After last week’s dramatic atmosphere (possible 0-3 start, injuries) the atmosphere changed in Jacksonville this week. The Jaguars won in Indianapolis with an unexpected 80 yard TD in the last minute. This week the good news continued – looks like this team is almost 100% healthy again. Daryl Smith is still missing, but with the return of Bradfield, Britton, Jennings, and Lane this team should be more powerful compared to its previous games. Sunday will be very special for 2 reasons. 1. Fred Taylor will be inducted into the Jaguars Ring of Honor and 2. The Jaguars will play in Teal at home for the last time in a while. So it will be an end of an era. But what can we expect from the game itself? Let’s dig deeper and see if the Jaguars can stop the Cincinnati Bengals.
Cincinnati is a very interesting team right now. Their passing offense is maybe more dangerous than any team the Jaguars faces (even better than the Texans) and they also have a very powerful defensive line which has already produced 11 sacks. Their back 7, however, is having serious issues. On offense it is too bad that Andy Dalton has already been sacked 12 times. The young QB is showing no signs of a sophomore slump though. Right now he might be the best signal-caller from the ’11 rookie class. Yes, better then Cam Newton. And they have a receiver in AJ Green, who is already I think better than former Bengals WR Chad Johnson ever was. It’s a good thing that Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox can both play again on Sunday. Thanks to them I expect just a little more than 100 yards receiving and a TD for Green. The sad thing for the Jaguars, is that they must stop a bunch of other young WRs as well in order to limit the Bengals passing offense.
One of the most interesting (and hidden) storylines of this game is the battle of the offensive coordinators. Current Jaguars OC Bob Bratkowski spent a decade with the Bengals (2001-2010) in the same position. When it clicked (during the Palmer-Johnson-Houshmandzadeh years) the offense was unstoppable. His successor, Jay Gruden, has become one of the most demanded head coach candidates since this past off season. It will be very hard for the team to retain Gruden this upcoming offseason because their offense continues to be effective. Here are a few examples:
- Last week they opened the game against the Washington Redskins with a trick play which resulted in a 73 yard TD. The pass did not come from Andy Dalton, but 3rd round pick rookie WR Mohamed Sanu out of Rutgers.
- Andy Dalton has a perfect (158.3) QB rating in the 4th quarter. He has not thrown an incomplete pass in 3 games in the final 15 minutes
- AJ Green has caught 21 passes for 311 yards (2nd best behind Detroit’s Calvin Johnson), yet he hasn’t been targeted in 3rd down situations.
- Although there is no clear Nr. 2 target, 5 players have already caught at least 1 TD this season, and 4 players have at least 100 receiving yards. The 2 rookie wideouts they drafted this year (Sanu, and Cal’s Marvin Jones) don’t have a have a single reception. Yet, the leading receiver of the Jaguars, Cecil Shorts would be just 4th in receiving yards and 5th in catches if he played for the Bengals. So maybe they don’t have a clear 2nd choice, they have at least 4 decent candidates for the job.
- The Bengals offense produced these numbers (Andy Dalton has the 4th best passer rating in the season, while Cincinnati’s passing game is ranked 4th) allowing 12 sacks to the opposite teams thus far. Just to compare, the Jaguars patchwork offensive line has allowed just 6.
So it’s clear the Jaguars defense must play more than good to at least limit these guys. No matter how good the coverage on AJ Green is , he will beat his corner at least a couple times. But if he is double teamed, a receiver like Andrew Hawkins can do enough damage as well. Hawkins has the second most receiving yards, and he has caught more balls for more yards in his first 16 games than Chad Johnson and T. J. Houshmandzadeh. He is producing a lot of YAC (yards after catch) which could be a problem for a Jaguar defense that has struggled with tackling. Other than Hawkins, the Bengals can count on TE Jermaine Gresham, WR Brandon Tate, and Armon Binns. Binns is familiar with the Jaguars, the former Cincinnati product was on the Jaguars roster during the ’11 preseason. Yet, despite having maybe the worst receiver group last year, the Jaguars cut him when they announced the final 53 roster. Binns has more catches (12) and yards (157) than any current Jaguars WR.
Cincinnati has a decent, but not spectacular running game with BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The former Patriot is the only threat on the ground, although not a special one (3.6 yards/carry this year). I fully expect that the Jaguars defensive line can handle and limit him through the game. Also I expect the Jaguars will have a couple of sacks. Last week they had 12 QB hits on Andrew Luck who is much more mobile than Andy Dalton. While Austen Lane returning gives Joe Cullen a chance to rotate his DEs, because of the 2 very decent OTs (LT Andrew Withworth & RT Andre Smith) I don’t expect much from Mincey and co. The DTs could have a better chance at generating pressure. C Jeff Faine is banged up and according to Jeff Lageman he playing poorly. The Bengals have a 1st round pick rookie RG in Kevin Zeitler and he plays rather well. Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu played quite unspectacularly in the last 2 weeks. It would be nice to see at least one of them have a big game.
