I’ve been looking at some of the recent Bengals games to get an insight into how the team is performing so far and their strategic approach.
After the jump, I break down the positional groupings (BGA-style!) to try and highlight what the Jets need to look out for.
Andy Dalton is now in his third season and his numbers across the board have steadily increased to the point where he has a 93.9 QB rating and is completing 66% of his passes this year. He’s been particularly good over the last two games with over 700 yards, six touchdowns and just one interception.
As ever, the Jets will look to get some pressure and, if they do, this should make Dalton’s life harder. He has only completed 42% of his passes this year when pressured. Dalton gets rid of the ball faster than any other quarterback apart from Matthew Stafford this year, though. He has been sacked 15 times in 2013, with seven of those coming on blitzes. If you can get to Dalton, his ball security is sound – he has just 11 fumbles in his career.
With a variety of talented targets to aim for, Dalton is having a lot of success throwing downfield this year. On 31 attempts beyond 20 yards past the line of scrimmage, he’s 9th in the league in deep accuracy and has a league-best seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
The Bengals have a strong offensive line, more than capable of dominating. For the second straight year, tackles Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith are both grading out as top ten tackles according to PFF. Smith has given up three sacks but nobody else has given up more than one. In fact, nine of the 15 sacks have been attributed to coverage rather than a lineman getting beaten and none of the 15 happened within 2.5 seconds.
The Jets might have more chance of generating pressure up the middle, although veteran left guard Clint Boling hasn’t given up a sack or a QB hit since last season. The other guard, Kevin Zeitler – last year’s first round pick – has developed into a pretty solid player. If there is a weakness, it’s center Kyle Cook, but even he isn’t doing too badly. As a run blocking team, the Bengals have a negative grade, but each lineman grades out positively – it’s the tight ends and receivers that let them down. It will likely be important for the likes of Dawan Landry and Antonio Allen to contribute in run support.
Off the bench, Anthony Collins continues to provide them with solid depth and is probably one of the best tackles in the league that isn’t currently starting.
At running back, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is the starter, but it’s a two-headed attack with rookie second rounder Giovani Bernard the more explosive player. They’ve combined for just under 600 yards on the season, but Green-Ellis is averaging just 3.2 per carry, whereas Bernard has averaged 4.0. Bernard has also caught 25 passes and broken 13 tackles. Cedric Peerman is the third running back, but hasn’t seen any time on offense yet this season.
The Bengals don’t really employ a fullback, which is why John Conner didn’t stick during the offseason. They use two tight end sets more than any other team instead.
The Jets coaching staff have been praising AJ Green all week. The 6-4 former 4th overall pick has 43 catches and five touchdowns so far this season and has all the tools. He’s had at least four catches in every game this season.
Mohamed Sanu is listed as the other starter, but is also the guy who plays in the slot more than anyone else when they go three wide. Marvin Jones is the third receiver and is a downfield threat whereas Sanu is more of a possession receiver. They were both drafted last year.
The Bengals continue to surround Dalton with weapons, adding tight end Tyler Eifert in the first round. Eifert has already caught 22 passes this year and it will be interesting to see if he reprises his battle with Dee Milliner from the BCS Title Game. Jermaine Gresham is also a real pass catching threat, but can be a liability as a blocker and Jason Babin is the only NFL player to have committed more penalties than him so far this season.
The Bengals have a pretty straightforward 4-3 system, anchored by one of the better defensive lines in the league. Geno Atkins is arguably on the podium with Muhammad Wilkerson and JJ Watt for best interior lineman in the league honors and easily the best defensive tackle the Jets have faced since Brian Winters was moved into the starting lineup last month. Alongside him 322-pounder Domata Peko is tough to move and has surprising quickness.
At defensive end, last year’s starter, Robert Geathers, was lost to a season ending injury after week two. However, former second round pick Carlos Dunlap had outperformed him as his backup last year and has thrived as a full time starter since winning the job outright in camp. He’ll go up against Austin Howard, as the Bengals rarely switch their ends over. D’Brickashaw Ferguson will face Michael Johnson, who has been starting for the Bengals since 2010. They’ve met on three previous occasions with Johnson yet to record a sack, although two of those games were in his rookie season. Johnson exploded for 11.5 sacks last year, matching his production from his first three years in the league. However, he has just 1.5 sacks so far this season.
Off the bench, Wallace Gilberry has the same role as last year. He’s a serviceable backup at both end spots and inside, who usually gets 30-40 snaps a game. Rookie Margus Hunt is intriguing, but hasn’t played much yet.
At linebacker, Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict get the majority of the snaps. Burfict went undrafted last year due to some personal demons, but has quieted his critics by becoming a core member of the Bengals defense. He can be reckless though and does lead the team with six defensive penalties. Maualuga, who was limited in practice during the week, is not having a great season, with seven missed tackles to lead the team.
The other starter is their big offseason acquisition, James Harrison, who is adjusting to a 4-3 OLB role and hasn’t received much playing time so far. This is because the Bengals have mostly been facing teams who like to go to three and four wide receiver sets and he comes out of the game in those situations (even though he didn’t – often covering the slot – with the Steelers). Look for Harrison, who has been good in limited action, to get more time against the Jets
For the most part, the Bengals are pretty healthy, but the loss of Leon Hall last week could be a big one. Hall is their best corner and the guy they put in the slot when the other team goes with three receivers. In his absence, the starters will be Terence Newman and Adam (Pacman) Jones. Newman is nursing an ankle injury but participated fully in practice and is probable for today’s game. The Bengals don’t switch their corners either, so expect Newman to stay on the left and Jones on the right.
With Hall out, expect backup safety Chris Crocker to get more work. He plays a lot in the slot anyway. Dre Kirkpatrick, last year’s first rounder who has hardly played this year or last year, is also being relied upon to step up.
Another youngster, second year man George Iloka, starts at free safety and Reggie Nelson – who almost signed with the Jets last year – is the strong safety. Nelson is actually better known as a cover safety and the Bengals often have neither safety in the box.
Former Jets draft pick Mike Nugent is the Bengals kicker. He won last week’s game with a 54-yarder at the gun. Punter Kevin Huber is above average. They lost their leading special teams tackler from last year (Dan Skuta) to the 49ers. Peerman leads them in that category this year with just four. In the return game, they haven’t had any big plays so far this year. Backup receiver Brandon Tate has been returning kicks and punts with Peerman and Jones backing him up.
I’ll be back tomorrow to recap the game!
Stats from PFF were used in the completion of this article.