Urban Meyer and his winless Jaguars head to Cincinnati to take on the upstart Bengals to kick off week four of the 2021 regular season! It's the Jaguars' only prime-time game of the season.
The Jaguars have lost eighteen consecutive contests dating back to week two of the 2020 season. The current regime has also gotten off to a slow start, with three straight losses to start the 2021 season. The Big Cats were soul-crushingly close to taking control in week three against the Cardinals. But the now infamous flea-flicker pick-six turned the tide for the Red Sea on Sunday afternoon, and the Jaguars never recovered.
The Jaguars and Bengals have played many, many times since 1995, 23 to be exact. Jacksonville has bested their former AFC Central rivals 13 times. More recently, however, Cincinnati handled their business against the Jaguars in October of 2020. Myles Jack had one of the most impressive interceptions you'll ever see in that contest, but it wasn't enough for the Jaguars to overcome Joe Burrow and the Bengals in Cincy. Joe Mixon had a field day, touching the ball 31 times and racking up 181 total yards and three scores.
The Bengals will likely be without four starters in this one. It's never easy getting ready to play a football game in four days, but that's what these two clubs are faced with. The Bengals have ruled out safety Jessie Bates and wide receiver Tee Higgins. Bates is the heartbeat of the Bengals' defense, while Higgins is one of Joe Burrow's most reliable targets. Doubtful for Cincinnati are starting cornerback Chidobe Awuzie and starting right guard Xavier Su'a-Filo. With four key contributors expected to miss this contest, the Jaguars will need to be ready to take advantage of the Bengals' misfortune.
The Jaguars will be without starting defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris. He didn't play in last week's contest either. While the Jaguars could certainly use him in the fight to slow down Joe Mixon, they've got plenty of depth up front. Beloved kicker Josh Lambo won't play for the Jaguars in this one either. He has yet to make a field goal in 2021 and missed 2/3 extra-point tries last week. In his place, the Jaguars will elevate practice squad kicker Matt Wright, who signed with the team on Monday. Wright has kicked only four field goals in the NFL, but he's made them all and is perfect on PATs as well.
Bengals' Hot Start
Cincy is 2-1 this year. They've taken down the Vikings and Steelers while falling in a week two road contest against the Bears. They're feeling good about themselves right now with a talented young offense featuring Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon, Ja'Marr Chase (who was just named AFC offensive rookie of the month), and Tyler Boyd. They're running the ball well, passing it well, and playing some strong defense. They're in first place in the AFC North and looking to keep it that way against the Jaguars. The Bengals are favored by 7.5.
Areas to Attack
The Bengals boast a much better record than do the Jaguars, but there are some chinks in the armor. With no Chidobe Awuzie and Jessie Bates, Cincy's secondary will be short-handed. Jaguars' offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell needs to exploit the Bengals' weakness on the back end. CB Eli Apple, who has struggled in coverage this season, will get the start for the Bengals. Despite blanking the Steelers in the sack column last week, the Bengals' offensive line is struggling in pass pro. Pittsburgh was without three of their top defensive linemen in week three, enabling the Cincy to excel in pass pro. But when Cincinnati has faced teams at full strength, they've struggled. They surrendered five sacks in each of the first two games. The Jags must find a way to win one-on-ones and create pressure. Joe Cullen and his defensive front should be up to the task.
Trevor Lawrence is showing signs of development week in and week out so far. He's still turning the ball over at a high clip, but he's not making the same mistake twice, an encouraging sign, to be sure. He's going to get it, and when he does, he's going to be tough to stop. Lawrence is already making a handful of "did he really just do that?" plays. As he gains command of the offense and continues to build chemistry with his weapons, the sky will be the limit for the uber-talented young quarterback. Will it click for Trevor and the offense tonight? Stay tuned!
Running the Ball?
The Jaguars' greatest strength on offense is their rushing attack. Defensively, it's stopping the run. Jacksonville is averaging 5.1 yards per carry on offense and allow just 3.4 yards per carry on defense. The Bengals have the same strengths. Joe Mixon is one of the top runners in the game today, and their run defense is surrendering just 3.3 yards per carry. It's going to be a battle in the trenches tonight on both sides of the ball. Whichever team figures out how to run the ball and stop the run more consistently will have a leg up.
The Jaguars traded 2020 ninth-overall pick cornerback CJ Henderson on Monday. They swapped draft picks with the Panthers and also acquired tight end Dan Arnold. With Henderson gone, rookie Tyson Campbell will now move into a full-time starting role opposite Shaq Griffin on the outside. Tre Herndon, who has yet to play in 2021, will attempt to lock down the slot. Even without Tee Higgins, the Bengals have plenty of firepower. Will the Jaguars' new-look secondary be able to hold up?
I said earlier this week that if the Bengals start Eli Apple, I'm taking the Jaguars. And I'm not backing off that take. I'm impressed with what Cincy has done to this point in the season. But they lost to the Bears in week two and had an easy contest against the sleep-walking Steelers in week three. I'm not convinced that the Bengals' deficiencies — pass pro and a leaky secondary — won't catch up with them sooner rather than later. With four starters missing, and an offense that has been rather vanilla to this point, I don't think the Bengals can fend off these hungry Jaguars.
Jaguars 27, Bengals 20
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