The closing act to what has been a bizarre and tearful space-ride of a season concludes with a happy ending no matter what happens at a place that has been bad news for both the Bengals and Jimmy Hoffa: The Meadowlands.
Usually the term "enviable position" doesn't apply to Cincinnati sports, but the Bengals find themselves in just that and the decision to rest their starters for the Playoffs is like choosing to drive the Porche to work or just work from home.
After watching tape of the last two Jets games, I say Carson Palmer and the others play for a quarter and then laugh at their backups for the rest. It's no surprise that Colts coach Jim Caldwell pulled Peyton Manning after the first half; New York gets good shots on the opposing quarterback and their secondary is relentless. Keeping your starter out there to take hits or throw interceptions against the number one defense doesn't make much sense.
It wouldn't make sense against the 32nd defense in the league either for that matter. Even gaining the third Playoff seed isn't worth having Palmer or someone else go down and miss the important game the following week. I don't mind running the starters out there early to stay in routine and get a taste of what they might see should they end up playing New York again the following week in the Wild-Card Game, but J.T. O'Sullivan should be sacrificed to the blitz-crazy Jets instead of someone who matters (no offense J.T.).
That being said, I'm not going to gyp you people out of a thorough preview so we'll go into this one assuming mostly backups will play for Cincinnati. Sound good?
As mentioned, the best thing about the Jets is their defense. It's nasty, with large razor-like fangs and a real predator instinct. Rex Ryan has his men playing with a blood-thirsty vengeance and goes wild with his blitz schemes. They're fast, they're tricky and they hit hard; there's not much more to it.
They look their best in the goal-line defense. Runs up the middle are useless; long-developing plays won't work. Cornerback Daryl Revis is better than advertised and leads a secondary that ball-hawks and hits with the best of them. Ryan hasn't changed much from his days in Baltimore and neither apparently has his scheme. In order for the Bengals to have success Sunday night or the week after, Bob Bratkowski has to strategically outmaneuver Ryan.
Now before you roll your eyes and dismiss Brat's capability to manage such a thing, remember the success that Palmer and the offense had in the past against the Ravens. The Bengals are no strangers to the Ryan family and their blitzing insanity. We know Rex's tendencies and he knows ours; I expect both coordinators to attack the other with stuff that has worked on them in the past.
For the Bengals that means quick stuff to receivers who aren't covered by Revis. Short slants to Caldwell, shallow crosses to Coles, comeback routes to Foschi; that kind of stuff. May I remind you that the West-Coast offense was born in Cincinnati under then offensive coordinator, Bill Walsh; let's dust off that relic of a playbook and put it to work against a pack of wild banchees like the Jets.
Chad Ochocinco is still outrageously spry---more so than many credit him as being---but Revis can sniff out patterns better than any other than perhaps Charles Woodson, and the man can tackle. If left in single-coverage often, I would still expect Chad to win on a handful of occasions against him, but testing General Revis in any way that could be considered risky would be a grave mistake in my opinion. Lito Sheppard still seems to be a fine corner, but he becomes the sensible target across from an All-Pro. Look for Palmer to test Sheppard deep (at least once) when he guards Caldwell in man coverage.
Running against the Jets doesn't look too promising either---especially up the middle. Last week, Joseph Addai racked up some decent yardage early in the game, but it's hard to gauge how much defenses ignore the running game of the Colts. Against the Falcons though, the Jets were stingy on the run and forced Matt Ryan to squeak out enough offense to get the win. The Bengals have put up good totals on the ground against other impressive defenses on a few occasions already this season so who knows how they'll fare, but I wouldn't run it up the gut every time on these guys; they're just too tough for that.
So if they have such a kick-ass defense, then why are they just a Wild-Card contender?
Mark Sanchez, the hotshot rookie QB from USC, is a promising youngster who might turn out to be a hell of a player someday, but for now he's just a rookie learning the ropes and it shows. There are times when he moves out of the pocket and makes a really nice throw and you think to yourself that the Jets may have been on to something drafting this guy. Then Sanchez panics in the pocket and throws a pick and looks like an overpaid backup filling Jets fans with another fresh cup of false hope.
The kid's a little erratic but he's not inept. He can throw it hard and puts a decent touch on the deep ball (the long bomb to Braylon Edwards against Atlanta was a beautiful toss), but he is slow at everything he does. He lumbers instead of run, his throwing motion is deliberate and his delivery is slow. His hand-offs are slow! The man moves like Drew Bledsoe and that is not a very nice thing to say about a person.
Because of Sanchez' youth and drawbacks, the passing game trickles by and New York relies on the tireless pair of stocky legs owned by Thomas Jones to move the offense down field. Bengal fans will tell you how persistent the coaching staff is in their commitment to hand the ball off to Cedric Benson, but Jets fans know the feeling too. It seems like Jones is the heart of their offense; the horse who has pulled the carriage all this way. Stopping Jones and his side kick Shonn Greene, and forcing Sanchez to make plays to win the game is the way Mike Zimmer can keep this Jets offense from making any further noise. Jones is the head; cut off the head and the body will die.
Both the Bengals and the Jets are wear-you-out teams who like to score in the upper teens. Both attempt to simply manhandle the opposition and hope to pull out a late win. Both teams adhere to the old blueprint of smash-mouth football and both can be a real pain in the ass to have to play on Sunday; yet both remain beatable.
I don't expect that in the practice round against New York, the Bengals will get their first win ever at Giants Stadium. Sadly, that means the place will be demolished without a Cincinnati victory ever taking place there. But if there is a second round, when it matters most, and I expect a stiffer challenge than I or any other Bengal fan would like from these Jets. Still, it seems that both teams share the same strengths, we just do it better.
Jets 19, Bengals 10 (this time)
Mojokong---for those who grow out their playoff beards and send me their picture, all will appear on January's beard blog! Ladies can send hairy leg pictures and will also appear on the blog.