The Cincinnati Bengals are traveling to New York to face a tricky Jets team this Sunday. Last year provided a not-so-pleasant surprise, but is the same in store this week?
We had a chat with MacGregor Wells of Gang Green Nation to get a feel for things before Sunday’s kickoff.
1.) AC: Give me your take on Joe Flacco taking over the reins. He engineered a great win last week and while Zach Wilson has a lot of tools, there are a lot of questions. What should we expect from Flacco this week and what’s ahead for Wilson?
MW: I think Joe Flacco at this point in his career is at best a competent backup quarterback. His arm is not what it once was, and he is as immobile as any quarterback in the NFL. Flacco is capable of being a hold the fort kind of guy, and he may occasionally give you more than that, but the days of him being a difference maker on the field are long gone. If you protect Flacco well, he can be OK. If you put pressure on him, Flacco just can’t get the job done anymore.
As for Zach Wilson, he had a very rough rookie year last year. After being selected by the Jets with the #2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, Wilson looked like perhaps the worst starting quarterback in the NFL for much of last year. He didn’t really seem to read the defense well, nor was he good at getting through his progressions quickly and identifying the right guy to throw to in a timely manner. Wilson also suffered accuracy problems. In short, it was a rough year, with some modest improvement in the last four or five games of the season.
Wilson has a quick release, a very strong arm, and excellent mobility. His physical tools are all there. It’s the mental aspect of the game that has troubled him thus far. He is slated to get back into the starting lineup for the Jets soon, perhaps as early as next week against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Whenever he’s 100% healthy and has a full week of practice under his belt Wilson should regain the starting position. At that point the rest of the season for the Jets becomes about developing Zach Wilson and evaluating whether the Jets should consider him the quarterback of the future or whether they should consider drafting or trading for a quarterback next year.
2.) AC: Can you give us a read on the Jets’ defensive front? The Cincinnati Bengals have had offensive line/protection issues and hearing what New York does well up front would be of interest—particularly Carl Lawson’s performance.
MW: The Jets should on paper have a pretty effective pass rush. They have spent considerable resources building a deep defensive line and the Jets’ defensive scheme is one built on penetrating, shooting gaps and getting after the passer.
On the inside Quinnen Williams and John Franklin-Myers are both well above average young defensive linemen who can put pressure on the passer, and Carl Lawson, as Bengals fans are aware, is a plus edge rusher. In theory, this Jets defensive line should be capable of putting a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but that’s not how things have played out so far.
The most likely reason for the Jets’ lack of a pass rush thus far is that the Jets have held a lead at any point in their first two games for a grand total of 22 seconds. When you are constantly playing from behind the opposition has the luxury of running the ball a lot more, and you have to respect the run rather than just pin your ears back and go after the passer.
If the Jets can play with a lead a bit more perhaps they can start to generate more pressure on the quarterback. For now, however, that has been more of a theory than a fact.
3.) AC: Cincinnati’s once-explosive offense has had trouble finding itself so far this year. If there are vulnerable areas on the Jets’ defense, what are they?
I would say the biggest areas of vulnerability on defense for the Jets are the safeties and the linebackers in coverage. Jordan Whitehead and LaMarcus Joyner at safety are both below average in pass coverage.
They have also had some communication problems in the back end, resulting in big plays for the opposition. The Jets also don’t really have any linebackers who are plus pass defenders. With safeties and linebackers that are vulnerable against the pass, the Bengals should be able to attack the Jets with tight ends and backs in the passing game.
Of course, the Bengals also have one of the best trios of wide receivers in the game, so even though the Jets’ cornerbacks are probably the strongest unit on defense, we can’t rule out the Bengals having great success throwing to Chase, Higgins and Boyd. Given all this, I think the Jets need to put a ton of pressure on Joe Burrow if they have any hopes of having success on defense.
4.) AC: A lot has been made of the Bengals’ offensive line, but how has New York’s front looked so far this year?
The Jets’ offensive line has been adequate at best so far this year. They were dominated by the Baltimore Ravens’ pass rush in the season opener before doing a better job against the Cleveland Browns last week.
On paper the Jets’ offensive line, while not exactly elite, should be an above average unit. At left tackle George Fant had the best year of his career last year, and he was expected to be effective this year, but he has struggled early in pass protection.
At guard, the Jets signed Pro Bowl guard Laken Tomlinson in the offseason and drafted Alijah Vera-Tucker in the first round in 2021. In theory, those two should be one of the better guard tandems in the NFL, but so far they have also struggled.
At center Conor McGovern is for the most part solid and steady. At right tackle the Jets were slated to start former first-round pick Mekhi Becton this year, but he is out for the year with a knee injury.
To replace Becton the Jets signed Pro Bowl tackle Duane Brown, but he is also currently out with an injury and there is no timetable for his return. Consequently, Jets 2022 fourth-round pick Max Mitchell has been pressed into service at right tackle, with predictably difficult results.
Mitchell hasn’t been completely atrocious, but I think it’s fair to say he has been, and probably will be, an area of vulnerability for the Jets’ offensive line all year. This offensive line is a work in progress for the Jets.
5.) AC: The Jets have talented pass-catchers and actually invested a lot in the tight end position, too. Is it the Garrett Wilson/Corey Davis/Elijah Moore/Denzel Mims show or will Tyler Conklin/C.J. Uzomah(is he playing this week?)/Jeremy Ruckert be the primary targets this week?
Uzomah is unlikely to play on Sunday. He has been out since the season opener. Tyler Conklin is a player the Jets raved about throughout the preseason, but thus far he has made a minimal impact and has already fumbled twice.
Ruckert has been an afterthought so far. The Jets’ passing game so far has been all about the wide receivers. Garrett Wilson, the 10th overall pick for the Jets in the 2022 draft, has come along more quickly than expected, and is already looking like the Jets’ best receiver. Corey Davis has been solid.
Elijah Moore has gotten off to a bit of a slow start, but I expect he will become a very nice weapon over the course of the season. Braxton Berrios is a solid fourth receiver and gadget player who can make some big plays.
This is by far the most talented group of wide receivers the Jets have had in years, and Jets fans are excited to see them develop. You never know how things will develop game to game, but I would expect the wide receivers to continue to do most of the damage in the Jets passing game this week against the Bengals.
6.) AC: If you were a betting man, which team would you pick to win this game?
I really want to pick the Jets, but that’s my heart talking. My head says the defending AFC champion Bengals are the better, more talented team with much the better quarterback. That’s usually the recipe for success in the NFL.
If the Jets can get loads of pressure against Joe Burrow perhaps they can pull off the upset here, but I don’t think that’s the way to bet. The way to bet is the Bengals finally get a win against a Jets team not yet ready to compete with the top teams in the NFL.
Our thanks to MacGregor Wells of SB Nation’s Gang Green Nation. Go check out our five questions with them, as well!