Countdown: Bengals need to freeze Jets’ running game

N.Y. Jets at Cincinnati, 4:30 ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Last Sunday night, the Bengals
had problems dealing with the icy field conditions in the
Meadowlands. That won’t be a problem today, because Paul Brown
Field has a heating system underneath, plus the field has been
covered for the past three days. But it’s going to be cold, with
the wind chill expected to be below 10 degrees.

The Bengals receivers believe they will have better footing,
thus allowing them to be able to get better separation from the New
York defensive backs, who love to jam and play man-to-man on the
outside. Of course, Bengals QB Carson Palmer must focus more on
Laveranues Coles and Andre Caldwell, knowing full well Jets CB
Darrelle Revis will latch onto Chad Ochocinco and probably take him
out of the game. But look for Palmer to throw some comeback-route
passes to Ochocinco to see how Revis reacts.

Even though the Bengals will have defensive linemen Robert
Geathers and Domata Peko back — those two didn’t play last
Sunday — the Bengals have to be concerned with New York’s No.
1 rushing offense. In the 37-0 win, the Jets rushed for 275 yards.
They led the league with 172.3 per game. RB Thomas Jones ran for
1,402 yards this season with 14 rushing touchdowns. Rookie Shonn
Greene, who hasn’t fumbled in the past three games, has added 540
yards when Jones needs a break.

The Jets have four Pro Bowl-caliber blockers, and now the
offense has added a wrinkle with Brad Smith lining up at shotgun in
their form of the wildcat. On their first third-and-long situation
Sunday, Smith ran 57 yards, setting up the Jets’ first touchdown.
The Jets used the wildcat on two other third downs in the first
quarter, converting both, and Smith added a 32-yard scoring run in
the second quarter, giving Cincinnati’s defense plenty to think
about for the rematch.

The beauty of this move is it has kept rookie QB Mark
Sanchez out of tough situations. He hasn’t thrown for a touchdown
in the past two games, but he also hasn’t thrown an interception or
lost a fumble.

CZAR’S SCOOP: Sanchez, who has 20 interceptions on
the season, has accepted his role. “I think things are going to get
a lot easier eventually,” Sanchez said. “But at this point in time,
I kind of found that with the way we are running the ball, with
being accurate, being smart, (that) has been our ticket these last
couple of games. I just want to play the same way and get a little
bit better, just build on each week.”

Sanchez now wears a wristband with all the plays on it. When
Palmer was a high school star at Santa Margarita in California,
Sanchez, who is seven years younger, was one of the team’s ball
boys. His older brother, Brandon, was a teammate of Palmer’s.

The Jets are the first team since 1970 to lead the NFL in
rushing and also in total defense, allowing 252.3 yards a game.
Just imagine how good they’d be if they hadn’t lost NT Kris
Jenkins. Also, the running game lost Leon Washington, a versatile
change-up runner to Thomas Jones.

There is no question Bengals coach Marvin Lewis lost some
Coach of the Year votes because of how his team struggled after
being 7-2 by completing a sweep of the Steelers.

Jets MLB David Harris is still complaining about what he
perceived as an illegal chop block by Bengals RB Brian Leonard last
Sunday. The block injured Harris, causing his right ankle to swell.
But he says he’s ready to play.

The Bengals have allowed an average of 173 yards rushing
over the final four weeks of the season.

The Jets are 8-0 when they have a positive turnover margin
this season.

Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is expected
to get some interviews for head-coaching vacancies, possibly in
Buffalo. Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, whose contract
is up after the season, will listen to any offer to join Mike
Shanahan in Washington. The Bengals haven’t discussed a contract
extension with Zimmer since the bye weekend in early November.

Philadelphia at Dallas, 8 ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Cowboys haven’t won a
playoff game since 1996, but they are favored to beat the Eagles a
third straight time this season.

It makes total sense, too, that Tony Romo won’t vary much
from last Sunday’s excellent offensive game plan. The Cowboys used
a spread offense with Romo in the shotgun much of the day, allowing
the Dallas quarterback to see the Eagles’ blitz while also giving
Marion Barber and Felix Jones excellent running opportunities.
Those two averaged 6.3 yards a carry and were the big reason Dallas
controlled the clock and the game’s tempo. The Cowboys ran a lot of
draws out of this look and pretty much dominated the game as their
massive offensive line, which returns RT Marc Colombo, pushed the
lighter Eagles around.

Look for Philadelphia to use LBs Jeremiah Trotter and Chris
Gocong, who was benched the past three games, more on running downs
this time around. It is much easier for Philadelphia to blitz a
two-back set, where they can overload a side while effectively
hiding their intentions. With a three-receiver look, the Eagles
were forced to cover everyone and simply couldn’t generate much
pressure on Romo. If the Eagles are going to have any chance, pass
rusher Trent Cole must play better against OT Flozell Adams, who
shut him out last Sunday.

Romo likes to throw to TE Jason Witten in short-yardage
situations and go to stop-and-go routes with Miles Austin and
crossing patterns to Patrick Crayton. Roy Williams is now sharing
his position with rookie WR Kevin Ogletree.

Eagles QB Donovan McNabb was off his game in both losses to
the Cowboys while under considerable pressure from NT Jay Ratliff
and OLB DeMarcus Ware. Dallas’ pass rush is much improved with the
rapid development of LB Anthony Spencer and the solid
three-technique play of DT Stephen Bowen.

McNabb needs to get WR DeSean Jackson loose early in the
game in order to mix in some Brian Westbrook runs. If the Eagles
can’t run, they are in for a long day. McNabb must isolate on
nickel back Orlando Scandrick and find safety Ken Hamlin, who
doesn’t run well on deep posts. The key, though, is how
Philadelphia’s makeshift offensive line holds up and buys McNabb
some time to throw deep.

CZAR’S SCOOP: Should the Cowboys lose, owner Jerry
Jones may decide to re-up head coach Wade Phillips for one more
season and then see where the collective bargaining agreement
stands with the players before the 2011 season. Then, Jones could
consider former Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden or Bill Cowher, should
the ex-Pittsburgh coach fail to take a job this year.

The major reason Jones would keep Phillips is he owes
offensive coordinator Jason Garrett $7 million for the 2010-11
seasons. Basically, Garrett and Phillips earn about the same amount
per season, with Phillips collecting a few dollars more. Jones has
been praising Phillips’ efforts with the Cowboys’ defense, and he’s
comfortable with him right now. He’s also pretty excited about
Phillips giving him a home playoff game that’s probably worth about
$15 million to the franchise.

Unlike in years past, Eagles GM Tom Heckert is actually
looking to leave the organization if he can get the right offer.
Heckert needs a change of scenery. Eagles boss Joe Banner is also
comfortable in simply elevating Howie Roseman, the team’s vice
president of personnel, into Heckert’s role. Don’t forget coach
Andy Reid has all the personnel power anyway.

The Cowboys are in good shape long-term with Romo’s
contract. He earns $8.5 million next season and $9 million each in
2011-12. Romo is 0-2 in playoff games, but he sounds like a
completely different player. He has passed for 909 yards and four
touchdowns in the Cowboys’ three-game winning streak at the end of
the season. No longer a Hollywood junkie, Romo is dating a local
sports reporter, Candice Crawford, who is a former Miss Missouri.