The New York Jets have a tough matchup ahead of them this afternoon at 4:25 p.m. ET against the Cincinnati Bengals, who are 5-2 overall and undefeated at home. Meanwhile, the Jets have been better than expected, and they are over .500 after scraping by the rival New England Patriots in overtime last week. The Jets defense is back to being elite, as they have the best run defense in the league on a per-play basis with a meager 3.1 yards per carry allowed. The pass defense has also been excellent, allowing just 5.4 yards per attempt, which is the fourth-best in the league. However, the Jets pass defense has allowed ten touchdowns with just two interceptions forced, and the low yards per attempt allowed isn’t backed up by game tape. Still, the Jets have been impressive this season, and it is almost a fool’s errand to run it on these guys. Below are four players to watch against the Cincinnati Bengals.
1. CB Antonio Cromartie
Yeah, you knew this one was coming. A.J. Green is easily the Bengals most talented skill position player, and he’s the best wide receiver in the AFC. The man is incredibly hard to cover, and he managed to embarrass a very good coverage corner last week in Chris Houston; it was to the point where the Lions had to actually bench Houston. Green has 43 receptions for 619 yards and five touchdowns, and those are definitely amazing numbers; he’s averaging 88.4 yards per game. Antonio Cromartie, on the other hand, has been a noteworthy disappointment this season, but he is determined to get back on track this week. Cromartie vs. Green is definitely a marquee matchup to watch, and it’s going to be arguably the most pivotal one-on-one battle in this game. The Jets need Cro to start playing like he did last year, and getting that start now would be ideal. As we saw when the Cleveland Browns upset the Bengals earlier this year, the way to beat the Bengals is to shut down Green. Joe Haden was able to do that, and we’ll see if Cromartie has what it takes to stop one of the game’s best.
2. WR Jeremy Kerley
If you ask me who the best receiver on the New York Jets is, then I will tell you that it’s Jeremy Kerley and not Santonio Holmes. Kerley is just so much more consistent than Holmes right now, and you can’t rely on somebody you can’t trust. At this point, I highly doubt the Jets organization trusts Holmes, even though there is no doubting the fact that he is an incredibly talented wide receiver. But “best” never directly equates to “talent”; there’s a lot more to it.
Kerley leads the Jets with 24 receptions this season and 319 yards, and I expect that gap on Stephen Hill to increase. Hill has an advantage since he’s played in one more game than Kerley this season. When you look at the per-game rates, it’s clear that Kerley is the best wideout. He averages four receptions per game for 53.2 yards per game, whereas Hill has 2.7 catches per contest for 45.3 yards. The Bengals are deep at corner so they can definitely survive without Leon Hall in this contest, but Kerley is going to cause whoever he faces in the slot problems.
3, 4. Austin Howard and D’Brickashaw Ferguson
Keeping Geno Smith upright in this game is going to be a huge key to victory for the New York Jets, and that’s where their tackle duo comes into play. While Geno Atkins is the best pass rusher and defensive player on the Bengals, the Bengals have a defensive end duo that definitely needs to be highlighted. Carlos Dunlap is a dangerous left end who knows how to finish plays, and he’s also stout against the run. Austin Howard continues to impress on the right side of the Jets line, and the Jets starting right tackle needs to be talked about more as a beautiful steal by the Jets front office. While Mike Tannenbaum deserves a lot of criticism for some boneheaded moves, his ability to replace Wayne Hunter with Howard was definitely a shrewd move and continues to pay dividends. Getting rid of Hunter was obvious, but being able to pick out Howard as a worth starter definitely wasn’t obvious.
Howard has played about as good as left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, who is widely regarded as one of the best left tackles in the league. Even though he hasn’t been playing at an elite level like he usually is, Ferguson’s been solid and rarely gets beat in pass protection. He has a tougher assignment in Michael Johnson, who is a hyper-athletic, well-rounded DE. Johnson has the ability to make big plays in the run and pass, and he is a brutally efficient pass rusher. If these two DEs consistently win their matchups against the Jets OTs, then Geno Smith will be in trouble.