How Jets Soared Past Cincinnati

Mike White
Mike White
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 8 - Just last week, the Cincinnati Bengals were flying high after dismantling the Ravens in Baltimore 44-17. Ja'Marr Chase had 201 yards receiving, and Cincinnati was seriously being discussed as contenders not only in the AFC North, but in the entire AFC. Then the Bengals went to The Big Apple to play a Jets team that was missing their starting quarterback Zach Wilson, looking to cruise to another statement victory and solidify their spot at the top of the conference.

Well, they got jetlagged in a massive way.

The New York Jets defeated the Bengals 34-31 behind 405 passing yards from Mike White. Yes, the pride of Western Kentucky Mike White threw for three touchdowns and completed 37 passes en route to the Jets' second win of the season. Offensively, it was rather astounding how White got to 405 receiving yards. White's average pass traveled just 3.7 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, and his average completion, only 3.5 yards.

So, where did everything go wrong for the Bengals? To put it simply, the Bengals couldn't do two things on Sunday: tackle, or get off the field on third down. Most of the time, the latter happened because of the former.

What White did was take the throws the Bengals gave him and let the Jets playmakers, well, make plays. This was on a second down when the Bengals had a 31-20 lead, and the Bengals were playing Cover-4 and looking to rally and tackle anything underneath. The Jets motion Tyler Kroft back into the formation and run him on a wheel with Elijah Moore running a post. Running back Ty Johnson is the underneath checkdown option for White, and because nobody is open downfield, White throws Johnson the ball. Three missed tackles by three Bengals defenders later, the Jets have a score.

Ty Johnson TD

Rookie running back Michael Carter also showed up in a huge way for the Jets on Sunday. He finished the game with 172 yards from scrimmage and led the Jets with 95 receiving yards. Carter finished the game as the top back in our DYAR rankings. He flashed the vision necessary to create explosive plays in the run game and passing game. Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur did a great job of getting Carter into space via outside zone and screen passes, and Carter did the rest.

Michael Carter TD

Flipping it riverside, the Bengals offense seemed to be business-as-usual on the surface. Joe Burrow threw for three touchdowns and his aDOT was 6.6 yards, a little under a yard below his average for the season. However, if you're comparing their loss this Sunday to their rout in Baltimore, a couple of things stand out. On Sunday, the Bengals ran for 2.6 yards per carry. Against the Ravens, they ran for 4.6. The Jets defensive line has been one of their bright spots this season, and Robert Saleh's interior line dominated the Bengals' interior offensive line in the run and passing game.

Jets run stop

In addition, star rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase only had 32 yards on three catches, his worst output since the Bengals' Week 2 loss to Chicago. The Jets mixed a lot of Saleh's Cover-3 background with heavy quarters coverage, limiting Chase's explosive plays downfield. Chase also had two drops, including one in the end zone early in the game. The Jets defensive line made enough plays when they needed to to turn the tide of the game, like on this Quinnen Williams fourth-down sack. (He sacked Burrow with ONE HAND. One!)

Quinnen Williams sack

To put it quite simply, on Sunday the Jets made more plays to win the game than the Bengals did. It also provided a blueprint for the Jets on offense moving forward, and possibly gave people some caution when betting on the Bengals this season.

Where the Game Swung

Where the Game Swung: CIN-NYJ

Quarter Down Distance Description GWC
Change
4 3 11 Unnecessary roughness penalty on M.Hilton to turn fourth-and-10 into first-and-10 +23.3%
1 1 10 M.White intercepted by J.Bates III. Return to 1-yard line. -22.8%
4 1 10 J.Burrow intercepted by S.Lawson, returned to CIN 14. +20.4%
4 3 11 J.Burrow sacked by S.Rankins +19.3%
4 2 9 M.White 13-yard TD to T.Kroft. +18.6%

In the fourth quarter this game really swung more than a Harlem dance floor in the 1920s, but we have to discuss the unnecessary roughness penalty on Mike Hilton. Technically, it's a flag, but if you watch the replay, Ty Johnson lowers his head into the contact. The NFL has to find a way to judge whether the unnecessary roughness was committed by the offensive or defensive player, or potentially game-losing penalties like this happen.

Mike White had a fantastic game, but the two interceptions he threw were absolutely brutal and absolutely New York Jets. The one mentioned here is a bad tip-drill ball that Jessie Bates almost took back for a touchdown, but a whole lot of credit goes to Elijah Moore, who tackled him at the 1.

By the DVOA

DVOA OFF DEF ST Total
CIN -28.9% 31.5% 0.5% -55.9%
NYJ 19.3 -15.8% 1.7% 36.8%
         
VOA OFF DEF ST Total
CIN -21.2% 18.3% 0.5% -38.9%
NYJ 16.5% -18.9% 1.7% 37.1%

Just an absolutely brutal showing for the Bengals, who dropped from ninth to 21st in our DVOA rankings based on this loss and other opponent adjustment changes. This is their worst offensive DVOA performance since their Week 2 loss to the Bears. Defensively, their DVOA was their worst output since beating the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 4, despite getting two interceptions and a fumble recovery.

