By Tyson Rauch
The AFC Wild Card round begins on Saturday (4:30 EST) as the New York Jets take on the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Gang Green, winners of 5 of their last 6 games, are the fifth seed, while the Bengals are seeded fourth as they are the AFC North division champions. These two teams met last Sunday night, a 37-0 Jets victory, but as everyone knows the playoffs are completely different story as they tend to bring out the best in every team. In terms of postseason experience Cincinnati lost to the Steelers on January 8, 2006 and last won in the playoffs on January 6, 1991. The Jets last appeared in the playoffs in January of 2007, losing to the New England Patriots, with their last postseason victory coming against the San Diego Chargers on January 8, 2005. Lets take a look at the keys to victory for the New York Jets on Saturday afternoon.
New York Jets Offense vs. Cincinnati Bengals Defense
1) Run to the hills – At this point it is no secret that the Jets offense evolves around their running game. The Jets will look to control the line of scrimmage to pound the rock in order to set up the play action pass, in addition to taking pressure off of their rookie quarterback. The Bengals enter the game ranked 7th against the run and will prove to be much more physical than their Sunday night performance. Cincinnati rested several defensive starters on Sunday, and can be very stout against the run.
2) Get the kid comfortable – As with every rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez has experienced his fair share of growing pains in his first year in the NFL. Sanchez is an emotional player and the Jets must get him acclimated into the game very early on. Whether it is quick slants or screens, the Jets must get him comfortable and over his jitters and excitement. The Jets should not wait until third and long to get him worked into the game.
3) The Brad Smith factor – Brad Smith is quickly becoming one of the Jets most explosive weapons on offense, featuring out of the tiger/wildcat formation. Smith is a threat to run the ball out of the option, or pitch it off to the running backs. The other dimension Smith could bring to the game is his ability to pass, as he was a prolific passer at Missouri. The Jets have yet to show that option, but it is the postseason so the Bengals will have to game plan for it.
4) Keep the butter off of the fingers- It is crucial for the Jets wide receivers to make plays for their quarterback. Mark Sanchez will not be expected to throw much, but when he does the receivers have to make the plays count. Braylon Edwards has shown a propensity to drop a pass or two and this cannot happen in a big spot. Every yard counts in a playoff game, and the momentum can change in a heartbeat, especially on third down plays.
5) Been there done that– In Shonn Greene and Mark Sanchez the Jets have two prominent rookies playing their first playoff game. Veteran leaders like Thomas Jones, Damien Woody, and Alan Faneca must work with these guys to keep them away from the hype of the game. The playoffs can be a rattling experience and the last thing the Jets can afford is rookie jitters.
New York Jets Defense vs. Cincinnati Bengals Offense
1) Shut down the run-As with the Jets, the Bengals offense is built around their running game led by Cedric Benson and Larry Johnson. Gang Green must control the line of scrimmage and force the Bengals to become one dimensional on offense. The Jets cannot endure lengthy drives as Cincinnati has battering ram style running backs that could wear you down as the game moves along.
2) Put Palmer down- The Jets must get to quarterback Carson Palmer early and often. Gang Green cannot allow Palmer to get comfortable in the pocket, as once he gets in rhythm he could pick apart the defense. Carson lacks mobility so he is not much of a threat to run, therefore containment should not be much of an issue.
3) Welcome to Revis Island– Chad Ochocinco vs. Darrelle Revis part II. Last week Revis completely shut down Ochocinco, but as always Chad had a litany of excuses for why this happened. It is crucial for Darrelle to shut down the Bengals loud mouth and force Palmer to look to secondary and third options. Ochocinco is an inspirational leader for the team and the fans, and taking him out of the game could have a domino effect on the entire team.
4) Cover Coles and Caldwell– With Revis following Ochocinco all over the field, the Jets will have to put the rest of their attention on Laveranues Coles and Andre Caldwell. Coles, a former Jet, has been known to come up with big plays and you just know he is motivated to get back at his former team. Lito Sheppard and Dwight Lowery must be consistent in coverage and cannot allow any mental lapses.
5) Follow the leaders-Now is the time for veteran leaders like Bart Scott and Shaun Ellis to take this defense to another level. The Jets will only go as far as their defense takes them, and the veteran leaders must bring out the best in their peers. Scott and Ellis must fire up this team and bring an unmatched level of intensity into the game.
Rex Ryan has talked the talk all year long now it is time for him to walk the walk. Ryan must continue his aggressive ways and not fold under the playoff pressure. The Jets cannot afford repeated three and outs on offense, as over time this will wear down the defense. Rex must keep the intensity up and apply plenty of pressure on the Bengals in front of their home crowd. If the Jets can score early, it could steal some of the thunder not only out of the Bengals, but out of their crowd as well.
Contrary to popular belief I think this is going to be a hard-fought, physical, close game. Both teams are going to try to win with defense and their running game. As long as Mark Sanchez stays away from the turnovers I think the Jets have a very good chance to win the game. With that being said I think Sanchez does his thing and the Jets defense rides it out. Jets 17-14