Star-crossed franchises do battle on Halloween, as the New York Jets welcome Joe Burrow and the Bengals to East Rutherford.
The Opponent: Cincinnati Bengals
The Date: Week 7 (Sunday, October 31), 1 p.m. ET, CBS (@ NYJ)
The Series: Jets lead 17-10 (last meeting: 2019, 22-6 CIN)
- PART I: Carolina Panthers
- PART II: New England Patriots
- PART III: Denver Broncos
- PART IV: Tennessee Titans
- PART V: Atlanta Falcons
The New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals are living up to their respective reputations as two of the NFL’s scariest franchises in the modern standings. Entering the 2021 season, the teams are the owners of the longest playoff droughts in football. New York has a sizable margin at ten years, while the Bengals are at five seasons alongside the Cardinals and Broncos. Cincinnati is also nursing the longest active streaks between conference title game appearances (32 years) and playoff victories (30).
It’s thus only appropriate that these doomed squads go head-to-head on Halloween.
If anything, these franchises whose respective timelines have been dominated with tricks appear to have a pair of treats working with them under center. Cincinnati is set to welcome back Joe Burrow, the top pick of the virtual draft in 2020, while the Jets are set to counter with Zach Wilson, the second overall pick from the most recent selections.
The Skinny On the Bengals
The Bengals’ rebuild has entered the stage where they’re eradicating the remnants of the closest thing Queen City has had to professional football glory days since a rare Super Bowl appearance a majority of their fanbase has only seen on YouTube.
Andy Dalton, Andrew Whitworth, Rey Maulaga, and Domata Peko had already vanished. More Cincinnati jerseys became outdated this offseason, as the team bid farewell to Geno Atkins, A.J. Green, Gio Bernard, and Carlos Dunlap. Only tight C.J. Uzomah is left over from the Bengals’ last playoff trip, 2016’s meltdown at Paul Brown (Stadium).
The operation is being overseen by head coach Zac Taylor, who is entering the all-important third year at the helm. Cincinnati is a historically patient franchise: Taylor is only the 10th man to wear the headset for the franchise in their five-plus decades and his predecessor lasted 16 years in the spot without a single playoff victory.
Cincinnati’s fortunes were expected to be reversed by the arrival of Burrow. The standings left much to be desired…the Bengals won twice in Burrow’s ten starts…but reached heights unscaled by not only Cincinnati quarterbacks but legends of the entire league. Burrow became the first NFL freshman to throw for 300 yards in three consecutive games as well as the first to tally 400 passing yards, three passing scores, and a rushing six-pointer in a single contest.
This being the Bengals, however, the good times weren’t made to last. Burrow suffered a devastating injury during a November loss in Washington and was forced into an extensive rehab. Time will tell if Burrow returns to his dominant form that earned him the Heisman and a national title at LSU. But he found ways to turn his rehab process into a building block for his potentially game-changing career. The procedure, he believes, afforded him a chance to fix some of the flaws that perhaps hid beneath the glitz and glamour of his football career to date.
“With my knee, it felt the same. But I tweak my throwing motion every offseason and tweak my base. It was actually kind of beneficial for me, because I really started from the beginning and was able to refine some things that needed refining,” Burrow told Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer about his offseason. “I’d like to be more explosive. And I think I was really good in quick-game situations. On fourth down, we were really good. Empty, we were really good. But we need to be more explosive with play-action passes. All of our downfield passing needs to improve.”
In addition to losing Burrow, the Bengals also lost top rusher Joe Mixon to a foot injury. The next generation of Cincinnati weaponry has presented itself through Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, who united for 1,749 yards and 10 scores last season.
all of ja'marr chase's catches in the preseason 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/xhi56nxnIk
— Seth Galina (@pff_seth) August 31, 2021
What’s New In Cincinnati?
In addition to the high-profile arrival of receiver Ja’Marr Chase (chosen fifth in April), the Bengals had to spend their offseason accounting for the loss of several defensive starters, including pressure artist and Jet-to-be Carl Lawson…who, alas, will not partake in the reunion with Cincinnati due to injury.
Cincinnati signed Trey Hendrickson after a breakthrough season in New Orleans in the hopes of replacing Lawson’s pressure production. A revamped secondary welcomes depth options Ricardo Allen, Eli Apple, Chidobe Awuzie, and Mike Hilton, while Trae Waynes is a de facto newcomer after a pectoral injury cost him the entire 2020 season.
The Bengals’ revamped top defense looked good in the “take-it-with-a-grain-of-salt” summer sessions, allowing no points in two contests. Hendrickson was enthused by what he learned from defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, who prides versatility in his front seven.
“It’s looking very unique of anything I’ve ever played before,” Hendrickson said of the defense to Ben Baby of ESPN after his first practices with the team in June. “I think it’s playing to both the defense and what I can bring to the table.”
How to Beat Them
-Make Them Pray for Penei
One of the most shocking twists of the draft was the Bengals’ curious decision to leave accomplished Oregon blocker Penei Sewell on the board in favor of Chase, one of Burrow’s favorite targets during the Tigers’ national championship run.
There’s no doubt that Chase has the potential to be an elite, big-play talent and that his victorious chemistry with Burrow could come up big as the team tries to drag back to mere football relevancy. But the Bengals learned the hard way that they need to find further protection for Burrow. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to pounce (pun intended) on the draft’s most powerful blocker, especially with one with experience on the blindside? Even when taking his season-ending injury into account, Burrow was still tied for ninth in sacks allowed.
The Bengals partly made up for passing on Sewell with the signing of Riley Reiff (who replaces the ineffective former Giant Bobby Hart) but the left side is guarded by tackle Jonah Williams and guard Quinton Spain. Williams is a first-round pick from 2019 that has had trouble staying healthy while Spain takes on larger duties after losing a competition against Cody Ford and Brian Winters in Buffalo.
The Jets won’t have the services of Lawson but it’s going to be crucial to attack Burrow’s blindside and make the Bengals regret their fateful decision. It’ll be a particularly big chance for those lining up on the outside, ready to attack the already vulnerable Bengal backfield.
-Do It For Carl
One of the Lawson-centric metrics Jets fans are probably sick of…or can’t get enough of…seeing is the fact that Lawson was one of only 11 defenders to reach double-figures (10.5) in the “Sacks Created” advanced category. That number becomes downright jaw-dropping when a look at the defensive rankings reveals that the Bengals earned a mere 17 sacks last season…the worst output in the league.
There would be, perhaps, no better tribute to Lawson than to make the Bengals realize just how much they miss Lawson. That’ll come down to the offensive line working against Cincinnati’s adjusted pass rush. The Bengals also drafted Texas’ Joseph Ossai in the third round (29 tackles over the last two seasons), but he’s starting the season on injured reserve and could be out the whole year. Much like the Bengals will look to take advantage of the Jets’ fledgling, developing secondary, the Jets must take advantage of a Queen City pass rush searching for clarity and momentum.
If anyone knows just how deadly a Cincinnati pass rush attack can be. In their last get-together in November 2019…when the Jets fell to an 0-11 Bengals squad…Sam Darnold was sacked four times and knocked down nine more: six times alone by Dunlap and one further time by Lawson himself. The Bengals’ visit with a new quarterback to protect is a big chance to show how far they’ve come.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags