Jets O-line’s tough task vs Bengals: Protect Geno

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Willie Colon is used to taking on the Cincinnati Bengals’ rugged defensive line.
He did it twice a season in his seven years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now in his first season with the New York Jets, the right guard gets to face the Bengals’ pass rushers and run stuffers again.
And this time around, Colon sees an even better bunch.
“These guys play hard, they play physical,” Colon said Friday. “It’s one of those teams that you’ve got to bring your hard hat for. You’ve got to play them all four quarters tough.
“You can’t have any letup.”
Or else.
The Jets’ offensive linemen know they face a big challenge Sunday in protecting quarterback Geno Smith from the Bengals’ aggressive and sack-happy defense.
Cincinnati has 18 sacks this season, which puts the Bengals in the middle of the pack in the NFL. But they’re a disruptive group up front, led by defensive tackle Geno Atkins. Cincinnati also ranks eighth in the league against the run, adding to the importance of Smith and the passing game.
“Their D-line is one of the best out there,” Smith said. “They are stacked at every position. It’s going to be a challenge for us, but we just have to just go into the game with the right mindset and just execute the game plan.”
Sounds like a simple enough plan. But the Bengals have hardly made things easy on opposing offenses.
Atkins is one of the best defensive tackles in the league, a dominant force who is a two-time Pro Bowl selection and was a first-team AP All-Pro pick last season. He has 16 sacks in the last two years, including four this year.
Rookie left guard Brian Winters, a third-round pick from Kent State, likely will go up against Atkins for most of the game while making just his fourth NFL start.
“Well, that’s the NFL,” Colon said. “There’s great (defensive) linemen out there and there’s going to be challenges every week. He’s just got to knuckle up and get ready to go.”
The Bengals also have Carlos Dunlap, who has four sacks, and Michael Johnson at defensive ends, and Domata Peko at nose tackle to form a formidable front four. Throw in the playmaking linebacker trio of leading tackler Vontaze Burfict, James Harrison and Rey Maualuga, and the Jets have plenty to prepare for.
“Oh man, they’re tough, there’s no question,” coach Rex Ryan said. “It’s an outstanding group. I like what they do defensively. They’ll challenge you, they’re multiple in what they do, so it’s certainly going to be a challenge.”
Added offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg: “They’re just excellent. They’re very good schematically. They make few mistakes and they all have high motors.”
The Jets have allowed 25 sacks this season, but not all of them have been the result of breakdowns on the offensive line. Some have come from Smith holding the ball a bit too long, something the rookie has been working hard at improving.
But there have been a few instances where some of the linemen have gotten beat, including Winters and left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson each allowing two sacks last week against New England.
“It’s going to be an all-around challenge for all of us,” Colon said. “If the game comes down to us five up front getting the job done, if we’re able to do that, we should be successful.”
Ryan has liked what his offensive line has been able to do overall this season, and it appears to have improved a bit from last year.
“We knew that would be a real strength of our team, both our offensive line and our defensive line,” Ryan said. “And I think that’s a true statement.”
Despite the sacks, Smith has been regularly getting quite a bit of time to throw — which, of course, is helping cut down on his mistakes.
The line also is creating running room for the backs, as the Jets rank 11th in the league in rushing. That’s a surprisingly high position for an offense run by Mornhinweg, whose reputation for loving to throw the ball is well-documented.
“As long as we’re good at it,” Mornhinweg said, smiling, “I like to run the football.”
The Jets know, however, that the Bengals are going to do everything they can to shut down anything they try against them on offense — run or pass.
“All those guys are paid to be there and they paid a lot of money, and all those guys play hard,” Colon said. “I’ve watched over the years this team kind of be a bottom of the barrel team. And, now, they’re legit contenders.”