Bengals, Jags both aiming to start streak
The 3-4 Cincinnati Bengals head on the road this week to face the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Jaguars are a surprising 4-3 and coming off their bye week. Jacksonville will be trying to win back-to-back games for the first time this season. The Jaguars will also attempt to win their first game at home since Week 2.
The Bengals are coming off a one-point win over the Indianapolis Colts in Week 8. That is the same Colts team the Jaguars shut out in their Week 7 win, 27-0. This matchup in Jacksonville could be a jump-start toward the playoffs for the winner.
The Bengals offense, led by quarterback Andy Dalton, have their work cut out for it against one of the best defenses in the NFL. The Jaguars unit got stronger with the trade for former Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. The Jaguars lead the NFL in pass defense (161.7) and scoring defense (15.7). But Jacksonville is dead last in rushing defense, giving up an average of 138.6 yards per contest. The Jaguars also give up a league-high 5.16 yards per rush.
Head coach Doug Marrone, who coached Dareus in Buffalo, hopes his former player can be a run stuffer.
"It's an opportunity for us to try and get better," Marrone said in explaining why the Jaguars wanted Dareus. "We've struggled at times against the run and I think he's going to be able to help our defense that way. I was very happy with the things that I saw (in watching tape of him). Right now, we're just trying to get him acclimated (to our defensive system)."
The Jaguars' defense should be better against the run with Dareus in the middle. But the team is facing a Bengals rushing attack that has struggled. Cincinnati is 30th in the NFL in rushing yards per game at 78.4. Rookie Joe Mixon leads the team in rushing at 253 yards on 85 attempts. That equates to three yards per carry. The offense has only one rushing touchdown for the season. Much of the blame can be placed on the offensive line.
The line has had issues all season, not only failing to open holes in the ground game, but in pass protection as well. Against a Colts defense that is one of the worst in the NFL, the offensive line of Cincinnati gave up three sacks, eight hurries and allowed Dalton to be hit another six times.
"We've got to do better in protecting Andy (Dalton)," wide receiver A.J. Green said. "We can't have him taking shots like that every week."
That will be a tall task matched against a Jacksonville defense that leads the NFL in sacks with 33. The Carolina Panthers (27), Los Angeles Chargers (26) and Pittsburgh Steelers (26), who are ranked second and third respectively, all have played eight games compared to Jacksonville's seven. Defensive linemen Calais Campbell has 10 sacks and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue has 6.5 sacks.
Coming off their bye week, the Jaguars are not completely healthy. Rookie left tackle Cam Robinson is questionable to play due to an ankle injury. The same can be said about rookie running back Leonard Fournette, who is also nursing an ankle injury. Both are key players to a Jaguars offense that relies on the ground attack. Jacksonville leads the NFL in rushing yards per game at 169 yards.
That NFL best rushing attack will need to carry the offense this week. Quarterback Blake Bortles, who has played hot and cold all season, is facing a Bengals defense that is fourth in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game (183.1). Led by defensive tackle Geno Atkins, the Bengals defense will apply pressure to Bortles and work to force the fourth-year thrower into making mistakes. Bortles has had at least one turnover in five of the seven Jaguars games.
Starting center Brandon Linder is finally healthy and is looking to return to action against the Bengals. Linder has missed the past three games with an unspecified illness and is slowly rounding back into football shape. His return should help stymie Atkins and give Bortles a degree of protection and confidence.
Updated November 1, 2017