The Cincinnati Bengals travel to New York this weekend to clash with the Jets on their home turf. Talent and strategy will definitely be on display, as both teams combined for 22 regular season wins in 2015. The venue hasn’t been kind to the Bengals in recent history, so Cincinnati might need to get creative to head back home with a 1-0 record.
Here are the five keys to victory for the Bengals this Sunday against the Jets.
Exploit Familiar Roster Issues:
Like the Bengals, New York is battling some roster attrition because of both injury and suspension issues. While Cincinnati will be without Tyler Eifert and Vontaze Burfict because of those respective aforementioned afflictions, the Jets will be without stud defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson (suspended) and starting right tackle Breno Giacomini (PUP List). New York has invested heavily in both lines the past couple of seasons, so the Bengals will need to seize limited opportunities provided by fill-ins.
It’s hard to label the No. 6 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Leonard Williams, a “fill-in”, but he’ll be getting more time in Week 1 than he did behind Richardson throughout most of 2015. Meanwhile, Pro Bowl defensive end Carlos Dunlap has to be licking his chops this week, as sixth-year man Ben Ijalana makes his first career start in place of Giacomini. Keep an eye on the matchups those two Jets players are giving the Bengals this Sunday.
Get Creative with Pressure:
One of the complaints of Bengals fans this year is the thinness of the defensive line behind the starters. Veteran Pat Sims is back, though he missed practice on Wednesday with an achilles injury before returning on Thursday, while Brandon Thompson, Andrew Billings and Marcus Hardison are all on injury lists. The three other defensive line backups aside from Sims—Margus Hunt, DeShawn Williams and Will Clarke—have combined for just 2.0 quarterback sacks in their careers.
The starting four linemen will have to carry much of the burden until either the backups prove to be capable of being quality rotators, the team invests in outside help, or Paul Guenther uses the other levels of the defense to get pressure. Old friend Ryan Fitzpatrick can make plays with his legs, but his ad-libbing under pressure can get him into trouble. Whether it’s the backups making a couple of plays or blitzes from others, the team will need to pressure Fitzpatrick. For this week at least, it’s going to take some creativity and a little luck.
Outstanding Offensive Line Play:
Even without Richardson’s services, the Jets have one of the most formidable defenses Cincinnati will face in 2016. It’s imperative that a strong Bengals offensive line has a good day for a number of reasons. Most important of them is the protection and comfortability of Andy Dalton as he is acclimating to two new receivers in this offense. The is especially true given the way his 2015 season ended with an injury.
Secondly, and what also plays into the comfort level of Dalton, is the ability to run the ball. Jeremy Hill looked rejuvenated this summer after a fall from grace, while Giovani Bernard made a bunch of plays in space once again this preseason. If the line imposes its will on such an impressive defense, as we saw in the dress rehearsal against the Jaguars, the Jets should be deflated in their home stadium.
Karlos Dansby Leading the Defense:
With Burfict serving a three-game hiatus, the veteran Dansby should be a player the Bengals’ defense leans on Sunday afternoon. Matt Forte, an offseason addition for the Jets, can make plays in the passing game, so the linebacker corps needs to be on its toes most of the day. Dansby is known for his savvy play in pass coverage, so those skills will come in handy against New York.
It isn’t just Forte the Bengals have to worry about, though. The ageless wonder, Brandon Marshall, is still a beast, and Eric Decker is a force opposite of him when healthy. Aside from potentially making a big play himself, he may need to line up others properly so the back end of the defense can have a solid day.
One Big Play on Special Teams:
It doesn’t necessarily have to be a touchdown return per se, but popping a big return, nailing a long kick or forcing a turnover could mean the difference in what could be a tightly-contested game. Even though Adam Jones is tops on the depth chart for returners, the team overhauled the spots with Brandon Tate’s departure.
Darrin Simmons has annually run one of the NFL’s best special teams units, so the decision to finally bail on Tate for Alex Erickson and Rex Burkhead needs to be another positive point on his resume. According to Football Outsiders, the Bengals’ special teams unit finished No. 6 in DVOA last year, while the Jets finished at No. 25, so the Bengals will need to use that advantage to get their team in a position to win.