The Jacksonville Jaguars have lost eighteen straight contests dating back to week two of the 2020 season. Of course, Urban Meyer, Trevor Lawrence and company aren't responsible for most of those losses, but they've struggled out of the gates in 2021. So, can the Jaguars actually pull off a victory on Thursday Night Football against the 2-1 Bengals in Cincinnati? Of course they can. Here's how!
Attack Eli Apple, Mike Hilton
This one is pretty simple. If Elit Apple gets the start on the outside due to injuries, which appears likely at this point, he should be target number one. Get him lined up against Marvin Jones, DJ Chark, Laviska Shenault, and prosper. Apple has been horrid in coverage this year and has drawn three pass interference penalties down the field. Attack, attack, attack. Mike Hilton has also allowed a ridiculous 85% completion rate in the slot. From a passing game standpoint, isolating these guys on your best receiving targets is an easy place to start.
Sack Joe Burrow
The Steelers' defense, sans TJ Watt, Stephon Tuitt, and Alex Highsmith, was a shell of its usual self against the Bengals in week three. Without three of their top pass rushers, Pittsburgh didn't register a single sack against Joe Burrow and the Bengals. But a look back at weeks one and two reveal a Bengals' offensive line that is highly susceptible to giving up pressures and sacks. Even after blanking the Steelers last week, the Bengals have still given up the third-most sacks in football this season. Josh Allen, Dawuane Smoot, Jihad Ward, and the rest of the Jaguars' rushers need to win one on ones and get after Joe Burrow in this one.
Bring Your Hard Hat
Offensively, the Bengals boast one of the best all-around backs in the NFL. Joe Mixon has speed, power, elusiveness, and vision. The Jaguars' defense has been stout against the run in 2021, surrendering just 3.4 yards per carry on the year. But Mixon will be their most arduous task yet, and with Samaje Perine and Chris Evans backing him up, the Jaguars won't get any breaks in this one.
On the other side of the ball, we all know James Robinson can get the job done. He's averaging 5.2 yards per carry this season. But the Bengals defense has been just as stout against the run as the Jaguars so far. They've got a solid rotation of defensive linemen that all play the run well and a tough group of linebackers and safeties to boot.
The NFL is a passing league, but whichever team buckles up their chin straps and plays with more physicality in this one will have an advantage. It'll be strength versus strength on both sides of the ball.
Have Multiple Plans for Ja'Marr Chase
Rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase has been eating early in 2021. He's racked up 220 yards and four touchdowns in three games. Much of his damage has been done against single coverage to this point. The Jaguars need to mix it up on the back end against Chase and the rest of the Bengals' talented receivers. Shaq Griffin followed DeAndre Hopkins last week and was mostly successful in that role. I'm not sure it'll be the same story this week if the Jaguars plan to match Chase with Griffin. I'd have multiple plans in place for stopping this superstar in the making.
The Bengals are dealing with a number of critical injuries. One of their starting outside cornerbacks, Trae Waynes, has yet to suit up this year with a hamstring injury, but he's currently limited and could play in week four. That's the good news for the Bengals. The bad? S Jessie Bates (neck), WR Tee Higgins (shoulder), CB Chidobe Awuzie (groin), OT Riley Reiff (ankle), and G Xavier Su'a-Filo (knee) would all have been DNPs if the Bengals practiced on Monday. If Bates, Higgings, or Awuzie are unable to suit up, the Bengals will be in big trouble, as all of them are key pieces to what the Bengals do. And they obviously don't want to be without any of their starting offensive linemen either. This could help the Jaguars in a big way in their quest to win a damn game.
Limit Offensive Unforced Errors
Trevor Lawrence is going to get it. He's going to be a star in this league. He's too talented and hard-working not to. But when? To this point, he's made far too many unforced errors. There's been a couple of plays each game where you just have to ask what the hell Trevor was thinking. But there have also been plenty of mistakes made by the rest of the offense. O-Line penalties, missed assignments, dropped balls, you name it, we've seen it. If the Jaguars can limit these mistakes for once, their offense just might be able to move the ball with some consistency. It looks like they're moving in the right direction, but even last week, the offense only managed two scoring drives.
Of course, I'm not telling you these things will happen. But if the Jaguars take care of business on these fronts, they'll emerge victorious for the first time in over a calendar year.
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