The Cincinnati Bengals knocked the Jets to the other side of the stadium on Sunday in a 49-9 loss that, while expected, hammered home larger points about the Jets.
From the offense to the defense, the Jets were the wrong kind of gangrene on Sunday. Unlike the real gangrene, though, it's not about amputating one (proverbial) limb. This requires an in-depth diagnosis of the whole body of work.
"When you come off a win like we came off against one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL and we come into this weekend and we basically go out there and lay an egg, every man needs to look at himself and figure out what they've got to try to do," Cromartie said after the loss to the Bengals.
Of course, however, the diagnosis always begins with the quarterback.
In the course of this short season, Geno Smith has gone from game manager to turnover machine to a leader capable of putting the team on his back. The potential for greatness is not hard to find with Smith, but the brutal, game-changing plays need to come to an end.
Usually, when Geno has made a mistake, it's been a big one, and it's been on his shoulders. By my count, he was solely to blame on six of his 10 interceptions prior to Sunday, and the trend continued against the Bengals. He had two interceptions, both returned for touchdowns, and while both were bad decisions, only one was squarely on the quarterback.
The first, above, was not that play. Safety Chris Crocker was in coverage on Jets receiver Jeremy Kerley. Ordinarily, a safety on a receiver is a mismatch the quarterback will look to exploit every time, and that's exactly what Smith tried to do. However, Kerley didn't get separation off the physical Crocker and ran a lazy route.
Perhaps if Smith had called an audible to a route that made better use of Kerley's speed advantage (coupled with just one safety helping out over the top), the outcome might have been different—as it might have been if Kerley had run his route a little harder or if Smith hadn't stared down his first read.
Instead, things unfolded as such, allowing Crocker to get a break on the ball and make the play.
It's hard to explain why Smith thought he could make this throw, which resulted in his second pick-six. Bengals cornerback Adam Jones was sitting in zone coverage no more than three yards away from Smith's intended target, wide receiver David Nelson. Once Smith started his throwing motion in Wilson's direction, Pacman jumped the route and easily gobbled up 60 yards on his way to the end zone.
This was the play that sent Smith to the bench for the rest of the game, but if the Jets benched every player who played poorly on Sunday, their fourth-quarter lineup may have hearkened back to the preseason.
The blame game always starts with the quarterback, but it should never end there. Not, at least, in a loss this bad.
The loss was due in part to the quarterback play, but it was also due in part to the wide receivers' inability to get separation from the Bengals defensive backs. Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley were failing to get separation for most of the day. With veteran receiver Santonio Holmes still out, those two are supposed to be the big perimeter and slot threats, respectively. Instead, the two were targeted a combined 10 times, catching seven of those passes for a whopping 50 yards.
The tone was set on the very first play, with Smith dropping back to throw, only to find all of his receivers covered downfield. The pressure closed in, and Smith had to throw the pass away.
Even if not on this particular play, Smith had the time in the pocket he needed, for the most part. He was pressured just nine times on 34 dropbacks on Sunday, according to stats website Pro Football Focus (subscription required). It's on Smith to use that time wisely by not forcing throws into coverage, and it's on the receivers to help the cause by getting open.
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For only the second time this season, the problems stretched to the defensive side of the ball. The defense, which has been very good at times and in certain spots this year, had their worst game of the season.
In the past, they've been able to rely on their defensive line to get pressure on its own. That unit has been the heart and soul of the defense, and the team, for much of the season. It wasn't all bad for them on Sunday, as they held the Bengals to just 79 rushing yards on 25 carries, but stops in the running game mean little or nothing when the opponent is chucking it all over the yard.
"It was disappointing, we couldn't get pressure on the quarterback," said head coach Rex Ryan. "We tried a zillion different ways, primarily rushing four and then trying to play coverage."
According to PFF, the Jets must have switched up their game plan rather quickly, as they switched to a blitz-heavy approach and finished with 17 blitzes on 31 dropbacks by Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. He fared just as well against the blitz (62.5 percent completions, 11.3 yards per pass attempt, 140.6 passer rating) as against a standard rush (64.3 percent completions, 10.4 yards per attempt, 108.6 rating).
As a result of their lack of pass-rush, topped with a heaping helping of poor coverage, the Jets defense allowed five passing touchdowns, which is most since Dan Marino had five in 1988. The 49 points scored by the Bengals ties for the most allowed by the Jets under Rex, equalling the 49 points allowed against the Patriots in the Thanksgiving "buttfumble" game of 2012.
"We got beat in every coverage known to man," said Rex after the loss, "five touchdown passes, I don’t know how many times that’s happened in my lifetime, not very often. Throwing into coverage, sometimes you’re in man coverage, and that’s going to be tough. Sometimes when you call coverage and expect certain things played a certain way, those were some disappointing things without question."
Rookie cornerback Dee Milliner was never supposed to replace Darrelle Revis, but people were probably expecting much better than what he showed against the Bengals. Dalton finished 4-of-5 throwing in Milliner's direction, piling up 108 yards and a touchdown.
Had Bengals receiver Mohamed Sanu hauled in this 56-yard rainbow in the first quarter, Dalton may have finished 5-of-5 for 164 yards and two touchdowns against Milliner. It didn't take long (Milliner played 29 snaps) for Ryan to have seen enough.
"I benched him because physically he wasn't getting it done," Ryan said after the game.
Milliner may be a neophyte to the NFL, but you know things are bad when you can't count on your best players to make plays. This season, even the veteran Antonio Cromartie has been on the wrong end of some big plays, and that continued against the Bengals. Cromartie was fully responsible for one 53-yard completion to wide receiver A.J. Green and at least partially responsible for another.
On one of those, the receiver was able to get right past the coverage of Cromartie and split the two cornerbacks over the middle. Perhaps there was a miscommunication between the two cornerbacks, but it had to be frustrating to watch nearly every Jets defensive back get torched at one point or another on Sunday.
Trying to narrow down the disappointment on Sunday to one player or group is impossible and unfair.
"Obviously, we have to play a hell of a lot better—file that in the 'obvious' category or whatever you want," Rex said. "We are a much better football team than showed up today and I believe that. We have to get a hell of a lot better."
There was enough blame to go around for Sunday's loss, and unless everyone steps up, that blame will build up across all levels of the Jets roster.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or via team news releases.