Monday, January 4, 2010

2010 NFL Wildcard Playoff Preview, Part 1: Jets at Bengals

New York Jets at Cincinnati Bengals
Favorite: Jets (68.7%)

Team Efficiency (Using FO's Weighted Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA)):

Jets: 10.6% (15th)... Offense DVOA: -10.4% (23rd)... Defense: -19.7% (1st)... Special: 3.4% (6th)
Bengals: 5.8% (16th)... Offense DVOA: 6.5% (18th)... Defense: -0.1% (12th)... Special: -1.1% (23rd)

Both these teams faced each other in Week 17 have a tendency to scuffle, and the Bengals are coming off a nasty Week 17 goose egg performance against the Jets in Jersey. This week's edition will be in Cincinnati. I'll go out on a limb and guess that the Bengals pulled back effort-wise in a season closing game with little consequence, so I won't take the blowout too much to heart.

The Jets get their edge from the stingiest defense in the NFL and a strong special teams unit. The Bengals have improved defensively but aren't quite as good there, their offense continues to struggle despite several weapons (Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco, a revitalized running game) and their special teams play is an issue.

Team and player rankings are below. According to Football Outsiders, DYAR indicates a player's total value to his team. DVOA indicates a player's value per play.

Every player listed will come with a grade based on the NFL Average per Football Outsiders' DVOA rating. Average is considered 70% on an academic grading scale, equal to a C. If your DVOA or relative ranking is below average, you'll get a D or an F. Even if it's above average, if your DVOA isn't far enough above average you may still get a C or C+, but a B or A is possible. A B requires a DVOA of at least 14.3% (80 is 114.3% of 70, or 14.3% above average) and an A requires a DVOA of 28.6% or higher. Getting an F takes a DVOA of -15.0% or worse.

Bengals Offense (with grade):

Points Per Drive: 1.71 (C)
Drive Success Rate: .686 (C)
Turnovers per: .123 (C+)

Offense Line Run Blocking: C
Left End: C
LT: C+
Interior: B-
RT: C-
Right End: D
Pass Protection: B

QB: Carson Palmer: B (Rushing: B)
RB: Cedric Benson: C
RB: Larry Johnson: F
RB: Bernard Scott: D
RB: Brian Leonard: F

WR: Chad Ochocinco: C+
WR: Laveranues Coles: C
WR: Andre Caldwell: D+

TE: John Paul Foschi C-
TE: Daniel Coats F

This is a rather thin offense. Palmer himself is still a good QB, but for all his talent Ochocinco has been a bit of an underachiever, more bluster than results. Laveranues Coles is the only other productive receiver, and jury's out on whether or not Andre Caldwell can step up in anyone's absence. Don't expect anything much from the tight ends either.

Cedric Benson is also a bit overrated, but has easily been the most productive per play of a bleh rushing corps with help from some strong interior blocking and through sheer durability, topping 30 carries three times this season. Don't totally knock Benson's performance, however: The Bengals topped 100 rushing yards against tough run defenses from Baltimore (4th), Pittsburgh (9th), Minnesota (1st) and Green Bay (2nd). However, he did get shut down vs the Texans (17th), the Steelers did get them once when Cincy had to abandon the running game, the Chargers (26th) contained him in week 14.

One note: The Jets (8th) did own the Bengals on closing weekend with Benson on the sideline, and he'll be back for the playoffs. Perhaps the rematch for that reason will be a bit more competitive.

Bengals defense (Base 4-3):

Overall: C

Run Defense: C
vs left end sweeps: D
Right DE: B-
Interior run defense: D
Left DE: C
vs right end sweeps: A

Pass Defense: C
Defensive line vs rush: C-
Pass rush: D

Before you credit RDE Michael Johnson for the strong right end defense, keep in mind big Tank Johnson is the Bengals' starting right D-Tackle, and his presence plays a big role in the opposing LT's efforts. Yet for some reason the Bengals have struggled with interior runs and sweeps to their right side (the other team's left)... while doing a great job of containing sweeps to their left. Since the secondary and linebackers switch sides as needed, we can't credit that to a particular group.

Perhaps the Bengals anticipate offenses running sweeps away from Tank Johnson and thus are better prepared to contain runs to those areas? Just a guess, but it doesn't quite explain how they're able to run up the gut right into Tank's wheelhouse and produce. It calls into question the abilities of the rest of the front seven.