How about the Mike White Jets? This was by far their best offensive performance of the season, outpacing their win over Tennessee by over 10 percentage points. Let Mike White cook!

Start Spreading the News...

It's highly unlikely that this win will galvanize the Jets and shoot them into a mad dash at the playoffs. They still have too many holes in their secondary and along their offensive line. However, what they can pull from this game was how effective the passing game was, by simply taking what was there.

Zach Wilson is a lot like a Major League slugger—think of the Yankees' Joey Gallo. When the home runs are there, they're spectacular. However, Gallo strikes out. A LOT. Zach Wilson at this point in his (very early) career is so focused on hitting the home run that he gets himself into trouble and ends up whiffing spectacularly. What Mike White did on Sunday was take the singles and doubles that the Bengals gave him. Wilson and LaFleur can learn from this victory and use White's performance as a lesson—that is, if White doesn't completely ball out while Wilson is recovering from a knee injury. A major change that's already happening for the Jets is LaFleur staying up in the press box to call plays instead of down on the field. I'm not sure what direct effect this will have on the play calling, but LaFleur should be able to see the field a lot better from up top.

As for the Bengals ... I really don't know what to make of them. Right now, they would be the fifth seed in the playoffs, but they could easily win the AFC North due to having the tiebreaker over the Ravens. However, I'm not sure just how good this Bengals team is. Offensively, they leave a lot to be desired in both the run and passing game. In the run game, Zac Taylor is a Sean McVay disciple, so you'd expect a lot of outside zone from under center. However, their DVOA under center is 28th in the league, compared to 16th when they're in shotgun. Their interior offensive line isn't good enough to run the outside zone schemes that Taylor wants from under center. So the remedy to that is running out of shotgun. According to Sharp Football Stats, the Bengals are 13th in the NFL in run rate in shotgun, but being in shotgun limits the run schemes you operate from. In gun, you primarily run inside zone between the guards and the center. The Bengals' adjusted line yard rank in that area? 24th. The Bengals have to either diversify their run game or get out of gun to run, which limits the looks opposing defenses get.

In the passing game, I think the offense is also limited to isolation routes and empty formations, stressing the receivers and Burrow winning their one-on-ones. Cincinnati primarily runs stick concepts out of empty and hopes that a receiver wins a one-on-one matchup, or Burrow evades a free defender and makes something happen. To their credit, it has worked to a point thus far, especially with the addition of Chase.

However, if Chase isn't winning, the Bengals offense isn't winning. Chase is ranked seventh in DYAR as a rookie, which is very impressive. The next Bengals receiver is Tyler Boyd, who comes in at 45th. If you want to look at DVOA, Chase is fifth, and Boyd comes in at ... 45th. Asking these receivers to consistently win one-on-one routes is asking way too much of this group at this point, and asking Burrow to consistently beat the free rusher out of empty could also be asking too much. The Bengals could be a playoff team this year—with a win already over the Ravens, they could be well on their way to the postseason. But they have a lot of holes still for a team that was touted to be contenders just last week.

Comments

5 comments, Last at 03 Nov 2021, 2:27pm

2 This was on a second down…

This was on a second down when the Bengals had a 31-26 lead ... White throws Johnson the ball. Three missed tackles by three Bengals defenders later, the Jets have the lead.

The Jets were down 31-20 at the time of this play; the Jets didn't take the lead until Tyler Kroft's touchdown on the next drive.

3 Technically, it's a flag,…

Technically, it's a flag, but if you watch the replay, Ty Johnson lowers his head into the contact. The NFL has to find a way to judge whether the unnecessary roughness was committed by the offensive or defensive player, or potentially game-losing penalties like this happen.

I feel like this is happening a lot. Defenders are trying to lead with their shoulders, but if the other player ducks then you you're almost guaranteed helmet-to-helmet contact.

I think the ball carriers are just crouching to protect themselves and the ball, but it's not fair that they can be the ones to cause the contact and benefit. I'd like to see more calls on offensive players, and maybe even offsetting penalties when both players appear to be at fault.

I'd also like to see the NFL report to teams on which players are doing it the most, and fine players/teams on quantity.

4 When I first saw the play I…

When I first saw the play I thought it was definitely a bad call. Now, I'm not so sure. It occurred to me that if the defender hadn't lowered his helmet the offensive player might not have, either. Or maybe I'm just misremembering the play. In any case, it's a tough pickle. Offsetting fouls might have been the best option.

5 Leading with the Head

The Bengals were not robbed by a bad call.  An offensive player rapidly approaching a collision with a defender who has already assumed a "helmet first" stance as a tough decision to make.  A helmet to the knees can do a lot of damage to a player as it tends to hyperextend the knees due to the torsion created by the upper body of the offensive player.  Hilton definitely takes this stance first and then Ty Johnson decides to lower is body to match force with force to protect himself.  Leading with the head is poor and dangerous tackling form and the NFL has done a lot to discourage the practice but it still happens and offensive players must be given the choice to take on a helmet first hit in the best way possible to protect themselves.  Hilton was definitely leading with his head as he approached Johnson.