By Glenn Naughton
It’s finally here folks. The NFL offseason, the worst nine-month stretch on the calendar for die-hard Jets fans has come to a close, and Gang Green will open the 2016 regular season at home against the Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday at 1 o’ clock.
In the season’s first six weeks, the Jets will face five 2015 playoff teams (Cincinnati, Kansas City, Seattle, Pittsburgh and Arizona) with the only non-playoff opponent being Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills, who beat the Jets in both matchups last season.
For that reason, getting off on the right foot is pivotal for Gang Green in 2016 if they hope to avoid a potential tailspin out of the gate.
How can Todd Bowles’ bunch avoid a season-opening loss? Let’s take a look.
Freeze out Geno: No, not Geno Smith, but Bengals defensive lineman Geno Atkins whom the Bengals should try to line up against Jets right Guard Brian Winers whenever possible.
Winters was a much improved player in 2015, but given the choice between him, center Nick Mangold and left guard James Carpenter, any coach in his right mind would try to exploit the Atkins/Winters matchup.
Winters’ play has been inconsistent during his time with the Jets but he has shown flashes against some of the leagues best in neutralizing Ndamukong Suh of the Dolphins twice last season. Can he repeat that effort against Atkins? You better believe Ryan Fitzpatrick hopes so…otherwise it’s going to be a long day.
Gang Green on Green Crime: The Bengals will be without one of their top offensive weapons in tight end Tyler Eifert as he recovers from offseason ankle surgery. This will allow Bowles and the Jets to pay that much more attention to star wide receiver AJ Green.
Whether or not the Jets have cornerback Darrelle Revis shadow Green throughout the contest, or use multiple coverage combinations remains to be seen. But there’s no doubt that Revis’ performance against Green will be put under a microscope as the cornerback tries to bounce back from a sub-par 2015.
Revis is still among the best at his craft in the NFL, and the 6′ 4” Green who can be physical at the line of scrimmage will offer a great test right off the bat. If the Jets can limit Green, it will go a long way in stifling the Bengals offense.
Bottle up Bernard: Even with the departure of standout nose tackle Damon Harrison, the Jets should have enough talent and depth along the defensive line to bottle up most north/south runners. For that reason, they should be able to contain Bengals running back Jeremy Hill.
However, the shiftier Giovanni Bernard is the type of player who would have caused the Jets fits in year’s past. With the addition of first-round draft choice Darron Lee, a nickel linebacker for Todd Bowles at this point, the Jets should have an answer. Bernard has had a great deal of success catching the ball out of the backfield, and bouncing inside runs to the outside for big gains, but with the speedy Lee on the field, easy gains for faster backs should be a thing of the past.
Just as Green is a good measuring stick for Revis, Bernard is a solid matchup for Lee to see right off the bat for his intro to the NFL. How he responds may be the difference between shutting down the Bengals offense on 3rd down, or allowing them to extend drives and chew up clock.
Keep up with the Jones’: Brandon Marshall is scheduled to play but has been nursing a sore hip. Given offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s penchant for moving his receivers all over the field, Marshall should see his fair share of Bengals cornerback Adam Jones. Jones is a dynamic corner who likes to mix it up and has been known to cross the line a time or twelve.
No slouch himself, Brandon Marshall is about as competitive a player you’ll come across, so if Jones decides to cross that line from “physical” to “dirty”, tempers could flare.
Time for “Q” to become the “A”: After spending most of this offseason asking who would emerge as the team’s third receiver, it’s time for third-year receiver Quincy Enunwa to be the answer.
With Marshall and Eric Decker occupying the Bengal’s top cornerbacks, the 6′ 1”, 225 Enuwa should be able to use his physicality and 4.45 speed to challenge the Cincy secondary down the middle of the field, be it lining up in the slot or as an H-back.
Jets Outside Linebackers vs. Bernard: Yes, we’ve already covered the importance of rookie linebacker Darron Lee in covering Bernard, but if the Bengals opt to use the speedster while Lee is on the sideline, it could be with the aim of trying to exploit the Jets outside linebackers.
It’s been a rough preseason for second-year linebacker Lornezo Mauldin who has failed to hold containment on several occasions, leading to big runs by opposing running backs.
With rookie Jordan Jenkins currently listed as “doubtful” with a calf injury, the Bengals could be looking at Mauldin and the inexperienced Mike Catapano manning the edges of the Jets’ front seven.
The Bengals are generally a well-rounded team on offense but the Jets should be able to keep them in check while Ryan Fitzpatrick and the offense look to avoid turnovers and make plays by exploiting mismatches. Something the Jets should be able to do with Marshall, Decker and Enunwa, along with newcomers Matt Forte and speedy rookie Robby Anderson. Bilal Powell can also be a factor in the passing game along with Forte.
The Bengals are a 3-point favorite against a more talented Jets roster on what should be an emotional 9/11 home opener.
Jets win a close one 24-21.