Good coaching is bleeding through this team. What looked incomplete and overwhelmed in the beginning now looks like a reasonable work in progress. Last week's win over Washington made a statement—as low-profile as it may have been—that this offense is a clever one and that points will be had. Even some of the bewildering doom and gloom surrounding Mike Zimmer's unit dissipated with the return of Carlos Dunlap. Marvin Lewis speaks so proudly of his young squad and his contentment eases some of my concerns about the Bengals. Maybe this is an all-star cast of coaching after all, or maybe this is the easy portion of the schedule and we're getting ahead of ourselves.
Nonetheless, thirty points have been exceeded two weeks in a row and Andy Dalton appears to be in command of his offense. Andrew Hawkins continues to flabbergast with his effort, his quickness and his will to succeed. No other player gets more out of his opportunities than does Baby Hawk. A.J. Green has officially reserved a seat in the elite receivers' row of the NFL, and Jermaine Gresham bounced back from a tough start with a nice performance in D.C. I liked seeing Orson Charles get involved, and Armon Binns has thankfully made it easy to forget about Jerome Simpson.
The one blight on the day offensively, was BenJarvus Green-Ellis suffering his first ever fumble, but it was bound to happen and I'm just glad that it's outta the way. I know some are worried about the running game, but I think its design fits the rest of the scheme. Some teams rely on explosive runs, but the Bengals rely on short passes that act as runs. All the Cincinnati backs have to do is move forward and hold on to the ball. Bernard Scott may be a lost cause if he can't get on the field more often, but Brian Leonard has a chance to shine as a backup runner for Jay Gruden. The offensive line is not the panic we feared it would be after losing two interior starters to injury and the whole rushing game needs to keep grinding and be okay with three-yard runs. Gruden is a sensible play-caller with smart creativity. Cincinnati is lucky to have him.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, however, have Bob Bratkowski calling their plays. Let's take a moment to laugh it out and collect ourselves before continuing. Right then. Now we know what Brat likes and dislikes. What we, as Bengal fans, are less familiar with, though, is the influence of Mike Mularky. When Marvin Lewis was hired, Mularkey was a serious candidate for the same job in Cincinnati. He's called plays in Pittsburgh and Buffalo and probably other stops that aren't worth researching. The inanity of Brat's outlook on offensive football may be reigned back with the presence of Mularkey as head coach. If not, look for the Jags to run Maurice Jones-Drew off-tackle every first down and try long vertical pass plays on third-and-short situations. Brat doesn't, or at list didn't, make adjustments. His quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, is only mildly improved from a disastrous rookie year and still gets really frazzled in the face of the pass rush. The weapons surrounding Gabbert is a modest list of names highlighted by the big rookie receiver Justin Blackmon. The big-time draft pick has not been thrilled with the start of his professional career and has grumbled about it some to the media. Look for the Jags to force him the ball in order to placate his ego and justify some of the millions that they have invested in the young man.
MJD is a lot like Ray Rice, everyone says so. They're small but strong, hard to tackle, have legs like fire-hydrants and are explosive in the open field. The big difference is that Baltimore has many more options outside of Rice, while the Jags become paltry at best without him. So rather than run-blitz, I would stay at home on running downs, giving Mojo four or so yards and then get after Gabbert on third down with intense nickel and dime blitzes. If MJD moves them downfield for field goals but Gabbert can't get comfortable enough to throw touchdowns, the Bengals win. If Zimmer worries too much about the running game and leaves the secondary in tough one-on-one situations they may be needlessly shocked by a big game from Gabbert.
For some reason, I feel that the Jacksonville special teams is vulnerable in the return game. Watching them on tape, one can get a sense of weakness coming from somewhere within its ranks. I boldly predict two big returns in this game, one for a score. Despite the momentary trickery run amok last week that resulted in Kevin Huber relying on a Domata Peko block to spring him for a 12-yard scamper to the end-zone on a fake field-goal attempt, Darrin Simmons and his boys have been pretty solid.
It's difficult to score 30 points three weeks in a row. Jacksonville can be ran on and if the Bengals secure a lead, I would expect more BJGE than what we saw last week. Teams will begin to game-plan the Bengals by trying to take away the quick pass. This will help the rushing totals, time-of-possession, and general game-management if the right adjustments are made. The Jags are minutely improved from last season and should remain a beatable team.
Bengals 27, Jags 12
Mojokong—make mine a double.