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Previewing the Jets’ opposition: Cincinnati Bengals

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NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets head out on the road this weekend for a match-up with the winless Bengals. Unless Cincinnati can break their losing streak, the Jets will win a fourth straight and keep themselves mathematically alive in the playoff race. Can the Jets keep their momentum going? Let’s break down their opponents.

Quarterbacks

Andy Dalton makes his return to the starting line-up this week after the Bengals experimented with fourth-round rookie Ryan Finley as the starter over the past three weeks. Finley came close to getting the Bengals their first win, as they lost by six and seven points in their last two games.

Finley had only completed 47 percent of his passes, so Dalton’s return should provide an upgrade. He famously led the Bengals to a huge 49-9 win over the Jets with a five-touchdown performance in 2013.

Another rookie, the undrafted Jake Dolegela, is the number three.

Offensive Line

The Bengals’ offensive line has really struggled but got a boost last week when veteran Cordy Glenn made his first appearance of the year at left tackle. Glenn had a concussion in preseason, then was disciplined internally behind the scenes before finally making his debut against the Steelers. However, he was pretty rusty and gave up a game-clinching strip sack.

Center Trey Hopkins and right guard John Miller are the most consistent players on one of the league’s weakest offensive line units.

Right tackle Bobby Hart has struggled as a run blocker and racked up a team high eight penalties, while left guard Billy Price is a major weak link. He dead last in the NFL for pass blocking according to Pro Football Focus.

Andre Smith had started the first five games at left tackle and then John Jerry - who is really a guard by trade - replaced him until Glenn’s return. They can now provide veteran depth from the bench.

The Bengals’ run blocking has been poor across the board and they’ve given up 40 sacks, led by Jerry’s seven. Hart has surrendered the most pressure, though.

Rookies Michael Jordan, a fourth-rounder, and the undrafted Fred Johnson are also on the bench. Jordan started the first four games but struggled badly and has been coming off the bench ever since.

Reserve Alex Redmond, who had made two starts at guard, was just placed on injured reserve, while first round pick Jonah Williams remains on the PUP list following offseason shoulder surgery.

Running Backs

Joe Mixon is the Bengals’ leading rusher with 599 yards, but has only averaged 3.7 yards per carry. Veteran Giovani Bernard has struggled even more though, as he averages just 3.1 yards per carry. The Bengals are actually led in rushing touchdowns by Dalton, who has three.

Bernard and Mixon are both pass-catching threats out of the backfield as they have 45 combined receptions. Mixon has three touchdown receptions on the year.

The Bengals drafted two running backs in the sixth round this year but neither Trayveon Williams nor Rodney Anderson has seen action yet. Anderson is on injured reserve.

Receivers

The Bengals’ receiving corps has taken a hit with AJ Green having missed the entire year so far due to ankle issues and John Ross, who had been off to a good start with three long touchdowns, on injured reserve.

In their absence, Tyler Boyd and Auden Tate have been picking up the slack. Boyd, a threat out of the slot, has a team-high 63 catches for almost 700 yards, while the 6’5” Tate is averaging over 14 yards per reception on 35 catches.

Alex Erickson is the number three and has chipped in with 28 receptions, while two undrafted rookies - Damion Willis and Stanley Morgan Jr - round out the rotation. They’ve combined for 12 catches.

CJ Uzomah is listed as the starter at tight end but veteran Tyler Eifert has been the more productive pass-catching threat with 29 catches including two scores.

Reserves Drew Sample and Cethan Carter have already been ruled out for Sunday. Sample was a second-round pick in April.

Defensive Line

Defensive tackle Geno Atkins remains the Bengals’ best overall player and he currently leads them in total pressure and with 4.5 sacks.

The other starter, Andrew Billings, and back-up Josh Tupou have played the run well, but the 315-pound fourth-round rookie Renell Wren hasn’t made much of an impact yet.

Carlos Dunlap and Sam Hubbard are the starting defensive ends for the Bengals. Hubbard is their most productive edge in terms of creating pressure and has four sacks on the year, while the veteran Dunlap has played the run well.

Andrew Brown and Carl Lawson have been coming off the bench with Lawson adding two sacks. Brown has had an underwhelming season, though.

Anthony Zettle hasn’t played much off the bench.

Linebackers

Nick Vigil leads the Bengals with 89 tackles, but he’s listed as questionable with an ankle injury having returned to practice on a limited basis on Friday.

The Bengals recently let Preston Brown go, so third-round rookie Germaine Pratt is now a starter. Pratt has struggled so far, especially in coverage.

The Bengals are virtually always in sub-packages so reserve linebackers Hardy Nickerson, Jordan Evans and LaRoy Reynolds don’t get on the field much. All of them have played less than 50 snaps.

Defensive Backs

With Dre Kirkpatrick having gone onto injured reserve last month, William Jackson III, BW Webb and Darqueze Dennard all play a full-time role on defense. Webb is probably the weak link, while Dennard has done a decent job in the slot.

Tony McRae has also contributed out of the slot, although he’s not played any defensive reps since week eight.

Torry McTyer, Greg Mabin and Darius Phillips are all available for cover although none has contributed much yet. Phillips was just re-activated from injured reserve having recorded his first career interception early in the season. Jackson is the only other cornerback to have intercepted a pass this year.

Shawn Williams and Jessie Bates III are the starting safeties. Williams is on a pace to rack up over 100 tackles, while Bates leads the team with two interceptions.

Clayton Fejedelem and Brandon Wilson see occasional action off the bench as the Bengals run some three-safety packages.

Special Teams

The Bengals’ kicker is a former Jet - Randy Bullock - and he’s had a decent year with only three missed kicks. He’s 0-for-2 from beyond 50 yards though.

Wilson is having a great year as the kick returner. He’s averaging over 32 yards per return with a 92-yard touchdown and might be on course to earn himself a spot in the pro bowl.

Erickson hasn’t done much as the punt returner, though. He’s averaged under seven yards per return with a long of just 15. Boyd is available to back up both spots.

Punter Kevin Huber is 27th in the league in gross average but 12th in net average, so his coverage units have obviously done well for him. Wilson also leads the team in special teams tackles, just ahead of McRae and Evans.