The Bengals find themselves in a very similar position as the Bills were last week: coming off of an exciting, emotional, come-from-behind win at home against an opponent that they had not beaten in a long time, and traveling to an opponent that is struggling and easy to overlook. Say it with me, kids: “trap game”. And so the Bengals had better take this game seriously, or they may meet the same fate.
The Jaguars, an expansion team in 1995, have recorded 133 wins as of the end of the 2010 season. That’s a bit over 8 wins a season. Not great, but not bad. In the 20 years of the Mike Brown era, 1991-2010, the Bengals have notched just 115 wins. Four more seasons, yet 18 few wins. Ouch. *facepalm*
When the Jaguars have the ball…
The Bengals and the Broncos have QB “situations”, but, my oh my, the Jaguars have a full-blown, five-alarm QB mess on their hands! They canned David Garrard just days before the opening game of the season to avoid giving him a $9M bonus. (Who does that? Did the bonus just sneak up on them?) So after stealing the entire offseason from a backup guy who needed all the extra reps he could get, they send Luke McCown out to face the wolves. When he plays terribly (209 yards, 0 TDs, 4 INTs), they yank him for rookie Blaine Gabbert. Good grief, Charlie Brown!
QB Blaine Gabbert v. the learning curve. At least the Bengals were smart enough to decide up front that Dalton was the starter. Gabbert is in his 3rd week taking snaps with the first team offense, putting him almost a month and a half behind Dalton. Now after a couple of weeks to adapt to NFL speed, he goes up against the toughest defense by far of any he has faced to this point. Somewhere Mike Zimmer is smiling widely as he plots to blitz Gabbert into confusion and terror.
The O-lines for both the Jaguars and the Bengals match up similarly in pass protection, but the Jaguars lag far behind in run protection. Not good for a team whose sole asset right now on offense is a running back.
LT Eugene Monroe v. RDE Michael Johnson. Eugene Monroe and Andre Smith will always be linked since both were highly touted by some and highly scrutinized by others going into the 2009 draft. Neither has been bad, but neither has been the dominating player that was speculated they could be, either. Monroe will be tested by a 3rd round pick from the same 2009 draft.
LG Will Rackley v. RT Geno Atkins. The success that has come for the Jag’s running game has come behind Rackley. They run his way almost 75% of the time. Look for Manny Lawson to help with clogging up his lanes frequently.
Can one running back carry an entire team? Maurice Jones-Drew is trying.
RB Maurice Jones-Drew v. LB Rey Maualuga. Jones-Drew is the one nice piece to this offense. But he is still ranked 10 spots behind Cedric Benson according to FO. It can’t be easy to produce when the defense is keyed on him every week, but he is doing pretty well, gaining 391 yards on 77 carries… 5.1 y/c. We will see how he does going up against the (for now) reigning stingiest defense in the league. I give the edge to the Bengals’ defense, who will be able to load up the box because of the Jaguars’ anemic passing game.
What is the worst adjective you can apply to a football team? Horrendous? Putrid? Abysmal? Take one step further down from the adjective of your choice, and you have the Jaguars’ passing game so far this year. But given the team’s Mike Brown-sized debacle with their QBs, it can’t be a real shock.
The Bengals’ secondary was viewed as the clear liability on defense going in to the season, but they have done a very respectable job so far this year. Props to Hall, Clements, Nelson, Crocker and the boys. The Jaguars should be the perfect opportunity to pad some of their stats.
WRs Mike Thomas and Jason Hill v. CBs Leon Hall and Nate Clements. To tell you how rough the Jaguars’ passing game is right now, these two starting receivers have 304 yards between them after 4 games. (A.J. Green has 312 on his own.) Both rate lower than Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson, according to FO. The game plan for Mike Zimmer is not hard to figure out: 8-in-the-box, and blitz the tar out of the rookie Gabbert.
TE Marcedes Lewis v. LB Thomas Howard. For all of their struggles to contain tight ends, the Bengals did a great job of limiting a good one in Bills’ TE Scott Chandler to 8 yards on 2 receptions last week. They need a repeat showing this week against Lewis, who will be looking to get on track after a meager first quarter of the season. Gabbert will need a quick outlet in the face of Zimmer’s pressure. Howard, who has shown nice coverage skills for a LB, needs to take the option of Lewis away from him.
When the Bengals have the ball…
We knew the offense would struggle at times because of how young they are, but the Jekell/Hyde nature they have shown — and how quickly they can flip between the two — is crazy to watch. The good is very good, and the bad is very bad. Which will it be this week? Likely more of both.
