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 More Cincinnati jerseys became outdated this offseason, as the team bid farewell to Geno Atkins, A.J. Green, Gio Bernard, and Carlos Dunlap.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

New York Giants: 2 big-bodied wide receiver prospects in the draft

New York Giants, Chase Claypool

The New York Giants need a big-bodied red-zone receiver to dominate in the opponent’s half of the field, as Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, and Darius Slayton might not cut it.

Second-year passer Daniel Jones needs a possession receiver that can make contested catches over cornerbacks, someone like Bennie Fowler but with more talent. While there are some free agents available, the NFL Draft is stocked full of pass-catching talent this year, and that’s where they should look to find their guy.

Here are two big-bodied WRs, the New York Giants should look at:

1.) Tee Higgins – Clemson

At 6-4, 200 pounds, Higgins is a big, long red-zone threat who dominated for Clemson in 2019. His 1,167 yards and 13 touchdowns attest to his abilities and what the Giants are looking for. Having played in a tough conference and the National Championship, he’s proven he can perform under the spotlight.

One of the things I like the most about Higgins is his hops, which allow him to go over the top of corners and snag balls. He can be a productive third-down receiver for Big Blue of they’re willing to spend a pick on him. He’s a projected 2nd rounder, so if the Giants trade back and gain a pick in range to snag him, he could be a great option.

2.) Chase Claypool – Notre Dame

Claypool is one of my sleeper options in the upcoming draft, and I believe his stock will rise exponentially in the coming weeks. He’s projected to go in the 2-4 round range, but his size is precisely what the Giants are looking for in a red-zone WR. New offensive coordinator Jason Garrett prioritizes a bigger pass-catcher in his scheme, making Claypool a fantastic option at 6-4, 229 pounds.

Not only is Chase a huge target, but his ability to pick up yards after the catch gives him more value points. His 1,037 yards and 13 touchdowns don’t match up with Higgins’, but he also didn’t have Trevor Lawrence slinging passes to him all season.  If Claypool were a bit faster, he’d be a first-round talent, but there’s always room for improvement at the next level.

Debate: Should the New York Giants take a WR at 4?

New York Giants, DeAndre Baker

As the NFL season comes to a close, fans of the New York Giants have already begun speculating moves that their beloved team should do this offseason.  Something that has become all too familiar over the last few seasons.

One position of intrigue and debate is wide receiver.  After trading away Odell Beckham Jr. and being thin at the position, many wonders if the Giants will take an elite receiver at the top of this April’s NFL Draft.  Others, on the other hand, believe this would be a mistake. Which side are you on?

Making the case for a WR in Round 1

With the 4th overall pick in hand and considering the needs of Washington and Detroit in front of them, the New York Giants very likely could miss out on a premier defensive talent yet again.  Chase Young seems bound for Washington. Isaiah Simmons’ performance has made him a strong candidate to go 3rd overall. So, what does that mean for the Giants?

Popular options include trading back to a quarterback hungry team, taking a young offensive tackle or grabbing another cornerback.  However, many others think the New York Giants should be taking a wide receiver. 

Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb have been considered by some to be ideal selections for the Giants.  Jeudy has been compared to the Cowboys’ Amari Cooper and can be the outside receiver New York covets. His speed and agility make him a threat at all levels.  

Then there is CeeDee Lamb.  Lamb has incredible ball skills and control of his 6’2” frame.  Many compare Lamb to Houston’s Deandre Hopkins or even 6-time Pro Bowler, Reggie Wayne.  How could the New York Giants pass on that?

Even if the Giants were to trade down, the talent in this draft class at the receiver is very deep.  Clemon’s Tee Higgins, Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III, LSU’s Justin Jefferson, and Colorado’s Laviska Shenault Jr. are just some of the names that could be called in the 1st round.

Making the case against a WR in Round 1

The depth of this receiving class may be the strongest case against taking a receiver in the first round.  It is no secret that the New York Giants have needed all over, especially on the defense and offensive line.  Is taking a receiver in the Top 5 really the best use of draft capital?

Without trading out, the Giants are sitting in a great position to address many needs with premier talent.  Isaiah Simmons is an ideal fit, but may not be available. Ohio State CB Jeffrey Okudah is another top prospect that will be available with the 4th pick.  The tackle position is very top-heavy, with Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, Alabama’s Jedrick Wills and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas all being considered as the best tackle prospect in the class. 

The Giants have a talented group of receivers already, but they are thin at the position.  With the injuries they suffered last season, having depth is critical. Taking a wide receiver later in the draft may be their best option.  Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk, Southern Cal’s Michael Pittman Jr. and Ohio State’s K.J.Hill are just some of the names the Giants could call at any point in the later rounds.  Temple wide receiver Isaiah Wright has been impressing scouts this week at the Shrine Bowl and could very well be a breakout player in the NFL.

What about the free-agent market?

The New York Giants are going to have a ton of money available for free agency.  If they prioritize the offensive line and defense in the NFL Draft, they have some options in free agency in order to build out the depth at wide receiver.

New York can definitely bring back guys that WR Coach Tyke Tolbert is familiar with.  Cody Latimer, Cody Core, and even Da’Mari Scott would all be unsurprising returns to the Giants.  If the G-Men dip elsewhere in free agency, they do have options. They could look to add a veteran with a one year deal, much like Randall Cobb, Demaryius Thomas or Danny Amendola.  The veteran option giving them depth, talent, and experience as a stop-gap for the season.

