Riding high with the win over Washington, Cincinnati makes its second early-season trip in as many years to Jacksonville. The Jaguars are still in a rebuilding phase with QB Blaine Gabbert, who hasn’t shown as much as fellow 2011 draft picks Cam Newton, Christian Ponder, or our own Andy Dalton. He does have some weapons, most importantly the mighty mite, Maurice Jones-Drew.
MoJo had a huge game last week in the Jaguars’ win over Indianapolis. He’s averaging 5.4 yards per carry and about 100 yards a game. With Gabbert averaging just under 150 yards per game through the air, the Jags will focus on the run game.
Defensively, Jacksonville is as bad as the Bengals—worse even in some areas. They give up 412 yards per game in total yards, 258 through the air and 154 on the ground. Opponents are converting third downs on them at a whopping 44%.
Good news for us.
Nevertheless, this will be another challenge for our Bengals, and they can easily come home licking their wounds if they don’t take care to focus on this week’s keys to victory:
- Stop MJD: The importance to this key can’t be overstated. With Gabbert still developing, and his receivers struggling (particularly rookie Justin Blackmon), head coach Mike Mularkey and offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski (HA!) will want to “ground and pound” as much as possible to keep the game close and keep the explosive Bengals offense on the sideline. They will surely test the middle of the defense as well as work the stretch/pitch game to MoJo and Rashad Jennings. The Bengals front seven has to improve to contain the Jaguars to 2 to 3 yard gains. The defense needs to force the Jaguars into 3rd-and-4 or more, forcing the Jaguars into passing situations.
- Pressure Gabbert: Once they are put into a position to have to throw, the Bengals need to capitalize with their best-in-conference pass rush. Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson, and Geno Atkins have the ability to harass Gabbert and make it a long day for him. Pressure brings sacks, quick throws, and bad decisions. With the secondary still in a state of flux, forcing quick passes will allow the Bengals to get off the field in a hurry. If the Bengals could sack RG3 five times last Sunday, they should be able to put a lot of heat on the less-mobile Gabbert.
- Steady as she goes, Offense: The Bengals need to continue to build upon the successes of the last two weeks on offense. The Bengal passing game will be a huge test for Jacksonville’s defense and Mularkey commented on his concerns in containing it. Jay Gruden will no doubt want to take shots and utilize the receivers to get on the board early, but if the Jaguars play a lot of nickel, it might be BJGE’s time to really shine. The Jags are terrible stopping the run (almost as bad as the Bengals) and if they play a lot of nickel to contain the passing game, Green-Ellis could have a huge day. Whether the pass sets up the run or the run sets up the pass, the Bengals should find success against a weak Jacksonville defense. The key will be to make it happen.
- Limit Mistakes: The easiest way to lose this game will be to give Jacksonville second and third chances through stupid penalties, special teams gaffes, and turnovers. The Bengals survived two turnovers in their own end last Sunday, but cannot afford to do that again this week. The Bengals are one of the least penalized teams so far, but with the real officials back, that trend may not continue. Cincy needs to be careful with the ball, and smart on the field to keep from giving an inferior opponent extra chances.
- Finish Strong: The Bengals were the clearly better team last week, but nonetheless surrendered a 17-point lead, then almost gave up a 14-point lead late. It’s conceivable that Cincinnati could find themselves up by 2 or more scores again, and the complacency we saw last week could resurface. What I’d like to see is the Bengals get up give no quarter. Don’t let the opposition have any chance for victory at the end by finishing off the game strong.
Prediction: Cincinnati 27, Jacksonville 17
While the Bengals could find a way to blow this one, they tend to win the games they are supposed to win. Jacksonville is not a good defensive team, and their offense is still maturing. The Bengals can limit MJD and force the Jaguars into uncomfortable passing situations. I see Gruden continuing to work his magic and for the Bengals defense to get a little bit better this week.