New York Jets’ loss to Cincinnati mostly created new concerns, but a few silver linings exist
The New York Jets dropped to 1-2 with a 27-12 home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. It was a deflating letdown following the team’s incredible comeback against the Cleveland Browns one week prior. New York had many chances to take control of the game early on, but a collection of back-breaking mistakes allowed Cincinnati to give this game a blowout type of vibe early in the third quarter.
Here are some of the key positives and negatives from this game.
The Jets’ pass-rush had a golden opportunity for its breakout game against a Bengals offensive line that allowed Joe Burrow to be sacked 13 times in two games. Instead, Burrow enjoyed plenty of clean pockets as he only got sacked twice over 36 pass attempts. Burrow’s 5.3% sack rate is his lowest in a regular season game since Week 7 of 2021.
New York’s defensive line picked up the pace in the second half, but by then, the unit had already allowed Cincinnati to take control of the game. In the first half, there were quite a few snaps in which the Jets provided great initial coverage but still allowed a productive completion because the pass-rush gave Burrow all day to throw.
Inexcusable veteran penalties
John Franklin-Myers and Corey Davis each had an after-the-play penalty that absolutely crushed the Jets.
Franklin-Myers erased a three-and-out with an unnecessary roughness call due to a late hit on Burrow. Three plays later, the Bengals scored a touchdown.
While the Jets were driving in the fourth quarter with a chance to make it a one-score game with over 10 minutes remaining, Davis committed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that turned a third-and-6 into third-and-21. The Jets would give the ball back to Cincinnati two plays later.
It’s disappointing to see the Jets’ veteran players being the ones that are letting this team down right now.
This is a negative in the short-term, but it can be seen as a positive in the long-term.
Joe Flacco had his second awful game out of three appearances. Just like in the season-opening Ravens game, Flacco looked hesitant and befuddled as he consistently folded under pressure and failed to see wide-open receivers. Flacco finished with a 15.5 QBR and a 53.8 passer rating in a performance that was often difficult to watch.
However, the positive here is that the Jets’ short-term struggles can largely be blamed on a player who is about to be replaced with a significantly more talented player.
Zach Wilson is set to return this week. We do not know exactly what caliber of quarterback Wilson is going to be this year – there’s no doubt his floor is low after what he showed last year – but his ceiling is limitless. There is a chance the Jets are about to experience a massive upgrade at quarterback.
Even if the upgrade is from “mid-to-high level backup” to “slightly below-average starter”, it would do wonders for this offense.
The film from the Jets’ first three games shows that their offensive weaponry is legitimately excellent. Players are constantly open. Flacco simply couldn’t capitalize on open receivers at a competent rate in the Ravens and Bengals games. I truly believe that a league-average starting quarterback would have led the Jets to around 20-24 points in each of those games.
Heck, when Flacco actually did play pretty well in Cleveland, the Jets dropped 31 points. (Yes, it took a miracle for them to have the chance to get there, but you still have to give them credit for capitalizing on the chances they were given).
Garrett Wilson, Elijah Moore, Tyler Conklin, and Corey Davis are creating a bevy of big-play opportunities for their quarterback. It’s now up to Zach Wilson to determine what percentage of those opportunities are capitalized upon. The bar to clear Flacco is low, so there is a good chance that Wilson will prove to be an upgrade.
How much of an upgrade is the question. Will Wilson jump from bad to mediocre, or will he experience an explosive second-year breakout like the one his fellow 2021 draftee Trevor Lawrence (103.1 passer rating) appears to be having?
I think the Jets will go as far as Wilson takes them this year. This can be good a offense if the quarterback is thriving.
The offensive line did not replicate its respectable performance in Cleveland. Flacco took four sacks and was hit or pressured on many other plays.
It was the left tackle spot that hurt New York the most. George Fant was brutal prior to leaving the game with a knee injury in the third quarter. His replacement, Conor McDermott, was somehow even worse.
The Jets are in trouble if McDermott has to start any games. Even the substantially-declined version of Fant is more reliable than McDermott.
I also thought the Jets’ run-blocking in this game was not as solid as it was in the first two. The Jets ran for a season-low 3.8 yards per carry, and much of their yardage was self-created by Breece Hall and Michael Carter.
As mentioned in the previous section, the Jets’ weapons looked good.
Garrett Wilson continues to show he is going to be a star – if he isn’t one already. Wilson caught 6-of-10 targets for 60 yards and once again should have had far better production than that based on his route-running proficiency.
Tyler Conklin enjoyed a bounceback performance as he caught all eight of his targets for 84 yards. It’s the first time since 2008 that a Jets tight end caught 8+ passes for 80+ yards.
Breece Hall recorded 92 scrimmage yards on 14 touches, rushing eight times for 39 yards (4.9 per carry) and catching six passes for 53 yards. Hall showed some progress in his north-south willingness, which is something Robert Saleh wanted him to work on after last week’s game.
Elijah Moore attracted a season-high 10 targets, although he only caught four of them for 49 yards. However, Flacco did not give Moore very accurate throws to catch, and some of those targets were forced whereas Moore did not get the ball on a handful of other plays in which he was wide open. Moore’s tape still suggests that a breakout will come at some point.
I’m talking a lot about how often the Jets’ weapons create separation and do not get rewarded – I promise I’ll show plenty of examples from the film this week.
New York did a good job of stopping the run for the second time in three games. Cincinnati rushed for 69 yards on 28 carries (2.5 yards per carry) with a long of 9 yards.
The only hiccup was a clock-chewing drive in the fourth quarter where the Bengals continuously pounded the Jets (10 carries for 49 yards) despite it being obvious that they were running the ball on every play. Prior to that, though, the Jets allowed essentially zero rushing production throughout the game (15 carries for 28 yards).
If I told you the Jets would rank sixth-best in the NFL with 3.7 yards allowed per rush attempt through three weeks, you would probably think this defense is dominating, as stopping the run was its main concern entering the year. Unfortunately, other aspects of this defense are underperforming while this one is overperforming.
But if the Jets can keep up this level of run-stopping, it will raise the defense’s ceiling to a slightly higher level than most people pictured before the year. Whether it hits that ceiling will depend on if the pass-rush can wake up.
Greg Zuerlein has sprung to life after a concerning opener.
After making all of his extra points and a clutch 57-yard kick in Week 2, Zuerlein responded with another gem in Week 3. Zuerlein made all four his field goal attempts, with each coming from a considerable distance: 40, 43, 50, and 52 yards.
Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed impressed in their first matchup with a top-tier wide receiver unit. Gardner had two remarkable pass breakups while Reed had one of his own.
Overall, the duo provided tight coverage and did not seem to be at fault for many of Burrow’s 23 completions. Gardner did allow a 45-yard deep completion to Tee Higgins but his coverage was air-tight and Higgins had to make a stupendous catch. Much of Burrow’s passing production was against linebackers and safeties.
Star receiver Ja’Marr Chase had a pedestrian day as he caught 6-of-10 targets for 29 yards (with one touchdown on a busted coverage that appeared to be the fault of Quincy Williams or Lamarcus Joyner). Chase’s average of 2.9 yards per target in this game stands as the second-worst mark of his career.
Gardner is currently tied for second in the NFL among cornerbacks with four passes defended.