The New York Jets, fresh off their first win of the season, are playing host to the reigning AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday.
Seen as a “get-right” game for the underwhelming and desperate 0-2 Bengals, the Jets must polish up their play defensively and expand upon what went right against Cleveland if they want to be a winning football team for the first time since Week 1 of 2018.
Here are three keys to the game that will put them in the best position to do so:
Key No. 1: (Finally) Establishing A Presence on the EDGE
One of the more puzzling results from the Jets first two games of the season has been their lack of success on the edge, despite it arguably being their deepest position group of the roster. Robert Saleh’s defense walks into Week 3 with just three sacks on the year, the sixth-lowest clip in the league, and has gotten pressure on opposing quarterbacks at the fifth-worst rate.
It hasn’t been all bad for the Jets, with starters John-Franklin Myers and Carl Lawson both possessing top-25 individual pass-rush grades for edge rushers by PFF, but no one else on the roster qualifies for a top-65 grade and free-agent signing Jacob Martin has graded as the worst pass-rushing edge this year.
In the defense of the Jets pass rush, the Ravens and Browns both have talented tackle play and held up well enough against the Jets front. The Bengals, on the other hand, have had some of the worst pass-blocking production from their tackles and lead the league in 13 sacks allowed. La’el Collins has the fifth-worst pass blocking grade this season, and his counterpart Jonah Williams has the 21st-worst grade.
The Bengals have too many talented playmakers for the Jets to allow Joe Burrow time to find them, so keeping him in the pocket — and more importantly bringing to the ground — will be a major deciding factor in the outcome of this game.
Key No. 2: Getting Movement in the Interior Run Game
Flipping to the other side of the football, the Jets are coming off a much stronger performance than what we say in Week 1 against Baltimore. The passing game seemed cleaner, Mike LaFleur did a great job scheming end-arounds and other pre-snap motions and New York’s playmakers made the most of their opportunities.
With all that said, they have yet to consistently establish the ground game and need to start finding success running between the tackles to keep the clock running and the Bengals offense off the football field. Alijah Vera-Tucker has been great on the right side and holds the best run-blocking grade by a guard in all of football, but it’s a double-edged sword as left guard Laken Tomlinson has the worst grade in the league for a guard. Center Conor McGovern has been fine, but the unit has really only found success in the run game pushing the ball to the outside of the field.
A multi-faceted offense will always help keep the defense guessing, so being able to push back the Bengals in the middle of the field will help continue to open the play-action and deep passing portions of LaFleur’s playbook. Cincinnati isn’t too particularly talented in the middle of its defense, with tackle DJ Reader and linebacker Logan Wilson carrying the workload for the rest, so hopefully the Jets run game can expose the interior unlike it’s been able to in Weeks 1 and 2.
Key 3: Containing Cincy’s Elite Playmakers
Say what you want about the talented playmakers the Jets have faced this season — Nick Chubb, Amari Cooper, and even Lamar Jackson are all talented players — but nothing they’ve seen so far poses the threat that Cincinnati does. It’s one thing to have to worry about Joe Burrow slinging the football around, but he also has a full array of weapons in running back Joe Mixon and one of the best trios of receivers in football in Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins and most notably Ja’Marr Chase.
The Jets corners have held up well through two weeks, but it’s still a very young room and one that hasn’t been tested like it will be in just a matter of days. That, combined with the abysmal play we’ve seen from the Jets safeties, makes this a headache waiting to happen. Starters Lamarcus Joyner and Jordan Whitehead have the second- and fifth-worst pass coverage grades by safeties this year, respectfully, and there has yet to be someone off the bench to earn a larger role in the rotation. With the corners not having reliable counterparts in the secondary, it’s only a matter of time before the get exposed for the first time this year.
New York could play an extremely sound game Sunday and still lose by double digits, simply because there were a couple of breakaway plays from Cincy’s playmakers that end up putting points on the board. For a defense that’s had their fair share of missed tackles to start the year and a secondary that’s had their issues being assignment-sound (most notably the safeties), limiting second-chance opportunities for these playmakers to make guys miss in space will be far and away the biggest factor in deciding the outcome of Sunday’s game.
Sep 21, 2022 5:20 PM EDT
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