Ladies and gents, the NFL season is upon us. Week 1 action is getting under way, with a full slate of games this Sunday. A game of particular interest at Locker Room Update is the Cincinnati Bengals @ New York Jets matchup. The teams of editors Christa Levitas and Alex Peterman are set to begin the season either 1-0 or 0-1 after facing each other, and it’s started a nice bit of friendly heat between the two co-writers. With the stage set, they both discuss the Week 1 contest and debate the outcome.
Alex: Christa, thanks for joining me! I think this game presents an intriguing early matchup. In their own ways, both these teams are coming off of 2015 hangovers of sorts. A poor performance by the Jets — and much of the blame falls on Fitzpatrick’s shoulders here — kept them out of the playoffs, and the Bengals were sent home early when they gift-wrapped the Wild Card round to the rival Steelers.
Some might consider the Bengals’ weakness to be the secondary right now, because despite talent, there’s little depth and some uncertainty with Kirkpatrick, Dennard, and Williams. Do you think the Jets try to set up their offense using a pass-first attack? Other than the fact that I think the Bengals defensive strength is in their line, part of me really wants to see how these WR-CB/S matchups will play out. Thoughts?
Christa: Hey Alex, thank you so much for the opportunity! Although, I do not see the Jets completely abandoning the run I do think you will see the Jets passing more and translating more to a spread type offense. One of the biggest concerns for the Jets falls at offensive line especially at right tackle. Currently, Breno Giacomini is on the Jets PUP list, leaving Ben Ijalana and Brent Qvale competing for playing time at right tackle. Ijalana is expected to start at right tackle — Bowles mentioned that he plans on rotating both during the game. My only concern with this that Qvale and Ijalana may have different strengths and need time to gel with the rest of the offensive line. The Bengals have a talented defensive line with guys such as Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap.
I can see the Jets trying to protect Ryan Fitzpatrick more setting up more passing plays by getting the ball out more faster with the uncertainty at offensive line. The Jets have a great duo at wide receiver with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Both of them had over 1,000 receiving yards which is something the franchise has not accomplished since 1998. Both Marshall and Decker ate great targets for Fitzpatrick. Marshall has been Fitzpatrick’s go-to guy. He has the ability to catch those 50/50 balls. I can see the Bengals double teaming Marshall in order to take away Ryan’s favorite target. The Jets have also have Quincy Enunwa who could also serve a hybrid. General manager Mike Maccagnan has done a great job adding talent at the wide receiver position. He drafted Charone Pake from Clemson University this draft and picked up Jalin Marshall and Robby Anderson as undrafted free agents. I’m really interested to see how the Jets also use the depth at wide receiver against the Bengals. I do see the Jets testing the Bengals defensive backs during this match.
My question stems from the fact that the Bengals lost there projected No. 2 and No. 3 wide receivers to free agency in Sanu and Lewis. Who will start at the opposite of AJ Green? Who can see you see stepping up for the Bengals wide receiver core? Could the Jets expect to see a lot of Tyler Boyd?
Alex: I do think if the Jets hope to have success against the Bengals in Week 1, then attacking through the air is the only way to do it. There may be a few chances to go deep against a young secondary, and I’d take every one of them — New York would be smart to game-plan around the unproven defensive backs.
As far as our own passing attack, the only real consistency is the Andy Dalton to A.J.Green connection. Tyler Eifert is injured, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu are gone. Opposite of Green, we may very well see a mix of looks. On the depth chart, Brandon LaFell is set to be the official “No. 2 wide receiver,” but I think the position is very much up for grabs. A lot of Bengals fans are a bit wary of LaFell, but I’ve had solid expectations for him since the team signed him. I don’t think he gets the credit he deserved because of all the time he’s spent injured. On that note, I’m curbing my expectations a bit because of his hand injury, but he looks set to play through it.
Tyler Boyd has had a very good preseason, and it was reported that he had at least one big play in each practice right from the get-go in training camp. The Bengals have shown that they aren’t afraid to take deep shots with him, and he has very good hands. My bet is they start him as the No. 3, but I think he’ll see more looks than LaFell does in Game 1.
Up next, I’m curious about your young linebackers. Jordan Jenkins is a rookie being replaced in this game and Lorenzo Mauldin is in his second year. What does this game mean for both players, and how do you think they’ll line-up against a Bengals offense that has a lot of explosiveness out of the backfield?
Christa: A.J. Green is an elite wide receiver whom Andy Dalton has a great connection with. I’m interested to see how he does against the Jets defensive backs. I think it will be interesting to see how to the younger players do at outside linebacker, last season the Jets two starting outside linebacker were Calvin Pace and Quinton Coples. Pace has been setting the edge for the Jets defense since 2008, while Coples was a former 1st round pick in the 2012. Both were veterans however did not fit what the Jets were trying to accomplish. Pace’s age got the best of him and did not have the speed they were looking for, while Coples simply did not live up to his draft status or potential.
