Despite two horrible games, quarterback Chad Pennington got a vote of confidence from head coach Eric Mangini this week. If the team continues to lose, the calls for a change will get louder and louder. The Jets face a big challenge this weekend against a Bengals team that's much better than their record indicates. A win could save his job, but another tepid performance could bring the Pennington era to a close.
JETS (1–5) at BENGALS (1–4)
Sunday, 4:05 p.m., CBS
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL The Jets took my advice last week and finally unleashed running back Thomas Jones. The veteran back pounded the Eagles for 130 yards, including a 36-yard scamper that was their longest running play since October 2005. Turning the offense over to Jones has several benefits. First, it helps to soften up the pass defense by forcing linebackers and safeties to play closer to the line of scrimmage. Second, an effective running game sets up the play-action pass, and it's something that Pennington has always excelled at. Third, and perhaps most important, it takes some pressure off the beleaguered Pennington. Clearly, the Jets aren't going to dig their way out of this hole by throwing the ball 35 times a game. A heavy dose of Jones seems like the only logical game plan against the Bengals, whose inability to stop the run is reaching tragic proportions. Cincinnati is surrendering an average of 145.8 rushing yards per game, and they've only held six of their last 24 opponents below 100 yards. The Bengals have gone 10–14 in those games.
The Bengals have sorely missed MLB Ahmad Brooks, who's missed the last three games with a groin injury. His absence creates a gaping hole in an already depleted linebacking corps. One way the team will try to compensate is by moving defensive end Robert Geathers to strong side linebacker. He led the team with 10.5 sacks last year, and head coach Marvin Lewis thinks that his explosive quickness can make him effective as both an edge rusher and run defender.
WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL The Jets defense played well for most of the game last week, but breakdowns at inopportune times continue to kill them. They allowed just one touchdown last week, and it came on a slant play on which two defensive backs missed a seemingly easy tackle. That allowed Eagles receiver Kevin Curtis to turn a six-yard pass into a 75-yard touchdown play.
The Jets also allowed the Eagles to run for 151 yards, the fifth time in six games that they've surrendered over a hundred on the ground. While the Bengals have had a strong power running game in recent years, the beleaguered Jets might be catching them at an opportune time.
Rudi Johnson has managed just 17 yards over the last three games, hampered by a hamstring injury that his limited him to just 21 carries over that stretch. He is expected to play this weekend although he did not practice. Backup Kenny Watson has handled the bulk of the rushing duties in his absence. He's a similar runner, tough inside but lacking the breakaway speed to be a home run threat.
Injuries on the line have also impacted the Bengals ground game. Left tackle missed last week's game with foot and knee injuries, snapping his streak of 116 straight starts. Left tackle Levi Jones has also been slowed by off-season knee surgery. Both are expected to start Sunday.
Carson Palmer is averaging almost 300 passing yards per game, but the lack of a running game has meant that opposing teams can bring more pressure. Over the last three games Palmer has been sacked seven times and thrown six interceptions. As defenses focus their coverage on Chad Johnson, TJ Houshmandzadeh has flourished. He has seven touchdown passes and has topped the 100-yard mark in each of the last three games. After those big two, the Bengals don't have many options. Tight end Reggie Kelly is third on the team with eight receptions.
KEY TO THE GAME Palmer will test the Jets secondary, and if he has time to throw the Bengals will put plenty of points on the board. If they can't stop Palmer, the next best thing is to keep him on the sideline. A sustained running game would help the Jets control the clock. They've got a shot to win if this is a low scoring game, but the Jets can't keep up with the Bengals in a shootout.
Lahman's Pick: Bengals 28–17