Two trends continued on Sunday as the Cincinnati Bengals took another step toward establishing themselves as one of the league’s best while the New York Jets pushed their win-one, lose-one streak to eight straight weeks. The Bengals showed everything that’s made them one of the favorites in the AFC with the added bonus of stellar play from quarterback Andy Dalton and the continued emergence of WR Marvin Jones as the clear No. 2 option to WR A.J. Green. Jones caught four of Dalton’s career-high five touchdown passes as the Jets simply had no answer for the second-year receiver. With the win, the Bengals move to 6-2 with full control over the AFC North.
On the other side, the Jets remained status quo with a dud following a big win. They seem to play better in an underdog role and every time they re-gain the nation’s attention, they’ve been unable to maintain any momentum to put together a winning streak. They fell behind early and were simply overmatched in a futile comeback attempt consisting of scattered field goals. If the Jets truly hope to make a move in the AFC this season, they must overcome their even-week blues and figure out a way to perform when expectations are at their highest.
Here’s a look at the performances that shaped this AFC battle.
New York – Three Performances of Note
It really didn’t matter who was playing cornerback for the Jets, the Bengals receivers were making plays all over the field. Just days removed from explaining why CBs Dee Milliner and Antonio Cromartie were grading worse than their coverage stats, they went ahead and justified their poor grades with the coverage stats to match. Milliner (-4.4) was the biggest culprit as he surrendered four catches on five targets for 108 yards and a touchdown. Those numbers don’t even include his worst play as he got torched by WR Mohamed Sanu with 12:32 to go in the first quarter, but Sanu was unable to haul in Dalton’s pass that likely would have gone for a 56-yard touchdown. Milliner’s afternoon lasted only 29 snaps before he was replaced by CB Darrin Walls.
Cromartie’s numbers looked a little better as he gave up one catch on four targets, but he was at least partially responsible for two separate 53-yard gains to WR A.J. Green and even benefitted from a Green drop that would have been another big gain at the 11:46 mark of the third quarter. Cromartie also picked up his fifth defensive pass interference penalty of the season on a go-route to Sanu.
Beyond Milliner and Cromartie, the starting safeties as well as nickel cornerback Kyle Wilson (-1.3 coverage) all graded negatively in coverage as it was just an overall bad day for New York’s secondary.
Sunday was Geno Smith’s worst game as a pro as poor decisions proved costly. He threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns, though he receives varying degrees of blame for both. The first interception was the first play from scrimmage in the second half as Smith tried to hit WR Jeremy Kerley on an out route from the slot. As he delivered the ball, slot CB Chris Crocker broke hard on the pass and outmuscled Kerley who had slowed down on his route. Now a well-run route doesn’t ensure a positive play for the Jets as the throw was still forced and Crocker likely had a play on the ball either way, but the pick-six is not solely on Smith. The second interception, on the other hand, is on the rookie quarterback who made the mistake of throwing late and across the field. Given over three seconds in the pocket with 13:24 to go in the game, Smith threw to the left sideline well after his initial reads were over. CB Adam Jones made the break on the ill-advised pass to give the Bengals their seventh and final touchdown. That pass proved to be Smith’s last of the day to conclude an outing that saw him complete only one of more than 10 yards while forcing too many throws in to coverage, beyond just the interceptions.
Wilkerson and Harrison Stout in the Middle
Even in the losing effort, there was little running room for the Bengals as DE Muhammad Wilkerson and DT Damon Harrison continued their stellar play. Wilkerson was the Jets top defender at +3.9 as he notched three pressures (a sack, a hit, and a hurry) on 31 rushes while adding two stops in the running game on his way to a +1.5 grade in that department. He also came home with an interception as he read a WR screen and picked off the errant throw from Dalton. As for Harrison, he continued to impress as a run defender grading at +3.2 with four stops. It’s been nearly impossible to run at him this season as he’s shed many an interior lineman on his way to a league-leading +22.3 grade against the run, and he showed that ability on the Bengals’ first snap from scrimmage and later at the 12:28 mark of the third. Perhaps even more impressive, though it came with the game out of hand, was Harrison’s play with 9:41 to go in the game as the Bengals tried to run away from him and he easily disposed of RG Kevin Zeitler’s cut block and tracked to the play down from behind to get in on the tackle for a loss. Despite the lopsided score, Wilkerson and Harrison both came to play.
Cincinnati – Three Performances of Note
Dalton’s Best Game as a Pro
Though our ears have been saturated with discussions about “elite” quarterbacking, the last two years have shown that a strong team combined with a four-game hot streak under center is enough to land a Super Bowl title. That’s all the Bengals should be hoping for out of Dalton at this point as he’s not going to be knocking down the doors of the league’s best by year’s end, but if he can at least go on a run at the right time, the Bengals have as good of a chance as anyone to compete for a championship.
So while a one-game sample is never enough to pass judgment, Dalton at least showed that he’s capable of carrying a team on his back. His +5.2 grade was a career-high as he solved the deep passing conundrum at least for one day as he completed 3-of-6 for 130 yards, but he easily should have had more if not for two drops on well-placed deep balls to Sanu and Green. Other than his interception to Wilkerson, it was an efficient, decisive day for Dalton with some big-time downfield throws sprinkled in. Just enough to whet the appetite of Bengals fans while still raising the caveat of overreacting to a one-game sample.
Jones Dominates the Action
The Bengals’ passing game deserves two sections all to themselves after Jones’ special afternoon saw him grade at +5.7 to knock on the door of our Page of Fame for wide receivers. He caught all eight of his targets for 124 yards and four touchdowns. Perhaps the most impressive part of Jones’ game was the variety of skills he showed in dominating Jets’ defensive backs. His first two touchdowns came on back-shoulder fades while his third needed some nifty sideline work to keep his feet inbounds on a corner route. He also showed his after-the-catch ability on a 45-yard reception with 7:18 to go in the second quarter as he ran a curl route, broke free from Milliner, and made two Jets defenders miss before getting tackled. His last touchdown was more of the same as he took the quick screen and broke a Jaiquawn Jarrett tackle on his way to the 6-yard score. The never-ending search for a No.2 wide receiver opposite Green may have stopped on Jones as he’s now put together three straight strong games, including this dominant gem, despite seeing a limited number of snaps.
Well-Rounded Effort on Defense
There were a number of strong performances on Cincinnati’s defense, led by LB Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones. Burfict made plays in all phases of the game as he graded at +2.2 in coverage, +1.7 against the run, and he notched a pressure as a pass rusher. He did a great job running the seam with tight end Jeff Cumberland to knock away a pass with 11:00 to go in the second quarter. Jones had the aforementioned pick-six on his way to a +4.4 grade in coverage that included three stops in the passing game. He nearly had two interceptions as Smith was late on the comeback route and Jones broke on it to break it up, but he was unable to make the catch. In addition to Burfict and Jones, Michael Johnson (+3.1), George Iloka (+2.5), and Crocker (+2.1) all had strong afternoons.
– None of the Bengals’ offensive linemen graded positively in the running game as that was the one area where the Jets had the edge.
– Jets LG Brian Winters graded at -3.7 in pass protection as he surrendered two sacks, a hit and three hurries on 46 attempts.
– The Jets blitzed Dalton on 17 of his 31 drop-backs and he finished with a QB rating of 140.6 and a PFF Grade of +2.7 on those plays.
PFF Game Ball
While Andy Dalton had one of the best performances of his career, it was Marvin Jones who stole the show with eight catches for 122 yards and four touchdowns.
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