Burrow has struggled out of the gate, and the Jets can exploit his weaknesses
Who would’ve thought the New York Jets would have a better record than the Cincinnati Bengals coming into their Week 3 matchup?
Even more shockingly, who could have predicted that Joe Flacco may have outplayed Joe Burrow through two weeks?
The Jets have had their own Joe Cool, while Burrow has been plagued by some of the issues that hampered his Super Bowl run last year. The difference is that he has not been able to overcome them thus far.
However, the Bengals are still five-point favorites in this game. That should give the Jets their own level of mad. There’s a certain level of disrespect there, especially when the game is at MetLife Stadium. As angry as Cincinnati has to be with what looks like a Super Bowl hangover, Robert Saleh & Co. can come in just as mad, receipts imprinted on their brains.
Still, Burrow remains a threat. He had a terrific season last year, and his receiving corps was rated No. 1 in the league by Pro Football Focus heading into 2022. Led by Ja’Marr Chase, the Bengals can take over the game with explosive passing plays in a hurry.
How can the Jets contain the Bengals defensively and put themselves in position to win the game?
Pressure, pressure, pressure
The Bengals revamped their offensive line this year following Burrow’s 51 regular-season and 19 postseason sacks in 2021. The four newcomers were rookie Cordell Volson at left guard, Ted Karras at center, Alex Cappa at right guard, and La’el Collins at right tackle. The only remaining lineman from last year is left tackle Jonah Williams.
However, so far, it’s been new faces, same old story. Burrow has been sacked 13 times through two games with a whopping 38.2% pressure-to-sack rate, the worst among QBs. Williams has been one of the biggest culprits, allowing three of those takedowns, the worst among all starting tackles, and 10 total pressures, the second-worst tackle total. Meanwhile, Collins hasn’t fared too much better, allowing a sack and six pressures.
Besides the sacks, Burrow’s numbers under pressure are not pretty. On 34 dropbacks under pressure, Burrow is 7-for-17 (41.2%) for 88 yards (5.2 yards per attempt) with one touchdown and one interception. He has three turnover-worthy plays in such situations, per PFF. His passer rating is 53.1, and his PFF grade is 33.9.
This stands in stark contrast to last season when Burrow was one of the best quarterbacks in the league while under pressure. He had a 60.9% completion percentage with a 9:6 TD:INT ratio, a 92.4 passer rating, and a 63.4 PFF grade, the fifth-best among QBs. Pressure stats are notoriously inconsistent year over year, but with how Burrow has done so far this season when pressured, it’s fair to take note.
Meanwhile, on the interior, Volson has allowed a sack and seven total pressures. Cappa has escaped with one sack allowed and four total pressures, while Karras at center has been relatively solid, with three pressures allowed.
This tells Jets edge rushers Carl Lawson, John Franklin Myers, Jermaine Johnson, Jacob Martin, Micheal Clemons, and (possibly) Bryce Huff to be ready. The Jets’ defensive line has disappointed pass rush-wise through two weeks, but they played a lot of contain defense against Lamar Jackson, and Cleveland’s offensive line is one of the best in the league.
Saleh on pass rush: "It's got to be better." #Jets
— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) September 21, 2022
This week, though there are no excuses. Cincinnati’s offensive line is struggling mightily, especially on the edge. Lawson has a revenge game against his former team. It’s time for these guys to justify the $51 million cap dollars the Jets are spending on their defensive line this season.
Stop deep passes
Burrow was the fourth-best quarterback in the NFL on deep passes last season, posting a 95.8 PFF grade on throws 20 or more yards down the field. He posted 27 big-time throws and just five turnover-worthy plays on 68 deep attempts, per PFF.
This year, though, Burrow has posted just a 45.6 PFF grade on seven deep attempts this year. Though it’s a small sample size, it recalls his rookie year, when he was just 9-for-48 on deep attempts, an 18.8% completion percentage that was the worst in the NFL.
Burrow has one of the scariest deep targets in the NFL in Ja’Marr Chase, but Chase has just one deep target this year (no catches). The Jets have the cornerbacks to stop him man-to-man. Although the Jets’ safeties have been among the worst in coverage in the NFL, their three starting corners have been good-to-excellent through two games. The Jets need to find a way to keep their corners covering Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd.
D.J. Reed (16th) and Sauce Gardner (28th) have both been in the top third of the NFL in man coverage among corners so far this year, per PFF, with the potential to be a whole lot better than that. Then again, they haven’t seen anyone of Chase’s caliber, either. It should be an interesting strength-vs.-strength matchup.
Furthermore, Michael Carter II has allowed the seventh-lowest passer rating against among all slot corners, and he has allowed a measly 0.46 yards per cover snap, the ninth-best mark in the NFL. That’s a big advantage for the Jets in not allowing Burrow to get the ball moving for easy first downs when he can’t find Chase deep.
The Jets struggled to force turnovers last season, which furthered their already-prodigious defensive struggles. Through two weeks, though the defense has forced two interceptions, one was to D.J. Reed in garbage time. This week, they will have the opportunity to force Joe Burrow into mistakes. Burrow has already thrown four interceptions (five total turnover-worthy throws) and lost a fumble.
Even last season, Burrow tied for sixth among QBs with 14 interceptions, so he will give one away from time to time. The Jets need to be ready to pounce on those opportunities and actually pick the ball off.
Attack zone runs
The Bengals do not post nearly as big of a rushing threat as the Ravens or Browns. Furthermore, they employ a wide-zone running scheme, which does not threaten the Jets as much as gap-blocking does.
Joe Mixon was still a Pro Bowler in 2021, and he poses a threat on the ground. Still, through two games this year, Mixon has the third-worst PFF run grade among backs with at least 20 attempts at 55.9. He also has the worst Expected Points Added (EPA) among all backs with 20 attempts at -9.84.
The Jets can continue those struggles with their attacking defensive line. Again zone-running teams, the Jets’ smaller interior defensive linemen do not struggle as much, as they can get downfield aggressively and attack the ball carrier.
Furthermore, the screen game is not as big of an issue with Mixon, as his elusiveness rating has always been middle-to-bottom of the league, per PFF. He averaged 0.14 forced missed tackles per touch last season, so he’s not going to attack one of the Jets’ biggest weaknesses, missed tackles, the way Nick Chubb did last week.
This is not a bad matchup for the Jets.
This is an interesting game for the Jets. It should, and I say should, be a game the pass rush can get going. That being said, I’d like to see a couple of early down blitzes just to be sure Burrow “senses” there will be pressure all day. That last thing we need is him getting comfortable.
I worry about the safety play. As Saleh said the back end break downs lead to big plays. The Bengals have plenty of guys to make plays.
Overall, it’s a good test (not a season ending test so if it doesn’t go well let’s not go crazy) but they won in dramatic and improbable fashion last week. They are coming back home with some snaps under their belt and if they are going to continue to progress there can be no “hangover” from the win. It’s a game they can some out and get started sooner than the last two and maybe get ahead on the scoreboard.
Seems like the Jets always beat the Bengals. I’m confident.
It’s very rare to start a thought with, “Seems like the Jets always…” and end it with, “I’m confident.”