BENGALS (3-4) VS. JAGUARS (4-3)
SUNDAY, 1 P.M. ET, EVERBANK FIELD, JACKSONVILLE, FLA. TV: CBS, DIRECTV 707
Announcers: Andrew Catalon, James Lofton
About the Bengals: DE Carlos Dunlap was the hero last week, providing the gamewinning interception return as the Bengals overcame a lackluster effort to defeat the Colts. WR A.J. Green usually has been the offensive hero, and opposing defenses have begun to adjust accordingly. The remade offensive line hasn’t been good enough, and that’s potentially bad news against this Jaguars defense. Rookie RB Joe Mixon has asked publicly for more touches, and he made some big plays last week. The Bengals would like Mixon and rookie WR John Ross, just back from injury, to take a leap and help QB Andy
Dalton’s efforts. The defense is good enough, and after an 0-3 start the Bengals feel good about where they’re headed despite some struggles last week.
About the Jaguars: Rookie RB Leonard Fournette is the headliner for a team that has been better than anyone outside the Jaguars’ locker room thought it would be. QB Blake
Bortles has been shaky, but the offense runs through Fournette and the defense is on pace to break all sorts of franchise records and possibly lead the league in sacks. DE Calais
Campbell, a smart but expensive free agent pickup last March, already has 10 sacks. The Jaguars ranked in the top 10 in scoring entering their bye weekend — and no, that’s not a misprint. The defensive touchdowns have helped, but the Jaguars have been a streaky team that has thrived on big plays, quarterback pressure and Fournette serving as the closer. The offense needs to continue to grow and the defense has to stay healthy.
Matchup to watch: Bengals OT Andre
Smith vs. Campbell. The Bengals brought back Smith thinking he could play guard and lend experience to their young line. But the young tackles have either failed or failed to earn the trust of their coaches and their quarterback, and Smith has had to play left tackle. Campbell’s leadership and savvy have helped the Jaguars tremendously, but he still is quick off the ball, too.
Player to watch: Jaguars LB Telvin Smith. The leading tackler for the NFL’s top scoring defense recently signed a megabucks extension. Some teams saw Smith as too small to withstand the rigors of the NFL game, but he’s using his speed and instincts to create game-changing plays and contribute in a variety of ways. Number crunching: 21. All four of the Jaguars’ wins have come by margins of 21 or more points. While it remains to be seen if this team is an actual contender, the Jaguars have proved capable of overpowering opponents. KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Protect the QB: The Bengals know what to expect from the Jaguars, and they know Dalton can’t succeed when he’s running for his life or already on his back. The offensive line simply has to improve.
2. Fresh legs: Fournette should be back in the lineup after being forced to sit out one game before the bye week. The team believed holding him out would let his ankle heal and the rest would make him fresher.
3. Straight ahead: For as good as the Jaguars’ defense has been, it has been vulnerable against the run. The Bengals need a big day from Mixon to keep the chains moving and set up some long passes.
4. Mix it up: Everyone in the stadium knows that Fournette makes the Jaguars go. Especially with an extra week to prep, look for the Jags to try some play-action passing and probably even some trickery to try to get some early points and early confidence for Bortles.
Jaguars’ Telvin Smith