Consider the Bengals' passing game a double-edged sword. On one side, Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh have been the league's most productive tandem this season hauling in 83 receptions — more than any other two teammates in the NFL.
However, while this duo certainly is dynamic, the Cincinnati aerial assault practically ends there.
Quarterback Carson Palmer's passing options have deteriorated from last season, in part due to WR Chris Henry's league-issued eight-game suspension. The Bengals' current No. 3 receiver has been TE Reggie Kelly with 111 yards on eight catches and no touchdowns. Kelly, however, sprained his ankle at Kansas City and did not participate in Wednesday's practice.
"There's nothing we can do right now," Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski said of the injury situation at wide receiver. "We're playing the hand we're dealt, and we can't use that as an excuse, so the people that are playing have to pick it up and do better."
Getting these two receivers to play any better than they already are will be no easy task, but for a team that gains an astonishing 77.6 percent of its yardage through the air, they will get plenty of chances. Houshmandzadeh and Johnson have accounted for 10 of the Bengals' 14 touchdowns and have been on the receiving end of 65 percent of Palmer's 127 completions.
"It's crazy because on film, that's who they're going to," Jets safety Kerry Rhodes said Wednesday. "It doesn't matter what the score is or how the game's going."
"They're pretty much in every top-10 category in the league," head coach Eric Mangini said. "They are difficult to defend and they create a lot of problems."
For defensive backs, the thought of focusing the majority of coverage on one ace receiver with shifts and double coverages gets thrown away when facing teams such as the Bengals. Even with a record of 1-4, they rank second in the league with 284.8 passing yards per game.
Johnson has accounted for 278 more yards and two more TDs this season than he did after five games in 2006, when he ended with 1,369 yards and seven TDs. Houshmandzadeh is no role-playing wide receiver, either. He leads the Bengals with seven touchdown catches and 47 receptions and has had 100 receiving yards or more in each of the past three games.
"Both of those guys will beat you," Rhodes said. "You can't focus on one or try to stop just one. You have to play honest, and that's what makes their offense dangerous."
"We are very good at what we do," Johnson said via a conference call with Jets reporters Wednesday. "Basically, you have to pick your poison. Have it anyway you want it. You can take chocolate or you can take caramel."
Last season Houshmandzadeh had 90 receptions and over 1,000 receiving yards to go with nine touchdowns.
"It takes a lot of pressure off of me," Johnson said of playing opposite T.J. "For those teams that do want to double- or triple-cover me, he'll do his thing on the opposite side. He'll continue to hurt them as long as they do so."
Johnson — who gave himself the nickname "Ocho Cinco" for his uniform number 8-5 last year — makes headlines for his off-field antics as much as for his on-field production. During Cincinnati's Oct. 1 Monday night loss to New England, it looked as though Palmer and Johnson were seconds away from blows after a Johnson route turned into a Palmer interception. In fact, six of Palmer's eight picks this season came on throws to Johnson.
The wide receiver explains no chemistry was lost in the exchange.
"We never go at it. You can't mistake emotion and passion for the game," said Johnson. "We like to be perfect in everything we do. When it isn't right, he jumps on my butt. When he isn't right, I jump on his butt.
"We have a relationship that is so different from any other quarterback and receiver tandem in the league that me sitting here and explaining it to you, you wouldn't understand anyway," he added. "It is something he and I do to keep us at the top of our game. That is why the numbers are what they are. We want to be perfect every time we touch the field."
Because of Ocho Cinco's intriguing personality and trash talking, he has become one of the most popular players in the league — from both the fans' and the players' standpoint. Johnson's trash talk, just like his statistics, always leaves people in amazement.
"That just him," Rhodes laughed. "He brings a little excitement to the game, knowing he's going to come out and talk and have fun. It gives you the incentive to not let him score. As a competitor and personally, I like it."
Cornerback David Barrett agreed that the banter is just a fun part of the game.
"It doesn't bother me. He has to do his job just like I have to do mine," Barrett said. "A little talk never hurt anybody."
However, even Johnson knows there's a right time and place for midweek trash-talking.
"If you think about all the past antics I've done, they're always done while things are going well," he said. "The situation right now isn't right. We aren't winning and we aren't on the right page for those types of things to go on.
"Once the fun gets back and we get our swagger back, I will continue to enjoy the game the way I always do."