Florham Park N.J. - In more ways than one, the New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals are eerily similar. Both teams have defensive specialist head coaches in Todd Bowles and Marvin Lewis; the two have at least one top receiver with a talented wideout core; both have dominant defenses and efficient offenses especially in the red zone; most importantly, New York and Cincinnati have a dynamic duo in the backfield. If the Jets want to start their season 1-0, it all starts with stopping the run - their bread and butter.
Last season, the Jets once again dominated on defense. Their 83.4 rushing yards per game put them second in the league behind the Seattle Seahawks in total rushing defense. With nearly every defensive starter returning in 2016, the Jets are expected to not miss a beat and pick up where they left off last season. Starting Sunday, Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams, and Steve McLendon will put their best foot forward in stopping Cincinnati's double threat running backs.
The Bengals are projected to have one of the NFL's best rushing duos in Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. Fantasy gurus are still trying to figure out whom to start because head coach Marvin Lewis likes to rotate both players on and off the field in various situations.
While the Jets rushing defense will be one of the best in 2016, they face a very difficult task in Hill and Bernard on opening day. Both players have big upsides and proven skills.
Hill is an interesting case because his physical frame defines how he plays the game. Standing at 6'2, 235-pounds, Hill is a big game bruiser with tremendous speed and instinct. In 2015, Hill found the endzone 12 times totaling 794 yards - the most touchdowns by a Bengals running back since Rudi Johnson had the same total in 2006. There are many expectations for Hill to take the next step this year - being that it he is entering his third full NFL season.
While Bernard is technically smaller than Hill at 5'9, 205-pounds, he provides a larger role on the offense with greater strength, speed, and elusiveness. He is more dynamic out of the two as Bernard compiled 730 rushing yards and 472 yards with 49 receptions. The North Carolina product needs just 49 receptions to have the second-most receptions by a running back in Bengals history - trailing only James Brooks (297 in eight total seasons).
Pick your poison.
Either way, the Jets will see a heavy dosage of the two come Sunday afternoon in different situations. While Bernard is typically a three down back, do not be surprised to see the powerful Hill attempt to pound the ball up the middle with short yardage or the goal line. Last season, Bernard did average close to five yards per carry, which is nearly 25 percent better than Hill accomplished that year. Remember, both running backs played in the same offense with identical offensive lines so that speaks to the productivity Bernard has over Hill. Nonetheless, both are dual-threats.
Calling: Wilkerson, Williams, and McLendon - stop the run and you will win the game. By stopping the run, the defense will be restricting Andy Dalton to the passing game. While Dalton has flung the ball across the field many times in the past, the combination of a lack of running game and pressure from the defensive line can disrupt Dalton's effectiveness.
It is also worth noting that there is no stopping A.J. Green. Darrelle Revis will be strong enough to compete with Green and should get the extra pass protection from the Jets safeties and other cornerbacks, but you can only limit - never truly shutdown the Bengals top receiver. Ask the countless fantasy owners who have faced Green on a week-to-week basis. If the Jets can stop Bernard and Hill, it will allow the secondary to focus primarily on Green whether it is with double coverage or extra help in the secondary. The Bengals do have talent behind Green on the depth chart in Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd, but Buster Skrine and Marcus Williams should be able to match up with them admirably.
It will not be easy, but if the Jets want any business starting their season with a victory, it starts with shutting down Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill.
Joe Barone is a staff writer for JetsInsider.com/NYJScout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@28JoeBarone) or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org)null