5 or more rushers-.53%, 7 TD's, 6 INT's
Keep It Simple:
GangGreen is 5-1 since Rex stated he would become more involved in the offense following the loss in Foxborough. In this time period, Sanchez has drastically improved on turning the ball over. While he did throw three interceptions in the Atlanta game (it should be noted this was his first game back from injury which forced him to wear two knee braces), he has thrown only one interception in the other five games combined. Rex said he was going to help Sanchez make smart decisions with the football, and the statistics clearly back that up. I'm a believer.
Schotty did an excellent job on Sunday of putting Sanchez in a position where he didn't have to do too much. The play-calling was conservative yet effective, and while Sanchez was inaccurate in a couple of throws, he didn't turn the ball over and managed the game effectively.
Sanchez is going to have make plays with his arm this week. Zimmer has made it known that he will stack more men in the box and will not allow the Jets rushing attack to beat them again. The key here will be getting him into "third and manageable" situations, and not "third and longs."
Tricks Still up Their Sleeve?
In Sunday's game, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer showed very few looks on defense. Zimmer is known for his Double-A Gap blitzes, which bring heavy pressure up the gut between the center and guard and force opposing QB's to make quick decisions with the football. This package is known for its deception, and is tough for QB's to sniff out as they don't know where the pressure is coming from. Sanchez is going to have to be up for the test and make smart decisions with the football, and I'm sure that's something they've worked on with him in practice this week.
Chance for Bart Scott to Redeem Himself:
After he ruined a potential shutout for the Jets in Tampa Bay via a personal foul penalty, Scott was stripped of a prestigious position that allowed him to be the sole linebacker in Pettine's 3-1-7 formation. The job was given to David Harris following the game three weeks ago, but with Harris ailing it will go back to Scott on Saturday. This is a chance for him to re-assert himself as the Jets leader on defense Saturday.
Field Position Game:
In a game that should be close in score throughout and will likely be a battle for field position, it is imperative for Westhoff's special teams unit to improve in kick coverage. Last week the Jets gave up 200 return yards. That can't happen this week. The Jets have been inconsistent in kick coverage this year --- either really good, or really bad. Let's hope for the former.
Weak at WR:
Cincy has the 26th-ranked passing attack in the NFL. They lack both depth and consistency at WR. After Ocho Cinco, who leads the team with 72 receptions, there is a dramatic gap in production as they do not have a solid, possession-based, slot receiver. Caldwell caught 51 balls; and Coles, who is still not fully-acclimated to Cincy's offensive scheme, managed only 43.
The Jets field the #1-ranked pass defense, allowing opponents to throw for only 153 ypg. They will make it very hard for Palmer and co. to move the football through the air, as they did last Sunday night (Palmer 1/11 for 0 total yards)
The way to beat the Jets through the air is with short passes underneath leading to long, consistent drives. The Bengals don't run that type of offense, if you shut down Ocho, you shut down Carson Palmer.
I see this game as a matchup of two teams moving in opposite directions. The Bengals had the benefit of catching some of their divisional opponents in bad spots early in the season, and have severely regressed since their loss in Oakland. The Jets, on the other hand, have won 5 of 6, and are really coming together as a unit. Guys are now aware of and have settled into their individual roles, and there is a very strong camaraderie in the locker room and also off the field. The players will also be motivated to get a win for Woody Johnson in honor of his recently-deceased daughter, Casey (RIP).
Smash-mouth football wins games -- especially in the playoffs. Just ask Rex about his 2000 Ravens, or Tomlin about Pittsburgh's 2008 Steelers. When you combine a great power-running game with a physical, aggressive defense, good things happen. The Jets also have a great complement to the inside running of Jones/Greene in the Tiger-Cat formation which allows Brad Smith to operate out of the option and keeps opposing defenses on their toes.
The Jets play the same style of football Cincy plays, but they do it better. The statistics are there to back it up. This Bengals team does not match up well against teams that play smash-mouth football. The Jets are also the more experienced team.
If the GangGreen defense and running game can control the time of possession and effectively shorten the game, I think they can leave Ohio victorious. They need to dominate the trenches on both sides of the ball, and put Sanchez in a position where he has to be a game-manager, not a game-winner. And they will. In Rex we trust. J-E-T-S JETS JETS JETS!!!!
Rex said we should be favorites on Saturday, and he's a smart man. Jets 19, Bengals 16