The game between the Jets and the Bengals last night ended with the Jets on top by a 25-17 score. This was a textbook example of why the scores of preseason games are meaningless. Last night we actually saw two games. In the first game the Jets starters squared off against the Bengals starters. For the first 19 minutes that was the game we were watching, and it wasn't close. For as long as Andy Dalton and the rest of the Bengals' first team unit were in there the Bengals had their way with the Jets' first team. It looked very much like a repeat of last year's debacle in Cincinnati, with Dalton throwing a perfect 8 out of 8 for 144 yards, a TD and a 158 passer rating. The Bengals took virtually whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, on the way to a 17-3 domination of the Jets' first team.
Then out came Dalton and the game changed. The Bengals began substituting in their second team and from that point on the Jets never allowed the Bengals another point. Over the last 41 minutes of the game the score was Jets 22, Bengals 0. So if you didn't see the game and only judged by the scoreboard, it looked like the Jets did well last night, squeaking out a close victory in enemy territory against a quality opponent. But if you actually watched the game you would know the Jets were thoroughly dominated by the Bengals when the starters were on the field for both sides, and the Jets thoroughly dominated the Bengals when the starters came off the field. As a fan it's nice to see the depth players do well, but there is no doubt if you had to choose which unit you hoped would be dominating last night, it wouldn't be the scrubs.
So who saw their stock rise and who saw their stock fall last night? Let's take a look.
Calvin Pryor. There's a case to be made that Pryor was the best Jet on either side of the ball last night. He was active, he was violent, he was around the ball; he was a difference maker. In some of his best Pryor Engagements he separated the ball from Bengals' receiver Cobi Hamilton on what would have otherwise been a nice Bengals gain, and he put a hurt on Bengals' running back Rex Burkhead, taking him down for a loss with an intimidating hit deep in Bengals territory. Pryor was, if anything, even better than advertised and he provided a glimmer of hope for a battered Jets secondary. If he continues this level of play Pryor should be a day one starter for the Jets.
Brandon Dixon. Dixon, a 2014 sixth round draft choice, took the opportunity provided by a decimated Jets secondary and ran with it. Dixon matched up only with second and third team Bengals receivers, so this should be taken with a grain of salt, but in his time out there Dixon showed good speed and athleticism and surprisingly good cover ability. I doubt Dixon is ready to start in the NFL in 2014, but he showed enough while covering backups to think with a year or two of development he might be capable of developing into a quality starter down the road. Obviously it's too small a sample size on which to make any definitive judgments, but I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw out of Dixon last night.
A.J. Edds. For the second game in a row Edds led all Jets defensive players with 6 tackles. Edds just always seems to be around the ball making plays. I don't know how his game will translate against NFL starters, but if he keeps playing the way he's playing against backups he may earn a chance to find out.
IK Enemkpali. IK blocked a punt for a safety and made a great hustle tackle on a Bengals running play, exhibiting a great motor. There's a little of Hogg in IK's game, minus the Hogg's other worldly physical gifts. IK has a nonstop motor and a knack for making big plays. It's possible that with his less than imposing physical gifts he may be overmatched against NFL starters, but he's the kind of guy that just seems to make plays, and he's earning a spot on this team.
Greg Salas. Getting some rare time with the starters, Salas led all Jets receivers with 31 yards on two receptions. He showed some ability to separate and displayed his usual knack for running after the catch. Not a dominating performance by any means, but Salas is quietly stating his case to make this team.
First team pass protection. Geno didn't have all day to throw, but for the most part he had enough time. While the first team struggled to open holes for the running backs, against a good Bengals defense they kept the QB sack free and on most plays gave him enough time to go through his progressions and make his reads. Far from a dominant performance, but a step forward from last week's pass protection.
Jets starters. The first team was completely dominated by the Bengals first team. They were outscored 17-3, and it didn't look that close. The Bengals had the better QB, better receivers, better lines, better secondary. For much of the first 19 minutes it looked as though the Bengals could do virtually anything they wanted on offense any time they wanted it. And while the Jets first team offense had some success moving the ball against the Bengals starters, the offense once again bogged down in the red zone and had to settle for a field goal. The Jets did not start scoring TDs until the Bengals scrubs started filtering onto the field. Starters against starters it was a complete Bengals domination. This was not an encouraging day for the Jets starters.
Starters run blocking. The line was reasonably effective keeping Geno upright and giving him enough time to pass the ball. Run blocking was a different story. Although the Jets ended up with more than 160 yards rushing, against the Bengals starters the line struggled badly to open up any holes and the Jets running game bogged down. Over the course of the first two preseason games the starting offensive line has at different times struggled in both pass protection and in run blocking. It's looking very much like a mediocre NFL unit.
