Cincinnati went on the road on Sunday to face the New York Jets on a pretty significant date and came back with the win despite starting the game in poor fashion. Let's take a look at the tape and see how the Bengals' linebackers and secondary fared against the Jets.
Let's kick off with the first key play of the afternoon on the Jets' first drive, we came across a third and seven play on the Jets' 38 yard line. In Cover 1, all three Bengals cornerbacks were on man coverage and the Bengals only rushed four. Brandon Marshall had the one-on-one against Adam Jones and made an easy catch for 18 yards and the first down. The Jets would eventually score later on the drive. Both George Iloka, the high safety and Jones appear to believe Marshall is running a go route and leave the middle of the field open.
Jones asks for a flag after the play, but Marshall just did a good job. This is the crucial moment when Iloka turns to the right side thinking the ball is going there. Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick stepped into the pocket despite some late pressure by the Bengals' defensive line and takes advantage of a clear lane to make the throw.
This third down conversion was key as it allowed the Jets to march down the field and score a touchdown. Later on, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick got flagged for defensive pass interference giving New York a cheap shot at the end zone. Kirkpatrick was beaten badly on the play, as he hesitated, stopped his feet and had to hold Jets' receiver Jalin Marshall to prevent him from scoring. As soon as he plants his feet and turns his hip, Kirkpatrick is a dead duck. The Bengals were playing some kind of cover 1 with their linebackers dropping into zone coverage.
On the next Jets' drive, after Andy Dalton threw his lone interception on the day, the Bengals' defense did a pretty good job on second and eight, not biting on a fake handoff to the receiver in motion and staying home. Fitzpatrick had to get rid of the football as Cincinnati covered every single option, including a little screen on the left side of the line for running back Matt Forte. A facemask call on Michael Johnson on third down nullified the effort though.
Kirkpatrick redeemed himself later on, with a great pass breakup against a fade to Marshall, one of the most dangerous plays in the red zone last season for the Jets. It was not the best throw by Fitzpatrick, but the Bengals' corner was ready nonetheless.
This is probably where Kirkpatrick's size and length can pay off. Marshall is one of the most physical receivers in the NFL but couldn't hit paydirt that time.
The worst completion allowed by the Bengals was a 23-yard catch by Jets' receiver Quincy Enunwa at the end of the first quarter. The speedster had no problems going up against linebacker Vincent Rey who did a poor job turning his head around, but there seems to be a little bit of miscommunication between him and slot cornerback Josh Shaw, who bumped Enunwa first but took on another assignment afterward. Rey was slow to react and got late, and I believe he was expecting Shaw to be there. The Bengals were in cover 2 this time.
Shaw went straight after the tight end leaving a huge area open for the pass behind his back. Rey fared better a couple of plays later with a beautiful stop on Forte, setting up a long third down for the Jets.
New York actually tried the same play on the next drive but to the left side, and that time only the incompletion saved the Jets from losing a couple of yards. That time it was safety Shawn Williams covering Forte.
Williams had a good showing on run support, including clearing up the blockers and thus allowing the linebackers to make the tackle on this play later on in the second quarter. It was a pretty nice play in my opinion. A good tackling safety is key, but it is even more important in nickel formations. Williams helped Karlos Dansby get a tackle for loss later on doing the same thing on a short pass left to Enunwa.
When Jones was out, cornerback Chris Lewis-Harris had a nice tackle on running back Bilal Powell with the Bengals blitzing and going up against Marshall. Powell did get seven yards and the third down conversion, but it could have gone way further. It didn't help that Rey, as the man dropping into the hole, was again a bit late.
The Jets were able to run the ball in the second half, but that had a little bit more to do with Cincinnati trying to prevent the big play with a four-point lead, than a bad outing from the linebacker unit.
With both safeties dropping deep, New York had the numbers on its side, especially against nickel coverage. The Jets did have success with misdirection runs as the Bengals defense often overrun them or the second level was way too far to stop Forte or Powell after a first missed arm tackle.
Another example of good tackling by the Bengals' secondary was a stop made by Lewis-Harris on second down and on a pick play to the right side. The Jets would get the first down on the next play, but it a good effort by Lewis-Harris, who played 20 snaps on defense and showed why he's worth a spot on the roster. He doesn't get a clean look at Enunwa, but he is so resilient he ended up making the stop.
That third and two conversion at the beginning of the fourth quarter allowed the Jets to score a field goal and get within one point of Cincinnati; it was again a good example of New York taking advantage of two deep safeties with a run by Powell off the shotgun to the right side. Dansby had a chance at tackling the runner before, but the look defensive coordinator Paul Guenther threw at Fitzpatrick on the play left two offensive linemen free to get to the second level and Powell gained 16 yards.
Another problem the Bengals had throughout the game was their underneath defenders not getting deep enough in coverage. As the Jets' offensive line managed to protect well their quarterback, Fitzpatrick had all day to throw to that area between the linebackers and the high safety in their cover 3 defense.
All four underneath defenders were trying to take away the short completion and Eric Decker was wide open on a slant route for a 22-yard reception and a first down that also put the Jets in field goal range when the game was 20-19. New York tried to exploit this again on their last drive, but Fitzpatrick couldn't connect with Brandon Marshall on first down. The catch, if completed, could have gone for 20 yards and would have set the Bengals for big trouble with under 50 seconds yet to play.
Ultimately the Bengals got the win on the road against a strong team on a very emotional day. The Bengals still lack an athlete in their linebacking corps but at least we didn't need to see Rey Maualuga play any nickel thanks to the veteran Dansby, and the secondary was good although they are going to need a little bit more help upfront against the Steelers in their Week 2 clash on Sunday. I like the cornerback depth the team has, despite all the injuries and I liked Williams on run support. It was tough to see Forte and Powell run for 137 yards combined on more than six yards per carry average, but the game plan was to take away the big play and the job was done besides a couple of long passes. Marshall and Decker, one of the hottest wide-receiver tandems in the NFL last season, only got five catches for 69 yards combined. The Jets were four for 12 on third down, which is one of the best takes from the game too.
Big Ben and Antonio Brown will be a much tougher test in the weekend, though.