The Jets have an opportunity to move to 9-2 this Thanksgiving evening against the Bengals, but many fans are wondering why the defense has been in a giving mood of late.
"The perception is the sky is falling and we're not playing well as a defense, but you look statistically and we're ahead of where we were last year and we have four more wins at this point of the season," said S Jim Leonhard in reference to the Green & White's 4-6 start in 2009. "We're not going to panic, we're going to clean things up, and we're really going to rely on each other and we realize we can be special if we start figuring our stuff out on our side of the ball."
New York's AFC representative has dramatically improved against the run, moving up 11 places from 16th to 5th when you compare Week 11 rankings. And the run defense will be gearing up to stop Bengals RB Cedric Benson, who not only rushed for 124 yards last week against the Bills but gashed the Jets for 169 yards in last year's 24-14 Jets wild-card win.
But it is the pass defense, which has moved down 12 places to 16th overall from the same point last season, that raised eyebrows in Week 10. After limiting Matt Schaub to 91 yards passing through three quarters, the Jets yielded 163 yards as they saw a 16-point fourth-quarter lead over the Texans evaporate.
"Teams are adjusting. They realize Cro [Antonio Cromartie] and Darrelle [Revis] are going to lock guys down on the outside and they're scheming us up on the inside. It's kind of funny because not very often as a defense are you in a position where you can cross two guys off the field because you know they're going to be non-factors," said Leonhard.
"So it takes some adjusting. There is a big adjustment period as far as how you can change your game plan. We're fighting that week in and week out and you see us playing up and down right now, but I think we're figuring it out. For the most part, we have things under control. We just need to play that way for four quarters."
The 2-8 Bengals come to town riding a seven-game losing streak. While the Jets have won dramatically in each of their past five victories, their opponent has dropped three consecutive heartbreakers. The Stripes had the ball in enemy territory late needing a score against Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, but they turned it over on downs against the Steelers in Week 9 and then turned it over on a fumble at the Colts 34 with 2:23 to go in Week 10. Then there was last week's debacle in which they got outscored, 35-0, by the Bills in the second half at home after taking a commanding 31-14 lead into intermission.
"The Jets are able to have a mishap but then still find a way to win at the end," said WR Chad Ochocinco. "We're having mishaps, but we're not winning at the end because we're not able to overcome adversity and some of the things that we're putting ourselves in. It's our own fault."
"They're playing well for a majority of the ballgame and then finding a way to lose it down the stretch," added Leonhard. "By no means are we looking past this team because they are as dangerous as anyone that we play. They're just finding ways to lose football games. "
The Ocho (50-587-4 TDs) and Terrell Owens (62-897-8) are not only two quality receivers but two of the most fascinating entertainers in pro sports.
"If you let them get rolling, they're going to talk the whole game," said Leonhard. "The key to them is trying to shut them down and get them frustrated and then they will start talking at each other. It will be interesting. You know they'll be fired up — national TV, Thanksgiving, big spotlight. We have to do whatever we can to take them out of the ballgame early."
The expectation is Revis will mark T.O. while Cromartie will do battle with Ochocinco, but the Green & White must be very careful with both rookie TE Jermaine Gresham (42-330-3) and rookie wideout Jordan Shipley (35-480-1).
"We feel like we match up favorably on the outside with anyone, so there'll be a lot of 1-on-1 matchups and we'll see who wins the majority of them," Leonhard said.
Revis, said Owens, is "just an average corner to me. Everybody has assessed his abilities as far as what he did last year, shutdown corner, this and that. He did very well last year. But I think I'm looking forward to the challenge just like he's looking forward to the challenge.
"Cro is actually a little more difficult because he's so rangy and it's hard to gauge where he's at," said Ochocinco of Cromartie. "It's like he's five yards away from you and he sticks his hands out and he can still touch you, so he's at an advantage also. Those are the two guys I've studied to a T, man. I've put more effort into studying those two than anybody else, because in the NFL right now they're probably the best one-two cornerback tandem, period, besides the two guys we have."
These hungry Bengals could be dangerous this holiday, but you wonder if they'll be dreaming of home if they get pounced on early. Once a team with championship aspirations, they know only six games remain before their season ends.
"We realize if we jump out ahead early and put them in a hole, we don't how they're going to respond, so that's our focus this week," Leonhard said. "We don't want a team like this to hang around because they're definitely too talented."
But in case this one's close in the fourth quarter or overtime, Jets fans can be thankful for Mark Sanchez to Santonio Holmes.
"Santonio's no different than giving Kobe Bryant the ball with 2.4 seconds to go with the Lakers. Period," Ochocinco said. "That's what Santonio is. Clutch. It's always been that way."
Holmes was told about the Kobe comparison this week in the Jets locker room.
"I like that. I like that," "Tone" said. "I like that a lot."