Stephen Hill. Hill made one nice catch, going up and high pointing a ball and coming down cleanly with it. He also blocked effectively at times. But he was separated from the ball on a tough catch over the middle on one play, failed to even put up a token fight for the ball on an underthrown deep pass on another play, and in general once again disappeared in a game where the Jets #1 receiver was out and Hill had an opportunity to shine. Even with Decker out Hill is clearly running behind Nelson and Kerley, and Salas may well be moving past him on the depth chart. Hill's days in Jets green may be coming to a close.
Pass rush. The Jets had nice sack numbers in the boxscore. That is deceiving. The Jets first teamers routinely gave Andy Dalton clean pockets and all day to throw. Of the three Sons only Wilkerson ever managed to come within the same zipcode of pressuring the QB. While it's true the Jets had 4 sacks, all came against the Bengals backups, and none came without sending five or more guys in blitz packages. Coples, Pace and Richardson were invisible in pass rushing. On a team with huge issues in pass defense, a Jets front line that can't get to the QB without heavy blitzing is an ominous sign for the upcoming season.
Kyle Wilson. Wilson was burned by a relatively slow, nondescript NFL receiver in Mohamed Sanu for a long TD, in which he, you guessed it, failed to get his head turned around. Wilson does some nice things at times in the slot, and statistically he has had some very good years as a slot CB, but he is a pass defender with some rather severe deficiencies which will never be corrected. As a free agent to be in 2015 one wonders if Wilson's time with the Jets is drawing to a close.
Brian Winters. Back to back long penalties totaling 25 yards. Lost his starting job, at least for this day, to Oday Aboushi. Not the best of all days for Mr. Winters.
Tajh Boyd. Boyd was just terrible and looked lost on the field. As much as Matt Simms may never be a competent NFL QB, Boyd right now doesn't look like he is even a quality Simms backup.
Other Things Of Note
The QB Battle
This looks to be all but over. Vick saw zero action with the starting unit. Sans a complete Geno meltdown or injury in the Giants game, it appears Vick has no chance at the starting job. As far as the actual performances go, once again neither QB definitively separated himself from the competition. Geno did some nice things with both his legs and his arm. His mid level passes were crisp and accurate. He appeared to be going through his progressions nicely, although without access to the All 22 view it's difficult to judge the quality of his reads. The first team offense once again had to settle for a field goal against the Bengals starters, but in a half of play Geno led the Jets to two TDs and 16 total points, a more than adequate bottom line.
On the other hand Geno threw a brutal INT. It's difficult to know who read the play poorly, and whether Nelson or Geno made a poor judgment. But it's clear from the replay that Geno threw the ball too soon, giving Nelson no chance to make a catch even if they had both made the correct read. Also, for the second straight game Geno made a highly questionable decision with a defender wrapped around his legs. Geno managed to dump the ball off to his back, but it was an extremely high risk, low reward play, and the kind of poor decision making that will lead to Geno's primary problem, turnovers, over the course of a full season. Those two plays partially negated what would have otherwise been a somewhat encouraging Geno performance.
Vick, in a little more than a quarter of play, playing with backups against backups, went 5 for 9 for 70 yards and a TD. He also had zero turnovers. It wasn't an inspiring Vick performance; neither was it terrible. He looked competent and the Jets offense looked OK with Vick on the field, but at no point was it enough to say he was forcing his way into the starting job. Some may prefer what Vick has shown overall and some may prefer Geno's performances, but two games into the preseason it's difficult to argue either one has hugely separated himself from the competition.
The Antonio Allen Experiment
Antonio Allen at cornerback. It sounded crazy, and if you just look at A.J Green's 3 for 3 for 69 yards in less than a half, you might think it was a failure. Maybe it was. Allen certainly got burned on one deep pass to Green. But how many NFL CBs can say Green would never do the same to them? At times Allen seemed to effectively use his size, strength and physicality to lock up receivers at the line of scrimmage, doing a nice job jamming them and disrupting their routes and initial burst. It's hard to say if Allen will ever be able to make a living out of playing CB, but there were enough plays where Allen did all that could be asked of him in his first ever action at the position that it made me wonder if Allen at CB might make some sense in limited doses in the right situations. Roll Pryor to deep help on Allen's side against an opponent's #1 WR, have Allen beat him up all day in the first few yards, have Pryor make him pay if he gets past Allen, and who knows? Maybe you have an unconventional way of taking some #1 WRs out of their game against opponents who lack a big threat on the opposite side to make you pay for rolling Pryor towards helping Allen. Some WRs might get the fight taken out of them getting beat up all day by those two. At the least I saw enough interesting stuff here to make the experiment worth continuing for the rest of the preseason.
So that's what I saw last night, without benefit of extensive rewatching or the All 22 view. How about you? What did you see that is worthy of note?