Bengals Preview, Week Nine: Jaguars
Despite wearing the worst helmets in the history of football, the Jacksonville Jaguars should not be taken as a complete joke of a team. They are young and mistake prone, to be sure, but watching them on tape shows that they do have some serviceable elements to their squad that could make for a competitive game on Sunday.
The Bengals are just now beginning to breathe easier after escaping with the win against Baltimore last week. It was an important victory for the standings, but maybe even more so for their confidence which had been hanging in the balance after a rough winless streak in the previous three games.
On Sunday, Jacksonville rolls into town with their newest experiment at quarterback, Blake Bortles. After striking out on Blane Gabbert, the Jags hope they have finally found someone they can build a team around. The problem is, Bortles has not yet blasted off in his rookie season. His physical characteristics are not the issue. He's certainly big enough to play the position and has tremendous arm strength, but like many rookies before him, he struggles making the right reads and taking care of not turning the ball over. The last two weeks, he has made some terrible decisions that led to interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns last Sunday against Miami.
The best offensive player for the Jaguars appears to be the weird hybrid player Denard Robinson. The former college quarterback came in to the league thinking he would be something more like a wide receiver, but this year he has been asked to take on the role of a rather traditional tailback which he has done admirably so far. He is a threat on screens and reverses that get him in the open field where he can move more like a kick returner than a between the tackles runner. There are some valid questions that should be raised concerning his durability as a real running back, but for now he seems like the team's best option.
The offensive coaching staff of Jacksonville calls and designs a lot of plays that allow Bortles to make easy, short throws to open receivers in space and hope they can gain yards after the catch. When Bortles has to go deep, however, he can certainly laser passes into areas deep, but sometimes they end up in the wrong hands.
That being said, it will be paramount that the Bengals tackle well in the flats and force Bortles to try and squeeze the ball into tight spots down field. Preying on his inexperience and his trouble making quality reads seems like the sensible approach. Defensive coordinator, Paul Guenther may want to resist blitzing and dropping more men into coverage to make open areas on the field even more of a premium.
As for the Cincinnati offense, they finally seem to have A.J. Green back, but now Giovani Bernard has to miss time. That leaves Jeremy Hill as the team's feature back, something the team had to have envisioned at some point anyway when they drafted him in April. Hill has the potential to do plenty of damage, and has flashed his talent at various points this season, but generally speaking, the Bengals running game has not been steady enough to feel good about so far.
An offensive line is more of a single entity than five various parts, but if pressed to scrutinize, it seems the interior linemen simply are not getting the push up the middle the Bengals need to get those tough, short-yardage conversions. Even though Hill is a big man, his running style does not seem to be of the straight ahead variety because he often stops his feet shortly after getting the ball, seemingly looking to bounce it to the outside rather than find creases up the middle. The combination of having two featured outside running backs, coupled with arguably a weak interior offensive line, has hamstrung the ground game in the season's first half. While Dalton has played with excellent command so far in 2014, finding some kind of consistent rushing attack seems vital to win down the stretch of the season.
The most impressive facet of the Jaguars—at least in the past two weeks—has been their defensive front four which has both stopped the run and put good pressure on opposing quarterbacks. With the Jacksonville secondary banged up and starting their backups, and with Green making his way back to the field, the Jaguars' pass rush needs to succeed for most of the game in order for them to keep the Cincinnati offense somewhat in check. With an injured secondary, though, and the return of Green to the fold, it might be a great opportunity for Dalton to really shine and become even more comfortable in the pocket. Pass protection will be key.
If Jacksonville overcompensates for the pass, which they should probably start out the game doing, it could give Hill the chance to rack up a career day for the budding rookie back.
There is no such thing as easy wins in the NFL, but the analysis says this should be at least a relaxed win for the men in stripes. The Bengals play very well at home, they are coming off a much better week than the previous month and many of their reserve players appear to be growing comfortably into more prominent roles brought on by a spate of early injuries to the starters. Really good teams, dare I say Super Bowl winning teams, begin to noticeably hit their stride at this point of the season. Then again, the Bengals have had excellent second halves in the past two years and we all know how that ended up. Nonetheless, if Cincinnati wants to put all of that bad history in its rear-view mirror, the Bengals need to show us they can become the giants they aspire to be by crushing inferior opponents like Jacksonville.
Bengals 28, Jaguars 13
Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor
Photo via Cincinnati Bengals Facebook