New York Jets first-year head coach Rex Ryan has done a very good job of installing a defense that is predicated on disguised blitz looks and fooling the opposing quarterback into making mistakes. You'll see many similarities to the defenses he ran in Baltimore -- pre-snap movement, overloads with corners and safeties, and dual A-gap linebacker blitzes. Having the best man corner in the business in Darrelle Revis(notes) also helps. On the offensive side, the Jets are a ground-happy team by choice and by necessity -- they ran the ball more than any team in the league because first-year quarterback Mark Sanchez(notes) is still finding his feet in the NFL; he ranked 38th in DYAR in his first pro season.
"I think things are going to get a lot easier," Sanchez told the media this week. "But at this point in time, I kind of found that with the way we are running the ball, with being accurate, being smart, (it) been our ticket these last couple of games." Nothing like getting with the program.
Not only will the Jets run the ball expertly with Thomas Jones(notes) and Shonn Greene(notes) in the backfield; they'll also use option threat Brad Smith(notes) to run counters and sweeps in pseudo-Wildcat packages. The challenge for offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer through the playoffs will be to fool enemy defenses with run plays out of passing formations. When the Jets beat the Bengals 37-0 in the regular-season finale last week, they were able to run wild with Smith -- he gained 92 yards and scored a touchdown on four carries -- because the Bengals were in full pre-playoff retreat mode and didn't make defensive adjustments at the time. The Jets will have a tougher go this time, because Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is one of the most astute in-game tacticians.
But don't be surprised if Smith, who played quarterback in college, flings a couple passes when the Bengals play the run too directly. "I'm comfortable throwing the football," Smith said this week. "It's something I've done my whole life. If that situation arises, we'll try to make plays."
The Bengals' defense is a bit more straightforward than Ryan's blitz cavalcade. They'll bring a safety up in run support or to blitz in cover-1 or short cover-3 looks, but it's primarily about a line stopping the run, and a backfield with great personnel in zones. As good as Revis is, Cincy's Leon Hall(notes) and Johnathan Joseph(notes) make up the best cornerback tandem in the game. The Bengals are vulnerable over the middle against the pass, but outside throws will be a problem for any team facing Hall and Joseph. Defensive linemen Robert Geathers(notes) and Domata Peko(notes), who didn't play last week, must step up against a Jets line that has dominated the point of attack all season.
The Bengals also didn't have running back Cedric Benson(notes) last week, and he might be the key to a Bengals victory. This is no longer Carson Palmer's(notes) team -- the Bengals don't really have any downfield threats outside of Chad Ochocinco(notes), and Ochocinco will almost certainly be shut down once again by Revis. Now, it's more about six-man fronts and power running than the aerial attack Palmer used to have. Doing that successfully against a Jets defense that has actually improved against the run since losing nose tackle Kris Jenkins(notes) in Week 6 will be a tall order. The Jets seem to have the advantage even when you throw out last week's game. It's hard to call it any other way.