New York Jets 2021 opponent report: Cincinnati Bengals

joe burrow, bengals

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)

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 More Cincinnati jerseys became outdated this offseason, as the team bid farewell to Geno Atkins, A.J. Green, Gio Bernard, and Carlos Dunlap.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.

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.

carl lawson, new york jets

-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

The top prospects that the New York Giants cannot pass on at eleven overall

The New York Giants have set themselves up to have an abundance of options with the eleventh overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. New York used to have a couple of glaring needs to address with their first-round pick. Before free agency, nearly everyone assumed that the Giants would add an offensive playmaker or possibly an outside cornerback in the first round. After the Giants signed Kenny Golladay and Adoree Jackson, that assumption changed.

Now the Giants can simply select the best player available at eleven overall. Or they could address a different position of need. They are no longer pigeon-holed into selecting a wide receiver. Yet, they still could, if they wanted to, in theory.

There might be some wide receiver prospects that the Giants cannot pass on at eleven overall. But there are prospects at other positions that are also “must-draft” prospects if on the board for the Giants. These “must-draft” prospects are few and far between and also unlikely to fall to eleven. But if one of them does, the Giants know what they need to do.

Must-draft prospects at eleven overall

There are a couple of quarterbacks that no team can pass on. But the Giants are not in a position to draft them, so let’s move on to the realistic “must-draft” options at eleven.

The premiere protector

Penei Sewell is very unlikely to drop to eleven. The Oregon left tackle prospect has been given the “generational prospect” tag by some scouts and seems like a top-five lock. However, he has dropped to eleven in some rare mock drafts. And it is not completely outside of the realm of possibilities that he falls outside the top ten. A team could value Rashawn Slater above Sewell, causing Sewell to drop a few extra spots. Plus, there are a bunch of offensive weapons that will likely go in the top ten. And there are about four quarterbacks expected to be drafted in the top ten. So it is possible that Sewell can be the forgotten man that gets pushed down the board. If Penei Sewell falls in the Giants’ laps at eleven, they sprint to the podium with his name on their draft card.

The offensive weapons

Speaking of those offensive weapons, there are a couple of playmakers that the Giants should not pass up on to draft a position of need. Wide receiver is no longer a pressing need, but if the Giants have the ability to draft the likes of Kyle Pitts, Jaylen Waddle, or Ja’Marr Chase, they have to pull the trigger.

Kyler Pitts has the potential to be a Hall of Fame tight end. Jaylen Waddle is the top wide receiver prospect on The Draft Network’s board, due to his game-breaking speed and ability to separate on routes. Ja’Marr Chase just blew everyone away with his sub 4.38s 40-yard dash time to match his NFL-ready skillset as an outside receiver. For these reasons, these three players are unlikely to be available at eleven. But if they are there, they would be incredible additions that would transform the Giants’ offense.

The dynamic defender

The Giants have a clear need at edge rusher on their roster. However, there are no top-ten locks at the position in this year’s draft class. There is a defender in this class, though, that is an obvious top-ten talent. But he is not a top-ten lock. Micah Parsons is an incredible linebacker prospect that has fallen down draft boards due to some off-the-field rumors and allegations.

Micah Parsons has elite pass-rushing and run-stuffing ability as an off-ball linebacker. He might not be a stud in pass coverage, but given his athletic ability, he has room to grow in that regard with limitless potential. Parsons could be a prospect that turns the Giants’ defense into a top-five unit in the league. He might be a player that gets skipped over due to the off-the-field concerns, but if those boxes are checked off then his talent is too good to pass up at eleven overall.

New York Giants should pray that Penei Sewell falls to them at eleven

The New York Giants drafted an offensive tackle with the fourth overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Andrew Thomas had an up-and-down rookie season where he struggled, showed a lot of promise, and played through a foot injury. Going into year two, the Giants are expecting big things out of Thomas. Andrew underwent foot surgery this offseason and will be ready to go in 2021.

New York still has high hopes for Andrew Thomas, despite a shaky rookie season. Andrew is seemingly the left tackle of the future for the Giants. With New York picking eleventh overall in 2021 it is unlikely that they draft another offensive lineman in the first round of the draft. But there is one offensive line prospect that the Giants should pick if he somehow falls to them.

