Jets-Bengals: 10 Things to Look For

This darned NFL. It's constantly pitting friend against friend, brother against brother.

Rex Ryan gets one of each the next two games. On Sunday it's his latest match against Marvin Lewis, his former defensive coordinator with the Ravens, when we tackle the Bengals in Cincinnati.

"Marvin's a heck of a football coach and I learned a lot from being under him," the Jets head coach said. "The thing that I always liked was, yeah, I was under Marvin, but I never felt that way. I felt that I worked with him. He made all of his coaches that worked under him feel that way. And that might be one of the reasons I am the way I am."

One of Rex's ways is to insist that Sunday's game "is not about me." It's about his players, who will take their next shot at crossing up the critics by trying to score another rousing road win for their first two-game winning streak since last December and a two-games-over-.500 record for the first time since 2011.

As for the following Sunday and our date with the Saints, whose defensive coordinator is none other than Rex's twin brother Rob, that sibling sidebar will stay on the sideline till next week. For now, here are 10 things to look for in the Jets-Bengals game:

1. Keep Going to Kerley — After his eight-catch, seven-third-down-catch, six-third-down-conversion game against the Patriots, is Jeremy Kerley ready for more? "I'm a tank," said No. 11. "I'm ready for everything." Ready for more clutch catches, then. The Jets' third-down offense is ranked 11th, Cincinnati's third-down defense 26th, and of the Bengals' two starting corners, Leon Hall (Achilles) is out and Terence Newman (ankle) is probable but was limited in practice before today's full turn.

2. Handling Andy — QB Andy Dalton (65.9% accuracy, 11 TDs to 6 INTs, 93.9 rating) is having a fine season. "He's smart. He understands their offense," DC Dennis Thurman said. "He's going to manage the game, he's going to make safe throws, quick throws, and he's going to take his calculated shots." Of course, all (except the game manager part) could be said about Tom Brady, yet our Muhammad Wilkerson-led Sunday rush resulted in an un-Brady-like midgame stretch — 1-for-5 for 5 yards, one interception and four sacks. Let's see something like that again.

3. Third-and-Strong — Along the lines of Point No. 1, QB Geno Smith and the offense have been converting third-and-long plays (defined here as 11+ yards) at a remarkable clip — eight this season, with seven coming in the four wins. "We always emphasize third downs no matter what," Smith told me today. "We like to keep it third-and-manageable, but I think it's a positive sign that we're able to pick up first downs in those situations. It does lift us up as an offense and it does give us confidence." So third-and-14? Don't despair. Go out and convert.

4. Cro vs. A.J. — It's a mutual admiration society. Don't tell WR A.J. Green that Antonio Cromartie is struggling this season. "I just think guys are putting the ball in good position," Green said. "He's a great corner ... one of the best in the league." Cromartie replies: "He's a great receiver for that team and he's one of the best receivers in the NFL right now." Ryan has played coy about what the plans are for covering Green (43 catches, 619 yards, 5 TDs), but when 31 in green lines up across from 18 in orange, get ready for fireworks.

5. Powell/Ivory Balance — We've seen a game heavy with Bilal Powell (30 offensive touches vs. Buffalo) and one with lots of Chris Ivory (34 carries vs. New England). OC Marty Mornhinweg said he "did a bad job communicating" in not getting Bilal more involved Sunday. But with both backs firing on all cylinders now, perhaps an optimum blending Powell's vision and quick, devastating cuts with Ivory's muscular pounding is ahead in Cincinnati.

Points Scored/Game19.121.1
Points Allowed/Game23.119.3
First Downs Gained/Game19.020.0
First Downs Allowed/Game16.319.0
Yards Gained/Game343.3365.0
Yards Allowed/Game302.6334.3
Time of Possession/Game31:2331:20
Turnover Margin–11–2

6. Tight End Trials — Last week Antonio Allen gave better than he got in his battle with Rob Gronkowski. How will we approach this week's matchup with two good receiving TEs in Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert? More Double-A for sure, plus some Demario Davis in coverage. And don't be surprised if rookie CB Dee Milliner, who lined up a bit against Eifert in January's BCS Championship Game, gets some action in what Ryan and Thurman call "Detroit formations," with trips wideouts to one side and Eifert on the corner to the other side. To which we'd like to say, "Roll, Tide."

7. Josh Is Jumping — Raves kept coming in during the week for Josh Cribbs' Green & White debut, this time from the coaches. Mornhinweg: "He helped us win that ballgame." Special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica: "He brings an element to the room that's very positive." On punt returns Sunday, Cribbs averaged 14.7 yards on three returns and made the right decisions on thee touchback punts. He even drew an illegal block on the Patriots in punt coverage. And he took three Wildcat snaps for 14 yards. Are pass plays in his future? Marty again: "As we go, he'll get just a little bit more."

8. Fighting the Flags — Since their 20 penalties in the Week 3 win over Buffalo, we had been improving in our penalty rate. But nine flags vs. New England — eight on presnap penalties — are too much for Ryan. "There are 'combat penalties' that are aggressive. You can live with those," Rex said today. "You can't live with the self-inflicted ones. We still have to do better in that area." One consolation: It's not supposed to work this way, but the Jets have averaged 5.8 presnap penalties in home games, 3.7 in road games. So bring on da noise.

9. Noooge! — Mike Nugent used to be No. 1 in green and white while not No. 1 in many Jets fans' hearts, even though his 2006 season (24-for-27 on field goal tries) wasn't chopped liver. But he moved back to his Ohio home in 2010, donned uniform No. 2, and has been kicking well ever since for the Bengals. In fact, Nooge has hit game-winners the past two weeks, at Buffalo and Detroit, while Nick Folk, our No. 2, is still No. 1 with no FG misses yet and three game-winners to his credit. Penalty shootout to decide a close finish, anyone?

10. The View from Downtown

When CBS comes back from commercial breaks, look for the obligatory blimp shot from above. You'll see Paul Brown Stadium nestled in between the Ohio River and the buildings of downtown Cincinnati, a unique skyline that prompted one wag to suggest the Queen City looked like "a collection of the winning designs in an architecture contest." Some of the structures are even visible from the stands, making PBS perhaps the most picturesque city stadium in the NFL — and a perfect backdrop if the gritty Jets are up for their second road victory of the year. But as Willie Colon, former AFC North Bengals battler, warns: "It's going to be a hostile environment."

Regular-Season Series RecordJets 15-7
Last GameJets 26-10, 2010
Last Bengals WinBengals 38-31, 2007
Current StreakJets 4 in a row
Regular-Season Record @ CINBengals 5-3
Last GameJets 24-14, 2010 POs
Last Bengals WinBengals 38-31, 2007
Postseason RecordJets 2-0
Last GameJets 24-14, 2010

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