Bengals at Jets: 5 storylines to watch in today’s game

The Cincinnati Bengals noticed more national attention this week coming off a dominant win at Baltimore, but now they are just trying to block out the noise and make sure they stay on track.

Heading into today’s road game against the New York Jets (1-5), the Bengals face a task they haven’t needed to address in a long while – learning how to handle success and not overlook a struggling opponent.

The Jets have lost two games by seven points or less and pulled out a surprising overtime win against Tennessee in Week 4. The Bengals, meanwhile, are looking to keep their momentum going after a 41-17 win at Baltimore as they prepare to host the Browns in the first Battle of Ohio game of the season Nov. 7.

Here are five storylines to watch today:

1. Facing a backup quarterback

The Jets lost No. 2 overall draft pick Zach Wilson to a PCL sprain last week against New England, and backup quarterback Mike White is set to start after coming off the bench to replace him for his debut.

White threw for 202 yards and one touchdown but threw two interceptions and was sacked once in a 54-13 loss and the Jets have allowed 20 sacks this year. The Bengals will be looking to take advantage of his inexperience. White was a fifth-round draft pick of the Cowboys in 2018 out of Western Kentucky and made the team as a third-string quarterback as a rookie, but he was waived in 2019 and joined the Jets’ practice squad that September.

He spent his first two seasons bouncing between the active roster and practice squad before getting called into action in the second quarter last week. The Jets traded for Joe Flacco on Monday, but Flacco will serve as White’s backup while getting settled into the offense.

“I remember watching several of his Western Kentucky games,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “He was a really good college player, then spent that one year in Dallas and he’s been at the Jets for a couple of years, so he’s used to the rhythm of the Jets, not necessarily this particular scheme maybe. I thought for a guy who was playing in his first NFL game, he played confidently. It didn’t seem like a guy who was overwhelmed. He stayed in rhythm. A lot of those guys you see get skittish in the pocket. You’re playing New England, you know. I thought he did a nice of coming in and managing the game. His first pass was a back shoulder touchdown on a corner route down on the goal line. That’s not easy to do. I was impressed with him.”

2. Getting off to a fast start

The Bengals still continue to look their best in the second half, but a fast start on Sunday could be important as they seek to avoid a letdown. It would be especially demoralizing for the Jets to fall behind quickly at home.

New York ranks last in the league in scoring offense (13.3 points per game) and 31st in net offense (272.3 yards per game), so some early scores for the Bengals could create a hole the Jets wouldn’t be able to climb back from, assuming the Cincinnati defense is playing to its potential out of the gate as well.

Cincinnati has scored just 24 points in the first quarter of games this season but 34 points have come in the final two minutes before halftime, and the team is 4-0 when leading at halftime. The Bengals also lead the NFL in points scored (34) on the first offensive possession of the second half, as they have come away with points on their first offensive possession of the second half in six of seven games this season (four TDs, two FGs).

The Jets defense has been better than its offense, despite allowing 127.5 rushing yards per game and 275.0 passing yards per game, and Taylor said Robert Saleh’s defense is more challenging than the team’s record makes it seem.

“They’re very disciplined,” Taylor said. “They’ve always been good tacklers. They understand their scheme very well. You see that from these guys. They’ve had a lot of different faces over there on this defense over the course of the season particularly linebacker. To me it starts with the front. They have a really good front. (No.) 95, Quinnen Williams has continued to consistently improve since the last time we saw him out here (in 2019) to where he is now. He is in tremendous shape. He is tremendous playmaker. (No.) 94 (Folorunso Fatusaki) is great player as well. They’ve got good depth behind those guys. We’ve got our work cut out for us. These DBs are smart, they understand the scheme, they’re doing a good job coaching them. It’s going to be a tough test for our guys on the road.”

3. Utilizing the tight ends

Much has been said about Joe Burrow’s weapons with Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon, but tight end C.J. Uzomah has proven to be an underrated asset.

Uzomah had two touchdown catches last week at Baltimore and has as many receiving yards as Higgins (256) and just one less touchdown (five) than Chase,. Burrow will be looking to continue to utilize his tight ends, perhaps also getting Drew Sample more involved as well as teams try to take away Chase.

“C.J. just keeps playing better and better,” Burrow said. “When he gets opportunities, he’s making the most of them. I mean, he’s been playing really, really well. Drew’s been doing a great job in the run game and in pass blocking. On C.J.’s long touchdown, he was blocking Calais Campbell, who’s one of the best in the league. And he blocked him for a long time. Those guys are playing really well. When we have the guys who we have on the outside that draw all the attention, those guys get some 1-on-1 matchups and they’ve been winning them.”

4. Injuries impacting Jets

While the Bengals are pretty healthy – only Chris Evans (hamstring) is out and wide receiver Auden Tate (thigh) questionable – the Jets have multiple players besides Wilson dealing with injuries.

Running back Tevin Coleman (hamstring), defensive lineman Bryce Huff (back) and tight end Trevon Weisco (knee) also are out, and top receiver Corey Davis (hip) is doubtful. Additionally, safety Ashtyn Davis (shoulder), defensive lineman Shaq Lawson (wrist), linebacker C.J. Mosley (hamstring) and tight end Tyler Kroft (back) are all questionable. Former Bengals defensive end Carl Lawson misses a chance to face his old team after rupturing his Achilles tendon during training camp.

The injuries have made it tough for the Jets to be competitive with a lack of depth showing.

5. Flipping the script

Considering how well the Bengals are playing, this has all the feeling of a “trap game” being on the road against a struggling opponent, but that’s been the talk all week – avoiding that.

The Bengals are going into their third straight road game and trying for a fourth straight road win, something that would be a big deal for Taylor and his team. Cincinnati is 4-15-1 on the road under Taylor, and the Bengals haven’t won four straight away games since 2015 – also the last time they had a three-game win streak.

Taylor said it doesn’t matter the opponent’s record, finishing this road trip on a high note is important.

“There’s nothing worse in this world, of eating whatever you eating on a quiet bus, getting on a plane ride and watching the tape and just being mad at yourself,” Taylor said. “Yeah, it’s the worst. Because you don’t have a chance to put it behind you until days down the road. At least when it’s a home game you can sit up in your office and watch the tape after the game and then go home and go right to bed. The road trip, you’ve got planes, trains and automobiles situation you’ve got to endure. I don’t want to do that anymore.”


Bengals at Jets, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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