If Penei Sewell somehow slips to the Giants at eleven overall, New York has to take him. Granted, this scenario is a longshot. Sewell is a premium talent at a premium position. But there have been some random mock drafts made where analysts see Sewell falling to the back end of the top-ten and sometimes even outside of the top-ten. The Giants drafted an offensive tackle in the first round last year, but they should not hesitate to double dip in 2021 if Penei Sewell is on the board.

Why the Giants should pray for the chance to draft Penei Sewell

The New York Giants’ offensive line was terrible in 2020. Second-year quarterback Daniel Jones was under constant pressure. The Giants’ offensive line was atrocious in pass-protection and about league-average in the running game.

The Giants’ pass-block win rate in 2020, according to ESPN, ranked dead-last in the NFL at 46%. Their run-block win-rate ranked 18th at 70%. Rookie Andrew Thomas struggled significantly in pass protection. He gave up a league-high 57 pressures and 10 sacks this season. But if there was a positive to draw, Thomas had the fifth-highest run block win rate in the NFL at 80%.

The Giants have something in Andrew Thomas. He will be a legit starting offensive tackle. But Andrew Thomas could not realistically be a reason for the Giants to shy away from drafting Penei Sewell. Thomas has a bright future, but Sewell has been compared to legendary offensive linemen like Orlando Pace.

Penei Sewell is an impressive 330 pound, 6 foot 5 inch offensive tackle with the ability to mirror edge rushers off the line of scrimmage. Sewell is only 20 years old and was dominating seniors as a 19-year-old in college. His 95.8 overall Pro Football Focus grade in 2019 was the highest grade PFF has ever given to a collegiate offensive tackle. Sewell is the player to fix the Giants’ pass-protection issues.

Sewell won his pass-blocking reps at a rate of 3.4 percentage points higher than the average college football player and surrendered pressure at a rate 2.8 percentage points lower. – Pro Football Focus

If Penei Sewell did somehow drop to the Giants’ pick, there would be no hesitation in selecting him. Of course, Sewell and Andrew Thomas play the same position. But that should not prevent the Giants from making Sewell their bookend left tackle of the future. Andrew Thomas struggled to protect the blindside in his rookie season and does have some collegiate experience playing right tackle.

Many analysts suggested he switch to right tackle in the NFL during his pre-draft process. If Penei Sewell were to join the Giants’ roster, Andrew Thomas would need to change course and bookend the other side of New York’s line. This would give the Giants a pair of young, talented offensive tackles to build their offensive line around for years to come.

The prospects that the New York Giants cannot pass up if they fall to eleven

New York Giants, LSU, Ja'Marr Chase

The New York Giants hold the eleventh overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The eleventh pick has a lot of value this year. There are a number of intriguing prospects that the Giants will likely have the opportunity to select in the first round. But, being outside the top ten, there are a few players that are most likely not going to fall to eleven.

The Giants will probably draft one of the better prospects in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. But will they realistically be able to draft one of the best prospects? Could one of those top-three prospects in the class? It is not likely, but there is a possibility, as many analysts continue to point out with their various mock drafts.

There are a few prospects that Giants fans should be hoping and praying will fall to them at eleven. When the Giants are on the clock, there are specific prospects that are too good to pass up on, no matter that the Giants already have on their roster.

Trevor Lawrence

No, Trevor Lawrence will not fall to eleven. But if he does, the Giants have to take him. Daniel Jones has shown some promise, but Lawrence is arguably the greatest quarterback prospect to ever come out of college. If not, he is certainly in that conversation. New York is not that comfortable at quarterback.

Ja’Marr Chase

There are three wide receivers that are being consistently mocked in the top-ten picks of the 2021 NFL Draft. One of these players, though, has been consistently mocked inside the top five for a long time. LSU’s Ja’Marr chase is not likely to fall to eleven, but as draft boards continue to shift as time inches closer to April, there is always going to be that unlikely possibility.

The Giants are likely going to pursue a wide receiver in free agency. They are interested in Kenny Golladay, but he is probably going to be franchise tagged by the Detroit Lions. Now, even if the Giants land Golladay by some divine miracle, they should still draft Ja’Marr Chase if he is on the board at eleven. They cannot pass up on a wide receiver of Chase’s caliber, especially when considering the Giants averaged only 17.5 points per game in 2020. A team can never have enough fire power in today’s NFL.