While the defense has shown improvement, keep in mind being 12th overall still leaves the Bengals around average. Though FO rates their pass defense 10th and their rush defense 20th, the overall results for both are still close to the NFL average. As the Jets showed, this unit can be scored on.

Special Teams:

Kicker: D (Kickoffs: C-)
Kick returns: D
Punting: C-
Punt returns: B+

If the Bengals fortunes come down to the leg of kicker Shayne Graham, be worried for the Bengals' sake. Kevin Huber, however, isn't as bad (though he's not great). Quan Cosby provides a huge boost with field position when the Bengals defense can stop you, so Jets punter Steve Weatherford would be wise to kick away from him.


Jets Offense (with grade):

Points Per Drive: 1.56 (C-)
Drive Success Rate: .629 (C-)
Turnovers per: .165 (D+)

Offense Line Run Blocking: C+
Left End: D-
LT: C+
Interior: C
Right End: D
Pass Protection: D+

QB: Mark Sanchez: F (Rushing: B-)
RB: Thomas Jones: C
RB: Shonn Greene: C

WR: Jerricho Cotchery: C+
WR: Braylon Edwards: C
WR: David Clowney: F
WR: Brad Smith: F (Rushing: A)

TE: Dustin Keller: D

Don't let a handful of solid performances fool you: Right now, Mark Sanchez is not a good quarterback. He's had some big mistakes bite the Jets in the ass, to the point where if they had a less talented but more careful QB under center, they might not have had to go on the road to play a wildcard game. The Jets fortunes in this game come down to whether or not Mark Sanchez can avoid a huge mistake or five.

His running game isn't spectacular but it works. Thomas Jones is productive while Shonn Greene offers little dropoff if TJ has to come off. But whether it's because of Sanchez's struggles or because of their abilities, the receiving corps' been rather unproductive: Only Jerricho Cotchery's been consistently productive at WR, as while Braylon Edwards has made plays he also catches a poor 49% of balls thrown to him. TE Dustin Keller can do a bit after the catch but like Edwards he struggles to make catches in the first place (55% catch rate). Converted QB Brad Smith is better used as a Wildcat runner, and if Rex Ryan can get him more involved against the Bengals they have a substantial chance of winning.

Jets defense (Base 3-4):

Overall: A

Run Defense: B-
vs left end sweeps: B
Right DE: C
Interior run defense: A
Left DE: B+
vs right end sweeps: D+

Pass Defense: A+
Defensive line vs rush: B+
Pass rush: C

FO calls the Jets defense the best in the league by DVOA, and it starts with an airtight pass defense anchored by All Pro corner Derrelle Revis. The run defense is solid and gives nobody anything inside or off right tackle. The pass rush is average but thanks to a strong secondary and linebacking corps it doesn't need to be anything more. The only weakness appears to be runs off of right end (what's the story, Bryan Thomas?), and an injury to starting LDE Shaun Ellis sure isn't going to help. Fortunately, the Bengals tailbacks aren't well-suited for sweep runs, and the Jets front seven tends to do a fine job of closing run gaps.

Special Teams:

Kicker: C (Kickoffs: C)
Kick returns: B
Punting: C+
Punt returns: C+

The Jets special teams is nothing spectacular, but effective. Jim Leonhard and the kickoff return unit does a better job than many of giving the Jets decent field position. Jay Feely is one of the NFL's better kickers and Steven Weatherford isn't known for a booming leg but does a good job of locating his punts.


So who has the edge?

The Bengals successes have been in no small part a bit of a mirage thanks to a mediocre schedule, e.g. they got to play the Browns twice, the Chiefs and the Lions once. Take out those games and the Bengals are 6-6, albeit against tough divisional foes in Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and tough non-division foes in Minnesota, San Diego and Green Bay.

The Jets had a much tougher go, with the 8th toughest schedule according to Sagarin's ratings... but to be fair one of their 'tough' games came against a Colts squad that quit in the 2nd half. That said, they won 5 of their last 6 to close the season, including a big win over this same Cincy squad.

The Jets have the momentum and the edge in several aspects. It's their game to lose. It's just a matter of whether or not Mark Sanchez can control the football when the Jets have it.

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