QB Andy Dalton v. four quarters. I am not getting down on Andy for being inconsistent. We knew it would happen, and it was why we wanted him to start from the get-go, right? When he does put together four quarters of good ball, there is no telling how potent this offense might be. But the Jaguar defense held a potent New Orleans offense to just 23 points last week, their lowest of the year. (Yet somehow they gave up 32 to a paltry Jets offense. I’m not entire sure how to parse that.) I expect to see more good Andy/bad Andy this week. Hopefully there is enough good Andy to net the win.
The strength of the O-line is still run blocking. Great news for a team committed to running the ball. With Jacksonville averaging giving up 107 yards/game on the ground, Jay Gruden should pound out the body blows with Benson and mix in several uppercuts from Scott and jabs from Leonard.
RG Bobbie Williams v. DT Tyson Alualu. Big Bobbie returns this week from his 4 game suspension. We should expect a veteran of his experience will be in adequate shape, but will he have adequate stamina after being out for nearly a month? If Clint Boling is used frequently to spell Williams, the Jaguars will try to overload the rookie.
On paper at least, the running game is a slightly better mismatch for the Bengals. So if I am the Jaguars, I lean toward defending the run and forcing the rookie QB to throw against my opportunistic secondary in hopes that they can make a pick or two and set us up to score on short fields.
RB Cedric Benson v. LB Paul Posloszny. Benson has quietly put together a solid year, ranking 2nd in rushing attempts (77, tied with Maurice Jones-Drew) and 6th in yards (348). His yards/carry have left some disappointed, but he is just not a Chris Johnson/DeAngelo Williams type of back. He is simply a hammer. It isn’t always pretty, but the banging that he gives the defensive line pays dividends in the end. Posloszny’s numbers look strikingly similar to Maualuga’s, so using Pressley and Gresham to clear him out may help Benson finally find one of those big runs.
The paper might favor the run, but my eyes favor the sick talent of the blossoming A.J. Green. Simpson has to bring in the ball when it comes his way, or the Jags will roll coverage toward Green all day.
WRs A.J. Green, Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell v. CBs Rashean Mathis and Drew Coleman. The Jaguars’ secondary is apt to give up a deep ball about as often as the Bengals are, which bodes well for A.J. Green. Successful or not, using the deep ball on occasion to soften the defense is a must. But Dalton has to be careful with the ball. The Jags have snagged 5 INTs already this year, so with Andy giving up 4 in the last two games, they will be looking to jump routes and score the points that the offense can’t.
TE Jermaine Gresham v. LB Daryl Smith. More than anyone else, Dalton’s success is tied to the success of Gresham. If those two are connecting, Jay Gruden will be able to keep the Jaguars’ defense off balance all day long. But if Smith can disrupt Gresham and take him out of the game, we will see plenty of bad Andy.
P Matt Turk v. P Kevin Huber. After 4 weeks of stalemates at punter, the Bengals finally have a bit of an edge in this phase. Huber’s average is nearly 5 yards/punt better than Turk’s, despite having more opportunities to shank the ball. With the mess that the Jag’s have at QB, those extra 5 yards to go could be bigger than usual.
K Josh Scobee v. K Mike Nugent. How much fun would it be to have a friend with the name Scobee? Scobee-dobee-dooooooo!!! (Yes, I know it’s a long O. And, yes, I have a juvenile mind. If you don’t like it, I’m sticking my tongue out at you.)
The first order of business is that the Bengals must take this game seriously. They might have the #1 defense right now, but any team who assumes a win is asking to get beat. If they need proof, they can look at the betting line: 2.5 point underdogs to a team that is averaging under 10 points/game. Vegas is clearly expecting the Bengals to look as bad this week as they did against San Francisco.
Assuming the team is focused (and I believe they will be), the defense should continue the Jaguars’ offensive woes. I look for the Jags to be held to 10 or less for the fourth straight week. On the flip side, the Jaguars’ defense is just good enough to cause problems if the Bengals get predictable or struggle with execution. A good offensive game plan with disciplined execution could lead to a blowout win. But I think we see something in between again, potent at moments and blowing chunks at others.
Final Score: Cincinnati 20. Jacksonville 9.
(My devious plan to pick against the Bengals last week actually worked. If the Bengals lose this game, I am picking against them the rest of the year, because I will have proven myself to be a jinx.)