Ah, the "trap game". High-quality teams in any sport face this issue every year and every once in a while there is a bitter surprise at the end of it all. The Cincinnati Bengals are coming off of a potentially season-saving win against the Baltimore Ravens and have another big divisional game right around the corner with the Browns. Who is that team that Cincinnati plays this Sunday?
Oh yeah--the 1-7 Jacksonville Jaguars. Now being led by rookie signal-caller, Blake Bortles, the Jags are a scrappy bunch whose lone win came against a solid-looking Cleveland Browns team. Overall talent and youth are issues that plague Jacksonville, but they are showing growth that could point to future success if the organization surrounds Bortles with the right talent.
The Bengals need as many wins that they can possibly get before they head into a daunting stretch in December. With their extensive home winning streak intact, it would be nice to turn those predicted "paper wins" to ones that end up in the actual win column. Case in point would be the game this Sunday, where the Bengals will be almost unanimously picked to come out on top. Unfortunately, Cincinnati is dealing with a lot of key injuries which will make the task harder than originally expected.
Rock The Jungle For The Rook:
Any time a rookie quarterback has to enter a hostile environment, it makes his job miserable for the day. Unfortunately, the Bengals faithful who have attended Paul Brown Stadium this year haven't been the loudest and some even left last week before the team had the game-winning drive. Offensive line miscues can occur with high volume and a youngster can get rattled
Though this isn't necessarily something that the Bengals can directly create, some positive plays early will ignite the crowd and make it hard on Bortles, who already has 12 interceptions on the year. The other, more specific aspect of this will come in making Bortles battle third -and-long situations.
A Perfect Day To Run The Football:
Unfortunately for the Bengals, it appears that they will be without the services of Giovani Bernard on Sunday. However, rookie Jeremy Hill gets his chance to shine, along with help from Cedric Peerman and Rex Burkhead. As I mentioned in this week's mailbag, this seems to be just the kind of game that plays to the reasoning behind drafting a big back in the second round.
The Jaguars are ranked No.26 in overall defense and No.20 against the run this year. The game plan should be to use Hill early and often, grab a lead and then wear Jacksonville's defense out with even more Hill. If Jacksonville is unable to stop the run, play-action passing will be effective and the Jags would subsequently be demoralized as a team. Cincinnati should be able to impose their will in this regard, at least on paper, and doing so should make the win come with relative ease.
The A.J. Green Effect Versus Jacksonville:
In last week's five keys, I noted that the team would need contributions from Green in the offense to win. Well, he didn't even play and the Bengals still grabbed a win, which should instill some confidence back into the fan base. However, this week, Green goes up against a team that he has torched in the past and if it occurs against this Sunday, we'll probably be seeing Cincinnati on top.
In two games versus the Jags, Green has eleven catches for 207 yards and two touchdowns. Whoa. If the Bengals are able to run the ball effectively, the big play opportunities for Green should open up as Jacksonville's defense might try to sneak up extra defenders in the box. More big plays from Green would reinforce the idea into the Jaguars' minds that they aren't a good team and will not be winning the game.
Contain The Explosiveness From Dennard Robinson:
The former quarterback out of the University of Michigan has found a new home and role with the Jaguars. When he initially entered the draft, teams looked at Robinson as a return man and/or wide receiver. Now, he's playing running back and has been making a huge impact for Jacksonville in that regard. Since taking more carries from Toby Gerhart, Robinson has back-to-back 100-yard rushing games and a 5.9 yards-per-carry average.
He's fast, shifty and can also catch. With injuries and youth at other offensive positions, Robinson has been a Godsend and is a major reason for the team's lone win this year. The Bengals are ranked at an embarrassing No.29 in rushing defense this season, so this match-up doesn't bode well for Cincinnati. There are murmurs on the possibility of Brandon Thompson's return this week, but we're not sure how big of an effect he'll have, if he is back.
Young Bengals Linebackers Need To Grow Up Fast:
With Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict both out on Sunday, it forces the team to use Vincent Rey and Marquis Flowers in their respective places. Emmanuel Lamur will still be out there, but the most seasoned and instinctual players in the unit will not be able to line the defense up. Rey has been a tackling machine when filling in for Maualuga, but many of them have come after a positive play has already been made for the opposition.
With Robinson on his tear the past two weeks, it will be critical that these guys fill the correct gaps and recognize what is coming their way. When they were at Indianapolis and down so many linebackers, they looked lost and it showed in the box score. Hopefully they have made the right adjustments from both game plan and film review standpoints and this perceived weakness becomes an area of strength on Sunday.