As big as last week's win over the New England Patriots was, the New York Jets will lose all of their momentum if they continue their win-loss-win-loss pattern against the Cincinnati Bengals this upcoming Sunday.
Both teams are similar in that their strength lies on the defensive side of the ball with doming front lines.
However, while the Jets have gotten surprisingly good production from their rookie quarterback, Geno Smith, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has been wildly inconsistent this year, bringing down his otherwise-talented supporting cast.
In his tenure as head coach of the Jets, Rex Ryan has all but owned the Bengals, going 3-0 including his first playoff win in 2009. Since then, however, both franchises have gone in opposite directions, with the Bengals looking for their third straight postseason appearance.
The 5-2 Bengals may be the more talented team (especially on the offensive side of the ball), but the Jets have proved time and time again that they are capable of beating (and losing to) just about any team in the league.
Let's break down how the Jets should approach this weekend's matchup against the Bengals to get their fifth win of the season—and possibly take the division lead.
Antonio Cromartie vs. A.J. Green
By far, the most dangerous asset in the Bengals' passing attack is third-year receiver A.J. Green, who was the fourth overall selection in the 2011 draft—for good reason.
Green is the whole package: He runs fluid routes, has great hands, can run by just about anyone on the field and has a frame that overpowers most defensive backs.
Luckily for the Jets, Antonio Cromartie is not built like most defensive backs. At 6'2", Cromartie is one of just a few cornerbacks in the league who can match up with a player like Green.
However, the Jets have reason to be hesitant to leave Cromartie on Green for the entire game (as opposed to assigning him to one side of the field). Because of various hip and hamstring injuries, Cromartie has had his worst start to the season as a Jet. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Cromartie is the second-worst cornerback in the league, second to only Cortland Finnegan.
While Cromartie has certainly given up an unacceptable amount of big plays, he is much more vulnerable to allowing such big plays because of how the Jets play defense. Oftentimes, the Jets will use only one or zero safeties in deep coverage to help their cornerbacks. The difference between a defended pass and a touchdown could come down to inches on any play.
Still, the Jets should not be afraid to stick to their philosophy of putting a lot of pressure on their cornerbacks, even against receivers as good as Green.
Why? Because Andy Dalton must prove that he is capable to making a throw that can beat Cromartie deep down the field.
When Cromartie has been beat, it has been on a throw from a strong-armed quarterback by the likes of Jake Locker or Ben Roethlisberger. Dalton, on the other hand, has one of the weaker arms in the league that cannot fully take advantage of Green's deep ability.
As a result, until Dalton proves otherwise, the Jets should be able to leave Cromartie on Green for the majority of the game without having any qualms.
Antonio Allen vs. Tyler Eifert
Jermaine Gresham may be getting more snaps than rookie Tyler Eiftert (457 to 308), but Eifert is the player the Jets should be more concerned about containing.
While not as athletic as Gresham, Eifert is a much stronger player who excels in outmuscling his defender for contested catches.
The Jets should deal with this type of player the same way they dealt with Rob Gronkowski—leaving Antonio Allen on him one-on-one.
Last week against the Patriots, Allen went blow for blow with one of the toughest mismatches in the league. He defended two passes, intercepted one (that went for a touchdown) and allowed a quarterback rating of 34.5 when thrown against, according to Pro Football Focus.
Allen was so successful because he was not afraid of getting physical against Gronkowski, who is roughly 70 pounds heavier than Allen, attacking him at the line of scrimmage:
If he can be this effective against a player like Eifert, they should be able to take care of either Bengals tight end by simply deploying Allen on them.
Start Darrin Walls
The time has come for the Jets to finally admit that their top draft pick is simply not ready and that Darrin Walls, not Dee Milliner, should be the team's starting outside cornerback opposite Cromartie.
The difference in production between the two players is stark, even after Milliner had a few weeks to "learn" on the bench. The previously undrafted Walls has outplayed him in just about every category:
|Darrin Walls vs. Dee Milliner|
|Player||Completions Allowed||Yards/Completion||Passes Defended||Position Rank|
|Pro Football Focus|
If draft position truly did not matter to the Jets, starting Walls would be an easy decision. However, Milliner will get every benefit of the doubt because the Jets have invested more in him.
Rex may be doing his general manager a favor by playing Milliner over Walls, but it is coming at a significant cost.
If the Jets are going to account for all of the Bengals' weapons, they need their No. 2 cornerback to handle Cincinnati's secondary target without much, if any, trouble. The best way to ensure that happens is to bench Milliner once again, even if it makes the front office look bad for a week.
Attack the Secondary
The Bengals have a well-rounded defense that can rush the passer and stop the run—but it does have one glaring weakness at the slot cornerback position.
Adam Jones had a less-than-spectacular start to the season. The 77th-best cornerback in Pro Football Focus' rankings, Jones has allowed a 99.9 quarterback rating against him while only defending one pass.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Kerley is coming off one of his best games yet as the Jets' slot receiver. Following a eight-reception, 97-yard performance (that included a touchdown), Kerley is set to feast on the aging Jones in the slot.
Because of the Bengals' strong pass rush, generating big plays against the Bengals is not going to be easy. Sustaining drives with a steady dose of shorter completions to Kerley is the Jets' best bet, especially when trying to get a rookie quarterback in a comfort zone against a quality defense.
Jones, however, is not the only weak link in the Bengals secondary. Pro Bowl cornerback Leon Hall tore his Achilles against the Lions this past week, per CBSSports.com, which forces the unproven second-year player Dre Kirkpatrick into the starting lineup.
The former first-round pick out of Alabama has done as close to nothing as possible in a year and a half in the NFL, as he has struggled with injuries and adjusting to playing with NFL techniques.
He has yet to pass the aging veteran Terence Newman on the depth chart, but he will be forced into action with Hall out. He has played just 17 snaps in pass coverage this season.
Even if Kirkpatrick has made vast improvements behind the scenes, the Jets need to find out for themselves. They must go at Kirkpatrick early and often with every type of receiver possible. Giving him a variety of receivers to deal with won't give him an opportunity to settle into the game, as he will be constantly making adjustments to his new opponent.
If the Jets truly want to be regarded as a playoff team, they must find a way to get their first back-to-back victories of the season. After all, trading off wins and losses on a weekly basis is exactly what average teams do.
As long as the Jets are able to take care of the ball and play up to their potential, they can exploit the few weaknesses on the Bengals to get one step closer to division supremacy.
Advanced statistics provided by ProFootballFocus.com (subscription required).