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.