Coming off their biggest win of the year, the (4-3) New York Jets invade Paul Brown Stadium to face arguably their toughest opponent to date—the (5-2) Cincinnati Bengals.The Jets won't have time to celebrate their victory because the Bengals are awfully solid in every facet of the game. They boast a considerable passing game, a good offensive line, and very few holes in their defense. Still, this team will go only as far as Andy Dalton will take them, which is to say that they are a good team but certainly not elite. The Bengals have done a great job in surrounding Dalton with weapons: they drafted the best wide receiver in the the 2011 draft (A.J. Green), the best tight end in the 2013 draft (Tyler Eifert), arguably the best running back in the 2013 draft (Giovani Bernard), and a solid offensive line that has protected him almost flawlessly. And yet, the offense has yet to take the next step. Their offense is ranked 22nd in the league in terms of points per game (22.1), and their running game in particular has struggled to establish an identity, averaging only 3.6 yards per game. As the Jets have been dominant against the run, it appears that stopping Dalton and his assortment of weapons will be the biggest key.
Pressuring Andy Dalton: Hey, Andy Dalton's stats look kind of nice this year. He is completing 66% of his passes, is on pace for about 4400 yards and 25 touchdowns, and his passer rating is 11th in the league at 93.9. And yet, he still looks like the weak link of an otherwise solid team, especially given the mediocre scoring output despite big-play guys at every position. Jets fans know that teams usually go only as far as their quarterback will take them, and although Dalton is certainly a good quarterback, he probably isn't good enough to get the Bengals over the hump–at least not yet. He has looked elite over the past two weeks (709 passing yards, 6 TD, and only one INT), but that was against two subpar pass defenses in the 22nd ranked Bills and the 21st ranked Lions. In the 5 games before that, he was very mediocre: 5 TD, 5 INT, and 11 sacks taken. One of the major problems with Dalton is that he is among the worst at eluding pressure (in that an unusually high number of Dalton pressures result in sacks). Luckily for Dalton and the Bengals, the offensive line has done a great job in pass blocking. The Jets' front seven has been key to every Jets victory thus far, but must really bring their A-game this week to get Dalton off his game. When he has time to sit in the pocket and sling it to A.J. Green, he can be very dangerous. If Muhammad Wilkerson and the rest of the Jets' defensive line can collapse the pocket, Dalton and the Bengals could be in for a long day.
Brian Winters/Nick Mangold vs. Geno Atkins: Broadway Geno Smith is not the only Geno that will play a vital role in this game, as Bengals' defensive tackle Geno Atkins leaves his mark on every play that he is a part of. As one of the finest 3-technique defensive tackles in the league, Atkins can do it all. He has 4 sacks on the year after a bit of a slow start, with 3 sacks and 16 tackles coming in the last 4 games. Despite dealing with double teams and even triple teams, Atkins consistently collapses the pocket and can sniff out the run with the best of them. This week, he draws rookie offensive guard Brian Winters, who has been a mixed bag at best. The best thing that one can say about Winters is that he is not Vladimir Ducasse. He is not penalty prone and has looked far less likely to make the silly mental errors that have plagued Ducasse throughout his career, but the tradeoff is that he is far less dynamic than Ducasse, who has looked dominant at times. Atkins will be Winters' first true test, and the matchup will be key to the Jets success. Nick Mangold will probably assist Winters for much of the game, so the rookie thankfully won't be on an island. If Winters and Mangold can keep Atkins out of the backfield and Geno off his backside, the Jets' chances improve exponentially. If Atkins creates the mayhem that he is capable of, things could get ugly quickly.
Chris Ivory: Somewhat unexpectedly, Chris Ivory put the running game on his back against the Patriots, accumulating a career high 34 carries to Bilal Powell's 3. While Ivory broke 100 yards for the fist time in a Jets uniform, it took him 34 attempts to get 104 yards–good for about 3 yards per carry. The stats may not look all that impressive, but a closer look reveals some encouraging numbers. According to PFF, 64 of Ivory's 104 yards came after first contact. The offensive line struggled to get much push for much of the game (and hasn't looked all that great all season long), but Ivory's dynamic–even violent–running style allowed the Jets to stick with the run all day. Maintaining a balanced offense will be critical all year with a rookie quarterback, particularly against a team with a defense as strong as Cincinnati's. Although Powell is the more complete running back–he contributes far more in the passing game and is the better pass-blocker–Ivory probably has a little more bounce and looks more likely to make something out of nothing. I'd expect a more equal distribution of carries against the Bengals, but continued success from Ivory would be very encouraging going forward.
Jeremy Kerley: With Leon Hall out for the year with a torn Achilles, the Bengals will be without their top corner, a consistently above average performer that has been a top 10 cornerback over the last 5 years. Hall is among the best in the league at defending the slot, which is convenient for the Jets because their most consistent offensive weapon happens to play slot receiver. Jeremy Kerley has been coming on of late with 15 catches and 2 TD in his last three games, and will likely be lining up against defensive backs Chris Crocker and Dre Kirkpatrick. Both present a significant drop-off from Leon Hall, especially given that Crocker is naturally a safety and will have a difficult time of keeping up with Kerley in and out of his cuts. With Adam "Pacman" Jones and Terrence Newman–both decent corners–on the outside, the slot looks like the most vulnerable spot for the Jets to attack.
Players to Watch: After a poor start to the season, Antonio Cromartie had a bounce-back game last week against New England, holding Kenbrell Thompkins to just sixteen yards on two catches. This week, his matchup will be a little tougher, as he draws 3rd-year dynamo A.J. Green. Although the two matchup decently well–Cro is probably better suited than most cornerbacks to neutralize Green–I expect a dogfight throughout the whole game. Green definitely has the attention of Rex and the coaching staff, and it looks like Cro will follow him wherever he lines up.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Will Cro shadow Green all over the field? Rex: "Well were not going to put Snacks on him." <a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=%23nyj&src=hash">#nyj</a></p>— Seth Walder (@SethWalderNYDN) <a href="https://twitter.com/SethWalderNYDN/statuses/393091994731687936">October 23, 2013</a></blockquote>
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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Rex says A.J. Green is probably the best receiver in the AFC. <a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=%23nyj&src=hash">#nyj</a></p>— Seth Walder (@SethWalderNYDN) <a href="https://twitter.com/SethWalderNYDN/statuses/393091841358573568">October 23, 2013</a></blockquote>
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Another player to watch is Austin Howard, who has quietly been having a very solid season– allowing only one sack through seven games after allowing 13.5 last season. #77 is a player to watch because he will be tasked with slowing down Carlos Dunlap, whose pass rushing acumen is criminally underrated. Dunlap already has 4 sacks this season, and dominated last week with 7 hurries and 2 QB hits. Against a defense that has multiple ballhawks in the secondary, it will be key to give Geno Smith time to set his feet. If Austin Howard can deliver another good game, the Jets could be two games over .500 heading into November.