The Jaguars beat the Bengals 23-7 on Sunday at EverBank Field, improving their record to 5-3 on the season and staying tied for the division lead with the Titans. Here's five takeaways from the Jaguars impressive victory.
1. Blake Bortles and the passing offense appear to be coming around
A week after Blake Bortles threw the ball for 330 yards, 1 TD, and 0 INTs in a divisional win over the Colts he responded with a 259 yard, 1 TD, and 0 INT performance against the Bengals. The Bengals pass defense, and defense as a whole, was playing at a high level entering week nine. But a steady dose of Blake Bortles passing the ball was too much for the Bengals to handle. Let's not blow things out of proportion. Bortles was good, not great - there were still several passes he missed in this one. But he and his receivers appear to be gaining more trust between each other each passing week. Marqise Lee was targeted double the amount of times of any other Jaguar and delivered. He caught 8 of his 12 targets for 75 yards and a TD. Allen Hurns and Keelan Cole also played very well in their roles. Cole made a remarkable one handed catch that reminded us why he was so impressive prior to the start of the regular season. He was targeted five times in total and came down with three catches for 47 yards - not a bad day at the office for the undrafted WR. Allen Hurns did his part when his number was called. He finished with three catches on four targets. The passing offense is far from perfect, but with Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns, and Keelan Cole all playing well against a very good Bengals pass defense there should be a real confidence in this group moving forward.
2. Losing one player can't and won't stop the Jaguars momentum this season
The Jaguars played much of their Sunday win over the Bengals without their two best players. Leonard Fournette missed the entire game after violating team rules, while Jalen Ramsey was ejected in the second quarter after AJ Green punched him. Even without their two best players for much of the game the Jaguars were able to take it to the Bengals both physically and mentally. It appears that no one player missing will slow the course of the Jaguars season. On defense the team is stacked at every position while the offense can find it's way week to week without their best and most explosive offensive weapon - thanks, in large part to the Jaguars impressive offensive line.
3. Speaking of the offensive line . . . .
The Jaguars offensive line has been banged up a bit as of late, but they haven't flinched. Starting center Brandon Linder missed three games for the Jaguars entering week nine, starting left tackle Cam Robinson has a bum ankle, and starting right guard AJ Cann missed this contest with a triceps injury - no matter. The Jaguars offensive line appears to be up to the task no matter the odds. AJ Cann missed this game, which forced Brandon Linder to start at right guard (a position he is very familiar with) as Tyler Shatley continued to start at center. Cam Robinson played in this one despite battling an ankle injury. The defensive line is one of the strengths of the Bengals team, but the Jaguars offensive line would have none of it. The Jags didn't allow a single sack and the offensive line did a serviceable job blocking for the Jaguars backup runners. This group appears determined to get the job done, no matter who is lined up in front of them.
4. Marcell Dareus and the Jaguars defense is likely the best in football
The Jaguars defense has had some truly impressive performances this year, but this one might have been the best. No, they didn't get 10 sacks or score 2 defensive TDs or force five turnovers. They just shut the Bengals down, allowing only 37 offensive plays to be run by the Bengals. 37 offensive plays is the fewest run in Bengals team history! The Jaguars defense became a lot more complete with the addition of Marcell Dareus in the bye week and his presence was felt immediately in this one. You'll be hard pressed to find a better defense than the one the Jaguars have put together down here in Duval.
5. Special teams are beginning to look special!
The Jaguars special teams haven't been perfect or even good, for that matter, in 2017. In their week six loss to the Rams special teams actually lost the Jaguars the game. But the special teams appears to be on the right track. The Jaguars new kicker, Josh Lambo, was perfect in Indy and he turned in another solid performance in his second game with the team. Lambo was 3/3 on field goals including a career long 56 yarder, and drilled home both his PAT attempts. The Jaguars coaching staff couldn't ask for much more from a guy that was a free agent three weeks ago. Even more exciting is the Jaguars return game showing a pulse. Corey Grant returned his lone kick off return for 29 yards - not bad at all. But the star of the show was the Jaguars punt returner Jaydon Mickens, who returned three punts for 83 yards including a 63 yard punt return for a TD that he capped off with a triumphant flip into the end zone. The Jaguars special teams needs to show more consistency moving forward, but they were perfect on this day - hopefully this is the type of performance they can build off of.
Bonus Takeaway: The Jaguars won their first game at EverBank Field in 2017 and won two games in a row for the first time this year! Overcoming those two mental hurdles was huge for a team that's now poised to make a real run at the playoffs.
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