What about a younger option that could be signed for a longer deal?  WR Amari Cooper hasn’t be resigned by Dallas… yet. The Jets Robby Anderson looks to be headed to the open market and will be sought after.  There are also options like Rashard Higgins, who showed flashes with his time in Cleveland before the Browns brought in Landry and Odell.

Whatever the case may be, the New York Giants will have to address the lack of depth at wide receiver.  The talent is there, especially with the emergence of Darius Slayton, but there is a longevity concern that will need to be taken into consideration.  

New York Giants Draft prospects in the National Title Game

New York Giants, Kristian Fulton

The College Football National Championship is finally here, and New York Giants fans should be paying close attention.  LSU and Clemson are set to square off, and both are loaded with NFL caliber players.  Many of which are in positions of need for Big Blue.  The Giants scouts will have their eyes on Monday nights game, and you should, too. 

Who will the Giants be watching in Monday’s National Championship?

Isaiah Simmons – LB/S, Clemson

Isaiah Simmons needs no introduction.  He has been linked to the New York Giants for some time now.  Truthfully, he would be the only player Monday that would make sense with the 4th pick.  Simmons is an athletic freak that can wear many hats in the defense.  That versatility seems to be something new head coach Joe Judge will be highly intrigued by. 

Simmons spent much of his season playing LB, S, and even CB for the Tigers en route to Monday nights game.  He has excellent range, elite quickness off the snap in pass rush, and the man can tackle!  Simmons has very good man coverage skills, which would be a blessing to this defense.  The Giants taking Simmons would be met with rousing appreciation from a fan base that has been wanting a game-changing linebacker for years.

Kristian Fulton – CB, LSU

Another potential first-rounder for the Giants, but only if they trade back from 4 or he has a mind-blowing combine. Fulton is about everything you’d want in a man cover cornerback — he can get physical at the line of scrimmage in press coverage and can remain in an opposing receivers hip pocket.  Excellent ball skills and can be very explosive when closing down distance while playing off coverage.

Some things to watch with Fulton is he has not been the best tackler, so the run game is far from a strength of his.  It also should be noted that he does have a failed drug test in 2017 that may come up as a red flag.

Grant Delpit – S, LSU

Safety is not something I expect the Giants to address early in the draft, which likely means Delpit’s chances of suiting up in the blue are very slim.  However, his talents are worth watching.  

The 2019 Thorpe Award winner is likely to be the highest-drafted safety in April, and that comes with good reason.  Like Simmons, he’s a versatile player that can play single high or in the box. Delpit has great size and length, can play man or zone coverage, and has incredible instincts that show up in his ability to take the ball away.

K’Lavon Chaisson – Edge, LSU

Chaisson is one of my favorite prospects in the draft.  If the Giants do what I think they should do and that’s trade back, look for Chaisson to have a legitimate chance to be a 1st round selection for New York.  

K’Lavon is more of a stand-up pass rusher that brings outstanding speed to the defense, which helps him in containment.  He often looks to win with pure speed and will need to continue to develop his skillset of pass rush moves, but if you watched the Tigers game against Oklahoma, you’d see how much of a difference-maker Chaisson can be.  The athletic pass rusher was coming off of a torn ACL in 2018, but considering Chaisson chased down one of the fastest WR prospects in the draft, CeeDee Lamb, I would say it’s just fine. 

Lloyd Cushenberry, LSU & Tremayne Anchrum, Clemson – OL

What? I can’t be the only one that will be watching offensive linemen in the National Championship Game, can I?  It is no secret that the Giants have to address the offensive line in the draft. They may look for stop gaps in Free Agency, but getting younger across the line is going to be crucial.

Many will wonder what happens with Jon Halapio going forward after undergoing surgery on a ruptured Achilles in Week 17.  Has his play and injury history kept him from coming back to the organization in 2020?  If so, Cushenberry could be that answer. Cush will be one of the few interior offensive linemen that can also play center, and that versatility could be attractive to the Giants. He’s still raw and won’t be an early-round pick, but given how thin the interior OL class is, he could be a top 100 pick. 

Tremayne Anchrum is another intriguing prospect.  Anchrum is an offensive tackle that many believe would be better suited for a move inside. Tremayne could prove himself a late-round tackle prospect with a good showing against the LSU pass rush.  His balance leaves a lot to be desired, and his length needs improvement to be an NFL tackle, but he has solid athleticism and vision that makes him a potential project.

Tee Higgins, Clemson & Justin Jefferson, LSU – WR

Monday nights National Championship game will be loaded at the skill position on both sides of the ball.  These offenses have all the potential to light up the scoreboard, and Higgins and Jefferson are two massive reasons why.  Both receivers have tremendous height with Higgins listed at 6’4” and Jefferson only an inch shorter at 6’3”.  

Tee may be a slightly more polished receiver than Jefferson, but not by much.  Higgins’ ability to burst off the line of scrimmage is pretty impressive for a bigger receiver. Despite this, he could use a little more physicality in press coverage at the line.  He is fearless with an incredible catch radius, showing off his basketball background when high pointing the football in contested coverage.  

Justin Jefferson has a similar toughness while going for catches when contact is inevitable.  He is creative in his routes, finding open space in zone coverage. He also can beat the defense deep with his speed on posts and fly routes.  Jefferson has what it takes to be another great LSU receiver in the NFL, but will need to work on creating separation against man coverage and cleaning up his technique off the line.  It’s no secret that the New York Giants have found elite receiving talent from LSU… could they do it again with Jefferson?