When the Jets released Coples into the season, Mauldin stepped in as the starting outside linebacker where he finished the year with 14 tackles and 4 sacks. Now that he is starting he should get more opportunities to get to make more plays. The Jets chose Mauldin based on potential knowing he still needed to develop. When Todd Bowles first got here, one of the things he wanted to achieve on defense was to get faster. Both Mauldin and Jenkins (now ruled out) offer great speed to this defense. What’s interesting is that Bowles has also experimented placing a 4-3 defense, in the past the Jets were mostly a 3-4. I expect Bowles to possibly use both styles of defense to help play to player’s strength. Since Darron Lee is currently a backup to Erin Henderson it could be possible to see a little Lee at outside linebacker.
My next question is since the Jets lost a key part on defense with Damon Harrison during free agency who played a key role in stopping the run and replaced him with Steve McLendon. Could we see the Bengals testing the Jets run defense by using Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill?
Alex: I think more speed will definitely bode well for the Jets defense. Part of what has hindered the Bengals — especially in the pre-Burfict era — has been a lack of speed at linebacker. That’s led to tight ends having a history of big games against Cincinnati.
It may seem counterproductive to target the Jets’ front-line and 2nd ranked run defense from last year, but I think that’s what the Bengals may try to do. With so many questions at receiver behind Green, I think Cincinnati is going to want to develop a run-first look in order to comfortably set up those 2nd and 3rd reads for Dalton in passing situations. Adding speed at linebacker helps the Jets prepare for Bernard, but I still think he’s a force to be reckoned with. He has the agility to create a play out of nothing, and I’d like to see the Bengals make him a go-to option out of the backfield as both a runner and a passer.
Jeremy Hill has looked to be returning to his stellar rookie form during the preseason, but it’s impossible to tell until you have real results in game action. I think you’ll definitely see him get his fair share of touches against the Jets, as he’s one of those backs that tends to get better as the game goes on — much like Chris Ivory seemed to get when he was a Jet. But overall, the Bengals backs against the Jets front seven is a matchup I’m really looking forward to. I give the slight advantage to New York here, but that’s not including the fact that Bernard should absolutely be an X-factor in the passing game.
For my next question, how do you feel about Darelle Revis lining up against A.J. Green?
Christa: Unfortunately, for the Jets we do not have a play-making tight end to really game play for, but the Jets do have Quincy Enunwa who is a like a hybrid. Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard are a pretty good duo at running back. I believe Hill is an underrated back last season he had 11 touchdowns which is pretty impressive considering.
I feel confident in Darrelle Revis lining up against AJ Green. I know there has been cases last season where he did not do as well against the more speedy type wide receivers such as Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins. However, Revis is still an elite cornerback. Revis was also battling a wrist injury that also affected his type of play where as against Watkins the Jets played more of a coverage type defense. I’m excited for this matchup, I’ve seen the great connection that he has with Andy Dalton.
I don’t expect Bowles to leave him against Green all the time by himself. I expect Bowles to give Revis safety help over the top to prevent Green from gaining major yardage where he would play more man to man coverage compared to the last game last season.
For my final question, With Sheldon Richardson being suspended for this game, how do you feel about Andy Dalton matching up against the Jets defensive line?
Alex: I’m really looking forward the the Revis vs. Green matchup. Both, of course, are elite players at their position. I still think Green will put up numbers, but that has just as much to do with volume of targets as his ability — that’s not a knock on Revis whatsoever. In fact, Revis may force Dalton to use many more of his 2nd and 3rd reads so that Bengals fans can see the connection between him and the newcomers.
Just like the Bengals, the strength of the Jets defense is the line. Thankfully, though, I have a lot of faith in Cincinnati’s offensive line, especially when it’s anchored by guys such as Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler. Now readers, please don’t misplace my trust in the line as a unit as trust in every guy on it. Center is probably our weakest position on the team and is oftentimes exposed. Yet, combined with Dalton’s relatively typical quick release, I think the O-line is strong enough to repel the Jets line for the most part — and not having Richardson bodes well for that prediction.
Last up, predictions! Who do you have for this game, and what’s the score you’re rolling with here, Christa?
Christa: I agree. The Revis vs. Green should be a great matchup. I’m excited to see how that matchup pans out throughout the game.
I think it is going to be a close game. I have 30 – 27 New York Jets. I think Chan Gailey is going to get creative and find a way to get players such as Quincy Enunwa more involved on offense. Whether they pass to set up the run or run to set up the pass. I believe the Jets will play a good defense and make up for having injuries on defense. I believe we will see Bowles potentially get creative on defense depending who plays on defense as of now Jordan Jenkins is doubtful, while Bruce Carter and David Harris are listed as questionable.
How do you see this game tuning out? What are your predictions?
Alex: I’m going with my Bengals here. Despite the questions at wide receiver, I have trust in the connection that Dalton has appeared to develop with them so far. Beyond that, I love Bernard in this game and I think he has the potential to be explosive against a battered and/or young Jets linebacker corps. Above all, I think the Bengals have a better chance at having a consistent day. The Jets are a good team and they have a lot of the right pieces — they just drew the short stick in Week 1. Bengals win, 27-17.
Fans, who do you see winning?