Bring on the trap game!
At the top of September, I highlighted the Week 4 matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Jacksonville Jaguars as a potential pitfall for Who Dey Nation, and half-an-hour from game time, I can’t say my opinion has swayed much.
Something about this game just seems off; this really should be another notch in the win column for the Bengals, but I still don’t buy into my own theoretical certainty. I expect it to be anything but straightforward; in fact, I expect a weird game with a lot of miscues, boneheaded plays, and missed calls (Remember, just because the league and the referees stuck a deal this week doesn’t mean they can just plug them in on a few days’ notice. The replacements live to botch another week!)
If you need more proof, just look at the time slot: a 4:05 game on the east coast? I mean, it doesn’t exactly give any team a strategic advantage come kickoff, but come on – just look at it – it’s weird. I like my NFL to resemble the sun; rising in the east and setting in the west.
Okay, I lost a few people, but not the Bengals. They can certainly vouch for the pains of traveling to Jacksonville. Last year’s 30-20 Bengals win against the Jaguars marked Cincinnati’s only road victory in Jacksonville in 16 seasons. A second consecutive road victory will be even tougher to come by with RB Maurice Jones-Drew set to square his pads against a Bengals defense that has given up an average of 121.7 rushing yards a game. It’s tough to see Jones-Drew – averaging 104.7 yards a game – not cracking the century mark here, riding the coattails of the Bengals’ defensive inconsistency.
The brief history of this young season dictates that the Jags will halt the Bengals’ 2-game win streak and send them into October with a less-than-inspiring 2-2 record. So far, Cincinnati’s only 2 wins have come against rushers averaging less than 5 yards a carry while their only loss has come against Baltimore Ravens RB Ray Rice – averaging exactly that. MJD is averaging 5.3 yard-per-carry. The Cincinnati defensive line is likely too inconsistent to contain Jones-Drew for long, so the Bengals will look to win the aerial battle with a battered secondary.
At an hour before kickoff, the Bengals currently have 4 defensive backs on this week’s injury report. First-round selection, Dre Kirkpatrick will have to wait another week to see his first playing time in the regular season while CBs Jason Allen and Nate Clements are doubtful. To make matters worse, No. 1 CB Leon Hall and FS Reggie Nelson were surprising, unwelcome additions to this week’s injury rundown, but both of them are labeled as questionable and could be ready for kickoff.
Cincinnati will need all the help they can get with a struggling secondary that has already surrendered 261.7 passing yards over the first 3 games with a squad that was fairly full-strength. Now, pass defense responsibilities could fall upon CB Terrance Newman, Adam Jones, and fourth-stringer, Chris Lewis-Harris. Fortunately, Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert is still wrestling with growing pains as a hopeful franchise QB, but he has certainly improved in places.
Chiefly, Gabbert has thrown for 4 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in 2012, but he only averages 139.7 passing yards a game. It’s a bit of an anomaly considering the Jaguars have a decent receiving core led by the fifth overall selection in the 2012 Draft, Justin Blackmon and WR Laurent Robinson who hauled in 11 TDs in a breakout season last year with the Dallas Cowboys.
So far, the Jags have been quiet through the air, but if there was ever a team to explode against, it would be the Bengals and their beleaguered defensive backfield. This week, Cincinnati’s defensive line will have to overcompensate by putting Gabbert on the ground early and often. This season, the Jaguars are 0-2 when Gabbert gets sacked 2 or more times, which is great news for a Bengals D-line that exploded last week for 6 sacks (3 of which coming from DE Michael Johnson).
There’s no understating the importance of this game despite the mediocre competition. Over the next 3 weeks, the Bengals play the Jaguars, Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns. Combined, the starting quarterbacks for these teams have an average QB rating of 68.1. During Weeks 7-9, matters get more complicated when Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Peyton Manning roll into Paul Brown Stadium like some hellish gauntlet. Combined, those three have an average QB rating of 97.3.
As such, this current 3-game stretch could very well determine the Bengals season. If Cincinnati can take care of business in the next three – very winnable – games, they will go into their Week 7 home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers sitting pretty in the driver’s seat of their postseason destiny. If the Bengals struggle against the Jags and let a reasonable win slip away, it could set a terrible, potentially crippling precedent for the rest of Cincinnati’s season.
Here’s hoping for a blowout.
DISCLAIMER: Blowout not likely
FINAL: Cincinnati 30 Jacksonville 28
Top Performer: QB Andy Dalton: 26-43, 317 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs