In an shady warehouse along the Hudson River near New York City, Raven and Steeler sit on crates and smoke cigars under the only light in the joint. The door slams shut and in struts New York Jets himself. He pulls up his own crate and the three get down to business.
"We want you in our club," Steeler mumbles without looking up.
"Yeah, we like your style, kid," squeals Raven.
"Why me?" asks NYJ in his best raspy, fat-guy voice.
"Cause you're a big power team with a hardcore defense—we like that." says Steeler.
"Who would I replace?"
Raven and Steeler look at each other and smile.
"The Bengals," they say in unison.
"Oh yeah, didn't they beat you both last year...twice. And you, Raven, you got it again this season, right?" giggles Jets.
"Shut up, Jets! You want to be the Baltimore Ravens and you know it!"
"You can't prove that!" Jets screams.
And all three beat each other up to prevent the deal from getting done after all.
They have a point though. The Jets are more like an AFC North team than the Bengals are anymore. Last year, the Bengals trampled through the wrecked debris of a dominated division with their fists and their spirit, but all that might and power has evaporated now, yet the Jets grow stronger and even more difficult to beat. The venom toward that smelly, gangrenous Super Bowl contender in green that we Bengal fans had stored up for them last year, still exists. That's the only reason the Thanksgiving Game matters: because the Jets have become a hated team and beating a hated team feels extra-special.
Jets offense vs. Bengals defense
Continuing on the AFC North comparison, this year's Jets offense reminds me very much of the 2005 Steelers. They are resolutely committed to the run and want to limit the times Mark Sanchez needs to make plays, but they still like to go deep when they can and embrace the intangible chaos of the trick play.
The Bengals secondary is onion-paper thin and the front office is checking Monster.com for somebody to play in the nickel. With Braylon Edwards, now improved by catching one out of five passes thrown his way, and Santonio Holmes, arguably the hottest receiver in football right now, the holiday could be a long one for the Cincinnati pass-defense. I would like to think that the defensive brain-trust would play their corners deep to not allow passes over their heads against two explosive receivers, but obvious focal points like Roddy White and Steve Johnson seemed overlooked on the priority list, so don't be surprised to see them get fried by the expected culprit once more. Of course, a young and inexperienced secondary would be assisted by a decent pass rush but we all know that isn't likely to happen and there's no reason to beat up the defensive line anymore—they know who they are.
It's because of the deep attention Edwards and Holmes should receive that will allow Dustin Keller and LaDainian Tomlinson to find space underneath, and this is where I expect the Jets to find most of their first downs.
The linebackers so far are having a bad year. When they blitz, they are rarely effective, they take poor angles in the open field, and their lack of speed becomes a serious liability in coverage. There have been a few shining moments by each guy at some point over the past 10 games but nothing consistent enough to call adequate. Since they aren't fast, they must recognize plays quicker and react fast enough to make the play. It hasn't happened enough this season. If the Jets have watched their tape, they know they can find open areas in the flats where the linebackers struggle to get to on time. In fact, I can already see Sanchez faking the hand off on a stretch play, rolling out to his right, drawing the safeties back deep with a pump fake and finding Keller open on a crossing pattern for a big third and long conversion. The linebackers don't change direction well and this kind of fake draws them in nearly every time. To keep the Jets off of the field, the second-tier needs to cover the underneath receivers and make open-field plays. Missed tackles and slow recognition won't get it done.
Obviously, the whole passing game takes a back seat to the run in the Jets offense. LT looks like he's found a new spark in the Big Apple, and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has carved out a nice spot for him to fit into. Power-back Shonn Greene still gets a good amount of carries, but his explosiveness seems to have stabilized some compared to his play during the playoffs last year. They like to get their linemen out in the open field and run off-tackle, and even add a good amount of razzle-dazzle with their wildcat formations featuring Brad Smith.
Last week, the Bengals run defense looked tired and unwilling to tackle Fred Jackson as the game went on. Often times, defenders were just a tad too slow closing gaps in running lanes. This breakdown mightily contributed to the debacle that unfolded in the second half on Sunday. A repeat performance will almost certainly lead to another loss.
Bengals offense vs. Jets defense
The Jets aren't trying to trick anybody with their defense. Their going to blitz as much as they can get away with, and just because Jim Leonard is small, he can sack a much bigger quarterback with no problem. I've always felt that Leonard is an underrated pass-rusher. Sure he doesn't have the Freeney Spin move, or the Trent Cole up-and-under, but he finds clear paths to the QB whenever he's asked to blitz from his safety spot—which is often.
Plus, Carson Palmer has average pocket-presence...at best. They know they can rattle him with a few shots to the face-mask and if it means a penalty, so be it. The Bengal's offensive line also had a tough second half last week and a few of these guys have plummeted in value over the course of the year. The Steelers and Ravens are certainly tough, but the Jets are both unfamiliar (to some degree) and relentless with their blitzes. Carson is already beat up; his protection must be strong for him to survive.
If he does have time, he might have to look for the slot guys. The Jets have arguably the best corner tandem in the game and testing Darrelle Revis is bad for quarterback ratings. Antonio Cromartie is a larger corner who matches up well with Terrell Owens. Like I have continually promoted, get the ball to the rookies in clutch situations instead of forcing the ball to the high-paid receivers and drives will carry on. Instead of going deep and risking negative effects, check off and get a new set of downs. When to be patient and when to attack always seems backwards in this offense; hopefully that doesn't happen again on Thanksgiving.
When the Bengals do give it to Cedric Benson, he must secure the ball and keep from fumbling. Suddenly he has ball-security issues and his fumbles are quickly becoming a problem. Chris Perry was cut altogether because of a similar illness. Fumblitis: it can happen to the best of us. The problem is, Benson is a free-agent next year and every fumble costs him serious money. We could, of course, mix it up more with the other backs, but I say that every week and am beginning to sound like a parrot.
Pre-snap penalties, bad passes, dropped passes and turnovers are the things that are keeping this offense from winning more games. It's been an ugly display of self-flagellation and low self-esteem issues all season long and only they can help themselves.
So even if they are more AFC North than us and even if they are one of the premier teams in the conference, I want them to lose because I really dislike them and I would take joy in knowing that our team brought them anger and regret. I know that isn't really in the spirit of the holiday and that it kind of makes me a vindictive ass, but when your team is holding down the very bottom of the AFC, people can get ugly. Even on Thanksgiving. Nonetheless, I am a fan—not an idiot—so, for yet another week, I give you another reason to shake your head in despair at this team.
Jets 23, Bengals 14
Mojokong—eh, who's watching anyway. Most of us will be asleep by then.