He opted out of the 2020 season, but in 2019, Ja’Marr Chase was far and away the best wide receiver in the NCAA. He totaled an insane 1,780 receiving yards and 20 receiving touchdowns that season en route to a National Championship victory. Chase’s record-breaking season instantly propelled him to the top of draft charts at the beginning of the process. But now, draft boards are shifting, and some boards have Chase as their third-best receiver in the class. Many are beginning to favor the Alabama boys, Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle.

Given the dominant collegiate career that Ja’Marr Chase had, he is still likely a top-ten pick in 2021. But if he somehow slips, Chase would be the truly dominant outside receiving threat that Daniel Jones needs to unlock the next level of his game.

Penei Sewell

Another player whose draft stock has started to shift is offensive tackle Penei Sewell. The Oregon prospect was, at one time, considered to be a “generational” offensive tackle prospect and a top-three lock. Now, it seems very likely that Sewell falls out of the top three, maybe even out of the top five, and some analysts even have him falling outside of the top ten.

For example, Pro Football Focus’s Anthony Treash has Sewell falling to the eleventh overall pick as a home run selection for the New York Giants in his latest mock draft. NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah also had Sewell as the second offensive tackle selected in his first mock draft of the offseason.

Penei Sewell’s draft stock has started to shift, but it is still very unlikely that he falls outside the top ten. Sewell is still the second overall prospect in this year’s class via The Draft Network. Many still believe Penei is a “generational talent.” But those who do not see him as such will still see him as a prospect that the Giants could not pass up on at eleven overall.

Three reasons why a QB1 would want to come to the New York Jets

New York Jets, Trevor Lawrence

Enough negativity, pessimism, and parody has surrounded the 2020 New York Jets. It’s time to focus on a (hopefully) brighter future.

It’s understandable to see why the 2020 New York Jets have become a bit of a punchline. The team appears to be the year 2020 A.D. personified, trapped for five more weeks in a season that will go down in infamy, even if the Jets (0-11) do manage to eke out a win before all is said and done. Their next opportunity to do comes on Sunday afternoon against the Las Vegas Raiders (1 p.m. ET, CBS). 

The Jets and their fans have been through untold amounts of gridiron catastrophe over the decades, but a winless season has avoided them for the time being. Either way, those who make football funnies, both through pregame shows and social media, have been granted a plethora of material by the Jets’ modern endeavors.

It seems like a tired tradition at this point, but Jets fans are looking toward the future with hope. The light at the end of the turfed tunnel appears to be the right to choose first at the 2021 NFL Draft come spring. It’s assumed by many that, if the Jets were to secure that pick, they would use it one of the passing talents at the top of the big boards.

But football comedians and analysts alike are seeking to deny the Jets even that simple pleasure. Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields are juniors, but very much expected to make the early leap to the NFL once this college football season ends (potentially in the College Football Playoff). But, if the horizon becomes a bit too scary, respective returns to Clemson and Ohio State for senior year, while seemingly unlikely, would be options that were indeed on the table. Amateur and professional pundits alike have openly taunted the Jets with the idea that one or both would go back to school, if only to avoid the ongoing cesspool of New York football and to take advantage of the time-honored tradition of harvesting clicks through the “LOL Jets” subgenre. Peyton Manning partook in a similar gambit in 1997, choosing to go back to Tennessee after the Jets chose not to commit to taking him with the top pick after the one-win disaster in the final year of the Rich Kotite era.

In short, many have asked: what could the hapless Jets possibly offer an accomplished college name, especially one with a viable option like the back-up plans Lawrence and Fields have?

ESM feels there’s enough negativity surrounding New York’s green team; here’s what they have to offer to their new franchise man.

New York Jets, Joe Douglas
 (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

There’s Plenty to Spend

Even if the Jets opt to move on from Darnold, this season has proven that a simple quarterback switch isn’t going to solve all of the Jets’ problems. But there’s another list where the Jets rank toward the top, other than the draft order: the 2021 cap space table.

This offseason, the Jets will have just over $82 million of cap space to spend, trailing only fellow early picker Jacksonville ($85 million). It’d be fair for Jets fans to ask if general manager Joe Douglas is willing to splurge; after all, Douglas was blessed with some extra funds late this summer but opted to mostly stand pat with the team he had (passing on signees like Jadeveon Clowney and Logan Ryan). Many of the free agents that did join up with Douglas haven’t truly panned out thus far, some through no fault of Douglas or their own, instead being lost to injuries. But in comments made earlier this year, Douglas seemed to hint that this prior offseason, defined by short-term deals and a sense of hesitation, could serve as a learning experience, potentially hinting at bigger things in the future.

