If we break down the season to 4 quarters, like Jack Del Rio does, it’s safe to say that the 1st quarter was pretty awful for the Jaguars. They stand with a 1-3 record and the schedule will be much tougher over the next quarter of games. Even the most winnable game against the Bengals (at least it looked that way when the schedule was announced) could now be a very tough one. In fact, everybody outside of Jacksonville fans are picking the Bengals to win this game. That is quite a good barometer of how the national media feels and its safe to say this game is pretty important. If something positive (=win) does not happen on Sunday, the team will be approaching “win or else” territory. What’s strange is that the Bengals are a mirror of the Jaguars right now – they have a rookie starting QB (Andy Dalton), a very good RB (Cedric Benson), a threat at TE (Jermaine Gresham) and an improved defense with young draft picks and a couple new free agents (two of them at starting at linebacker). Sounds familiar right? The big difference is that the Jaguars lack the difference-making WR that the Bengals now have in rookie AJ Green. Let’s examine the strengths and weakpoints of this Bengals team.
On offense, the Bengals may be a little weaker, but that is because Andy Dalton is making –sometimes- rookie mistakes. Also although they had a real good RB in Cedric Benson, -new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is running a west-coast style offense, which favors the passing game more. Despite that, Benson is still very effective, averaging 4,5 carry. The run defense must bounce back from a quite bad game, which will be not easy, because it’s clear to me now, that Tyson Alualu is playing hurt, and his performance fall back. Side note: not having D’ Anthony Smith (just like in Rashard Jennings case int he running game) is hitting the Jaguars more then expected. If the run defense can limit or in best case scenario (not going to happen…) take out Benson, that will force Andy Dalton to throw the ball. Which could be this time a good sign, because the rookie out of TCU is like Blaine Gabbert. Sometimes he is on fire, but sometimes he looks like a not ready rookie. But opposite to Blaine Gabbert he has real weapons to throwing to. WR Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell are realible targets, TE Jermaine Grasham is developing one of the best young tight ends of the league in his second season. And rookie A. J. Green is I think already can labeled as a difference maker WR. After watching some tape about how he catches the ball, I can say that in many teams –including the Jaguars- he would be the Nr. 1 receiver. And he played only 4 weeks with a rookie QB. That’s how good this kid is. I don’t know which CB will play against him for the most of the time, but Mathis or Middleton will have his hands full with Green all day long.
The area where the Jaguars might can do a favor to their corners is the pass rush. Although it seems Aaron Kampman is still not playing this week, the Jaguars might have a chance to put the pressure to Dalton. The lift side of the Bengals offensive line looks great, thanks to Andrew Whitworth who plays his best football since he joined the league. But on the right side Matt Roth (or Austen Lane) will face the ’09 1st round pick Andre Smith, who is not that good at all. Sadly for the Jaguars he might be helped out now, because veteran Bobbie Williams is coming back from his 4 game suspension and most likely take back his spot from rookie Clint Bowling. Anyway, the jaguars must create some pass rush, to disturb Dalton, who might play like Cam Newton did in Week 3 (not that good). Otherwise he can constantly hit his receivers, and could help to take attention away from Benson, which easily could mean a disaster for the Jaguars defense.
But the real disaster is how the Jaguars offense will match up against the Bengals defense. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and head coach Marvin Lewis created a very, very effective unit as a whole. You can’t find any now big names, and sadly you can’t find any soft spots either. They have a very good defensive line, a solid linebacker group, and a secondary which lost starting CB Johnatan Joseph, but so fat they don’t miss him at all. How good they are? I can prove with this – Reggie Nelson (yeah that Reggie Nelson) is a playmaker for them, and looks like a real NFL player (more about him and my concerns about the jaguars coaching later). The defensive line is great and can rush the passer and stopping the run alone by themselves. DT/NT Domata Peko is their version of Terrance Knighton, he will need 2 man to move. The other DT, 2nd year player Geno Atkins is doing what Tyson Alualu should’ve if he would be 100% helathy: rushing the passer in the middle (he had 2.5 sacks this season so far). It’s fair to say Meester, Nwaneri and Britton(?) will there hands full with them. The Bengals have 3 very solid DE in Carlos Dunlap (another great 2nd year player player in the defensive line), Michael Johnson and Johnatan Fanine. Eugene Monroe will return to the staring lineup, I hope he is fine, because otherwise Dunlap will chase Gabbert all day long. And whimper get another audition to prove he belongs to the starting lineup at RT with Fanine and Johnson going against him.
The Bengals, just like the Jaguars have 2 new starting linebackers in Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard. With the 3rd starter Ray Maualaga, effectively helping out the defensive line. If the Jaguasr passing game will be once again nearly a non-factor, and Zimmer will load the box against Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jaguars are in trouble. Because no matter how great the Jaguars best weapon are, I simply can’t imagine that he can be effective alone (let’s forget about Deji Karim, he playing clueless these days as a back and as a kick returner).
Sadly the Bengals secondary looks fantastic now. Leon Hall is a clearly underrated corner. Nate Clemens (who was signed from the 49ers to replace Joseph) playing like he was with the team for years. Chris Crocker is a reliable safety, who has 1.5 sacks already. And there is Reggie Nelson. I guess every jaguars fan celebrated when Gene Smith traded him away for David Jones and a conditional pick. Everybody thought that deal was close to a steal. Yeah, turned out it was. For the Bengals. David Jones is a journeyman at best. The Jaguars failed to get that conditional pick. But worst of all, it turned out Reggie Nelson is a starter caliber player in the NFL. Which raises the automatic question: how bad (I hope just) was the Jaguars DB coaching in the last couple of years? Because not just Nelson playing very well since he left. Bill CB Drayton Florence is now the best cornerback is the Bills secondary as well. Not to mention the recent struggles of Rashean Mathis(I know he was injured, but still, the fact is, he was not a Top 10 corner in the last few seasons, which he was until ’07).