3TFO: Jets @ Bengals, Week 8
This Week 8 matchup pits former Ravens defensive coordinators Marvin Lewis and Rex Ryan against each other for the fourth time as head coaches, and the first time since 2010. Lewis’s Bengals are winless against Ryan’s Jets, including back-to-back losses in the regular season finale and Wildcard game in 2009. Things are little different since they last met in 2010 as these teams have moved in opposite directions. The Bengals are in good shape for their first “playoff streak” as a franchise, hoping to return for the third straight year, while the Jets are working for their first winning season since they last played the Bengals.
This game brings together two top-notch run defenses, with the Jets coming in at first and the Bengals at fifth in our overall team grades, but that’s about as far as the similarities go. The Jets, weighed down by the fourth-worst run blocking grade, are in the bottom 6 of our offense rankings, while the Bengals are a top 6 offense with the best pass blocking grade in the league. There won’t be many strength-on-strength matchups in this one, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting.
Pressure and the Tale of Two Geno Smiths
Geno Smith, like many NFL quarterbacks, is a very different player when he has a clean pocket as compared with when he is under duress. Before we look at those splits, let’s look at how he takes pressure. Part of Smith’s issue might be that he hangs onto the ball too long. He’s got the fourth highest Time to Throw in the league, behind just Michael Vick, Terrelle Pryor, and Russell Wilson – all of whom are fairly likely to scramble, and have similarly high sack numbers. The combination of throwing 67.2% of his passes 2.6 or longer after the snap with an average offensive line (the Jets’ offensive line has a Pass Blocking Efficiency of 76.3, right on the median) yields Smith, the fifth-most pressured QB in the NFL.
When Smith is under pressure, he is completing only 43.2% of his passes, taking sacks 22.3% of the time, and has scrambled six times, compared to a 66.9% completion rate when he’s pressure-free. In fact, we’ve assigned Smith responsibility for 6 of the 25 sacks he’s taken. His Accuracy Percentage is a touch better at 57.1%, as his receivers have dropped 5 of his 81 pressured attempts. Accounting for drops, though, Smith stands at 20th in our accuracy Passing Under Pressure rankings. The performance disparity is most visible when you look at Smith’s grade split: -8.1 under pressure compared to +7.1 when he’s not pressured.
All of this suggests that the Bengals will need to find a way to get pressure to Smith to control the passing game. New starter Brian Winters has given up 3 sacks and 10 total pressures since taking over for Vladimir Ducasse at left guard in Week 5, a moderate improvement. He’ll work alongside Nick Mangold, assuming Mangold is healthy enough to go, to try and keep Geno Atkins out of the backfield. Mangold has been consistently average in pass blocking this year, giving up just 10 pressures all year. On the outside, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson are both coming off good pass rushing days against Detroit, as Dunlap may be recovering his 2012 form while Johnson builds on a strong contract year. Then there’s Secret Superstar Wallace Gilberry, who has been up-and-down as he spells Dunlap and Johnson at defensive end. He’s managed 21 total pressures on 185 pass rushing snaps, so he’s getting pressure on a solid 11.3% of his snaps. Austin Howard and D’Brickashaw Ferguson have been solid at the bookends for the Jets, but will have their hands full against this talented group of Bengals, especially if Smith is holding onto the ball too long.
Weapons on Cincinnati’s Passing Offense
The Jets have seen three straight weeks of positive graded receiving tight ends on opposing offenses in Rob Gronkowski, Heath Miller, and Tony Gonzalez. Running backs Jason Snelling, and to a lesser extent, Felix Jones posted positive receiving days. Top receivers Julio Jones and Antonio Brown had plus days, too. This week, the Jets will contend with threats from all three positions again. With only three players (minimum 100 cover snaps) posting a coverage grade at or above +1.0, they might have their hands full trying to stop the Bengals’ offensive weapons in the passing game.
The Bengals use 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends, two receivers) more than any other team in the league to get Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert on the field together. The duo has combined for 65 targets, producing 50 catches (a 76.9% catch rate) for 544 yards and a touchdown. Between the two of them, that averages out to 9.3 targets for 7.1 catches and 77.7 yards per game. Out of the backfield, currently third in our Race for Rookie of the Year, Giovani Bernard ranks third among all running backs in his receiving grade, averaging 3.5 catches for 46.6 yards a game, which is quite a bit when you consider he only had three targets in the first two games of the season. New York’s linebackers haven’t been great in coverage, and the trio of Gresham, Eifert, and Bernard did damage against a sound group of safeties and linebackers against Detroit and Buffalo, and have their work cut out for them in coverage this week.
Then there are the receivers. Antonio Cromartie may shadow A.J. Green, as has been previously pointed out that the Jets sometimes play matchups and sometimes play sides. Assuming Cromartie stays with Green; their performances up to this point this year suggest a mismatch in the Bengals favor. Cromartie currently owns the lowest coverage grade for cornerbacks, though he was only targeted four times last week against New England. Prior to that game, he had been picked on for 12 of 22 passing for 256 yards and 3 touchdowns in his three previous games. Overall, the Jets don’t look to have the coverage players to match up with the Bengals top passing weapons. Still, opposing QBs have posted a negative grade against the Jets this year, including Tom Brady’s -6.6 last week. They’ll likely rely on confusing Andy Dalton and their front seven to disrupt the Bengals passing offense.
Establishing the Run?
As we mentioned in the open, these teams have two of the top run defenses in the league entering play. Neither team has been particularly great running the football, either. The Jets’ -33.3 run blocking grade is fourth worst in the league, and their -4.6 rushing grade is eighth worst. On the flip side, the Bengals +3.4 run blocking grade is eighth best, but their overall rushing grade is negative. Based on the teams’ respective strengths, it seems that the Jets may be a bit more anxious to establish the run to slow down the Bengals’ pass rush and keep their defense honest, but both teams face an uphill battle.
The Jets have run 21 Wildcat plays, including four last week, and bring out an extra lineman in those formations more often than not. They’ve only been considered offensive successes three times, however. Outside of trick plays, the Jets are somewhat successful on the left side, averaging 8.1 yards per carry to the left edge, and 4.3 yards per carry overall on the left. The Bengals are allowing 4.1 yards per carry on those runs, compared to 3.6 yards per carry to the right, so if the Jets do try to run the ball, they’d be best served working the left side, especially up the middle.
On the other side, while the Bengals face a tougher test in a Jets defense that’s mostly been a brick wall, there has been some room to run on either edge, where teams are averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Between the tackles has been much stronger, as the Jets have allowed only 2.7 yards per carry. With those ominous numbers facing the Bengals, they could try mixing in runs against the Jets’ 2-4-5 defense, where there’s been a bit more success. But the screen game hasn’t been kind to Jets opponents, and there’s not much to suggest the Bengals will find a magic crack in the Jets’ run defense that no one has before them.
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