“I think we had a focus on what we going to try to attack in the offseason. That was on the offensive side of the ball with o-line and skill players. Ultimately, for a lot of different reasons, it hasn’t materialized this year on that side of the ball,” Douglas said, per notes from the Jets. “We’re going through this offseason, we’re going through what our processes were in the offseason and trying to figure out what we can do better moving forward.”

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

A Blocking Revolution is Well Underway

If Douglas has succeeded in one area during his year-plus on the job, it has been in doing his utmost to make up for the relative offensive line negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era. His first moves at the helm were to trade a draft pick for Alex Lewis and convincing Pro Bowl staple Ryan Kalil to come out of retirement. Lewis has been effective but injured, while the Kalil experiment failed to yield positive results. But those moves foreshadowed the much-needed rebuild of the New York offensive line.

In April, Douglas used the first draft pick of his Jets tenure (No. 11 overall) on a blocker out of Louisville. Upon hearing his name, Mekhi Becton became the first New York lineman taken in the first round since the legendary D’Brickashaw Ferguson in 2006. His drafting has provided sweet relief in a lost season, with his results on Pro Football Focus (where he is one of 15 NFL tackles with a grade of at least 70 in both pass and run blocking) showing a promising return on investment.

“I think he is a player that is going to help us long-term,” Douglas said in notes and video from the Jets. “We’re excited about working with him every day, because you’re talking about a young man that loves football. He’s very smart, he’s tough as nails, and has a rare size and athleticism. And still, he’s just scratching the surface of what he can do physically. There’s a lot of desire from him to want to be the best player that he can be, so we’ve made it our mission to sort of bend over backward to try to help him reach his goals.”

Some of Douglas’ other additions have not panned out, and that’s apparent in the current state of the offensive line. Greg Van Roten has been durable but inconsistent and George Fant has been average, but other additions like Connor McGovern (the one Jets free agency signee from last season with no cap savings on a potential out) and Josh Andrews have been most disappointing. There’s little reason to doubt that Douglas will once again look toward the free agent front to find protection through both experienced (Alex Mack) and younger (Joe Thuney) options alike.

The idea of a blocking revolution doesn’t even have to have a new quarterback to protect. It instead could continue at the top of the big board if Sam Darnold rises to the occasion over the final games. If that’s the case, the Jets could perhaps opt to choose tackle Penei Sewell out of Oregon to help not only Darnold but what will likely be a new weapons package. Sewell opted out of the 2020 season but has already declared for the draft. He will bring the Outland Trophy and unanimous All-American honors with him.

 Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Weapons Are Emerging

No matter who Douglas chose with the 11th overall pick last spring, he was going to annoy some subsection of the New York fanbase. For everyone who wanted a blocker, there was another who demanded that Douglas dip his toe into the pool of receivers available toward the draft’s middle stages. The Jets will face one of those receivers on Sunday with Henry Ruggs partaking in the Las Vegas efforts. New York also passed on Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Justin Jefferson in the process. A consolation prize awaited in the second round in the form of Denzel Mims from Baylor.

When it comes to Mims, it appears that Douglas’ patience is paying off. He had to wait a little longer due to training camp ailments but has since become one of the Jets’ most reliable receivers. Mims has since united with Breshad Perriman and Jamison Crowder to provide a spark to the New York offense. The two have played in each of the Jets’ past three games. In that span, the Jets put out a season-best 322 yards in Week 9’s Monday night loss to New England and their margin of defeat has trickled to an average of just over eight points. Without the trio, they were losing by an average of 18.

Despite some emergencies from de facto homegrown talent…rookie rusher La’Mical Perine was also starting to find a bit of a groove before landing on injured reserve…Perriman was added on a one-year deal while Crowder could be a cap savings casualty, so the Jets must take full advantage of their expanded cap space in an illustrious market. The team can probably get by with Perine as their top rusher (though an affordable, decently-aged veteran like Phillip Lindsay or Wayne Gallman could provide a nice compliment), but they must be ready to splurge in a crowded receivers’ realm. Allen Robinson will likewise be the top option alongside JuJu Smith-Schuster, whose rookie deal in Pittsburgh is set to expire.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags