A Daunting Challenge

Coming off a stunning road win in Cleveland Sunday, the Jets return home for a one o clock showdown against the Bengals, last year’s AFC representative in the Super Bowl, defending Conference Champions. After losing to the Steelers at home in week one, Cincinatti traveled to Dallas last week, got off a slow start, came back in the second half against a good Dallas defense, then fell to 0-2 on a last second field goal. The Jets are consequently facing a lean, hungry, and, in some respects a desperate team in a virtually must win situation. At the very least, this will be a daunting challenge.

Starting with their quarterback and skill positions, the Bengals are extremely talented, arguably elite. Burrow may be young, but he’s smart, elusive, quick and efficient. He completed passes at a seventy percent clip, 34 and 4 td/int ratio last year, and again, led the team to their first Super Bowl appearance in over twenty years. They like to complement the passing game with the threat of Joe Mixon, 6’1 220 and fast. Had over 1200 yards rushing on a four yard average. The receivers include Jamar Chase, arguably the best young wide out in football, went for 1500 yards receiving on an unreal 18 yard average and thirteen td’s. Deep threat par excellence, a very difficult matchup. With Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd outside, both also close to thousand yard receivers last year. All big. All strong. All healthy, productive and fast. Elite weaponry and you cannot stop them all.

However the Bengals start, in the end they always turn to their QB to execute downfield. You cant let him open up and you have to cover outside, you have to get to Burrow first. Part of that is mixing up coverage to try to confuse him, but if you give him time and don’t pressure, and most importantly, hit him, he can carve you up and quick. If you send pressure you cant keep flailing, swinging at him and putting your hands in the air; you have to put him on. the. ground. Jets had some problems mixing coverages and getting sustained pressure last week on the road in Cleveland, but they came up really big in key situations down the stretch. They have to be more disciplined in executing consistently, and over the full course of the game, starting up front, and attacking what has, so far, been a pretty vacant unit up front for the Bengals. Their offensive line is consequently vulnerable, but will only bend when it feels the physical heat, from the inside out. Look for JFM, Q, and especially, I think the young edge guys, Clemons, JJ and Huff to pressure those edges and get Burrow off his dime. Then hit him when they can. Burrow becomes a different person, the ball comes out funny when he gets hit. Gotta bring it, and in earnest. Look for a turnover to swing momentum and get the Bengals on their heels and in a defensive posture. On the back end, either Reed or Sauce, but you have to blanket Chase, keep everything in front and tackle him. Bend but don’t break…..

On offense, don’t look now, but Joe Flacco is the third leading passer in the NFL. La Fleur called a very good game last week; he didnt predicate the pass on run leading to play action, but nonetheless was able to establish enough of a threat on the ground, complemented by the short passing game, to back Cleveland out of the kill box and force them to stick with the four man rush--which is what they THOUGHT they wanted to do. La Fleur then anticipated almost exactly when and where the blitz was coming from, and on at least four different occasions that I saw, had a specific protective matchup in place to locate the pressure and snuff it out. Together for three weeks in a row now, the offense is establishing more of a rhythm at full speed and live reps, further along at this point in the year than they were last; and when Flacco gets time, stays upright and doesnt have to move? He will find open receivers. Bengals defense isn’t fancy; young, tough, ornery, big and quick up front. But like most other defenses that rely on four man pressure without the man capable coverage to back it up and promote the rush, they can be vulnerable. This game could consequently go as far as our offensive line is willing to take it. If they play together as a unit and execute the game plan, I think Breece and Carter should be able to get established, first in the run, then in the short passing game. Start aggressive, but start smart. Then see whether they double Wilson, which I dont think they will. If they try to bring the strong man safety up into the box and leave Wilson singled up over the middle of the field or down the sideline, watch out. Look for a home run ball; advantage no. 17 against Cincinatti man to man outside.

All in all? A winnable game. After losing here last year and basically looking to salvage their season, the Bengals will not be trying to drop to 0-3. But. They are only four and a half point favorites to win with the spread. I like those odds. Underdogs at home, especially young and healthy underdogs, hungry to get a win that will take them out of the division cellar for the first time, literally, in years, are teams to watch closely. Im not sure if the Jets are ready to take the next step, contend with playoff teams week in and week out. But. Not every team you play is gonna be a playoff team. One. And two, last week’s win was probably less of an aberration than people think. In the final analysis, this game wont be easy, if we expect to win, there will definitely be some pain involved. It’ll be fast, it’ll be furious and it will be violent. But I like our chances here at home. If we limit mistakes, avoid self inflicted wounds, execute on both sides and dont beat ourselves? We have more than a good chance. Im taking the Jets ftw 31-27. You heard it here first….

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