Let’s see how the Jaguars offense matches with the Cincy defense. The good news is, it looks like Cameron Bradfield and Eben Britton will return, and they will be needed, because if there is one threat the Bengals defense presents right now, it’s a pass rush. DC Mike Zimmer’s only chance to slow down or disrupt the Jaguars offense is by rushing the passer effectively. Eugene Monroe will face RDE Michael Johnson who is leading the Bengals in sacks (4.0), and benefiting the most from Carlos Dunlap’s play. Because the real deal in that defensive line in my opinion is Dunlap, who is getting more healthy each week. I’m glad to see Bratfield is returning, because he is a better option than Guy “The Turnstile” Whimper at RT. Still that matchup will be key in this game and I’m not 100% sure if Bradfield can handle Dunlap alone. Using TE Marcedes Lewis to help Bradfield like he helped Whimper last week could be effective. Cincy also have Geno Atkins in the line, who was great last week against the Redskins’ zone-stretch run. He has recorded 3 sacks on the season. The 4th lineman, Domata Peko, has played like the Jaguars starting DTs: not bad, but unspectacular. Although it’s always key to win the battle in the trenches, this time if Brad Meester and co. can do it, and keep Dunlap and co. away from Blaine Gabbert, the Jaguars offense might have a field day. Because other than this really great defensive line, the Bengals D does not represent too big a challenge.
The reason why last year’s Top 10 Bengals defense is now ranked 31st and allowing 34 points and 416.7 per game (against the Ravens, Browns and Redskins) is their back 7. They are in a similar situation as the Jaguars were on opening day: injuries and protection issues. The secondary is banged up so badly, that they have 2(!) healthy corners now -Terrance Newman, who came from Dallas in the offseason and is still learning the defense (his situation is a bit similar to Aaron Ross) and the other is Adam Jones (formerly known as Pacman). Leon Hall looks to be on the field on Sunday, but he is banged up, so the Jaguars can use that to their advantage. Cincinnati’s safeties aren’t that better either. Ex-Jaguar Reggie Nelson is leading the Bengals in solo tackles which says everything. Nelson has become a much better safety since his move to Cincinnati but he needs good corner play to be truly effective. He probably won’t get that this Sunday. He is also vulnerable to giving up big plays (like he did last year vs. the Jaguars in that big 73 yard Jason Hill TD on Week 5). The other starting safety is Taylor Mays and he has struggled thus far this season as well. That’s why the Bengals brought back Chris Crocker this week, to help out the unit in the passing game and in the running game.
The Bengals run defense is struggling mightily. The unit is currently ranked 31st, and giving up 155 yards/game. That’s a good news not just for Maurice Jones-Drew (who has the 2nd most rushing yards after 3 weeks behind Jamaal Charles), but to Rashad Jennings as well. If Jennings can return and play at the same level he was in the preseason, all of sudden the Jaguars will have one of the NFL’s best 1-2 punches on the ground. But why is Cincinnati is so bad against the run this year? Well, the Bengals have major production issues not just at the safeties, but also at the LB. Ray Maualuga is really struggling these days, and the Jaguars must take advantage of it. Manny Lawson is decent, but nothing special. Maybe the best LB right now is UDFA rookie Vontaze Burfict, who is showing signs of why he should have been a high draft pick (if he didn’t have major character issues).
Bottom line is that this back 7 is not very good and the Jaguars must produce at least what they put together against the Vikings or better. If the Jaguars O-line can keep Johnson and Dunlap away from Blaine Gabbert most of the time, the 2nd year QB should have a great day. For example: Cincy is one of 3 teams who hasn’t recorded a single interception yet. If Gabbert (one of two QBs who have started every game yet to throw a pick) can take care of the football, and put together decent drives, he might have a career day on Sunday. The Jaguars need to get Justin Blackmon involved and Cecil Shorts needs to step up more and earlier this game. If Bradfield can limit Dunlap (maybe with a little help from FB Greg Jones and Maurice Jones-Drew), Marcedes Lewis could become a threat in the passing game once again. Since the Bengals offense is producing a lot of points the Jaguars offense must do the same to keep up with Dalton and company.
I expect a shootout in this game. This is not a good sign for the Jaguars offense, who have only scored 30+ points once with Blaine Gabbert starting (Week 15 vs Tampa Bay last year they put up 41). If the Jags want to stay in the game until the last minute (where Blaine & Cecil Shorts have claimed the lead twice in 3 games), they must score more points. TDs need to become commonplace when the Jags enter the redzone. The emotions will be flying high because of Freddy T, and because of the teal jerseys. I hope both of them get a nice tribute with a victory. It will not be easy since the Bengals are a better football team overall than the Jaguars. But I still hope the Jaguars can win this with extra effort and almost flawless execution. Because of that and the emotion I give a slight edge to the home team.
Prediction: Jaguars 31 – Bengals 28
– Zoltan Paksa