Dalton vs. Bortles! Ok, it's not quite the national attention grabber of Manning vs. Brady, and it may have a tough time drawing an audience, but make no mistake, this is an extremely important game for the Bengals and is probably the biggest "must win" on their schedule.
Why, you ask? Because this is a game they cannot afford to lose. If the playoff cutoff is going to be 9-10 wins, that is likely right where this Bengals team will end up...and in that calculation, Jacksonville is one of the calculated wins. While the Bengals season would hardly be over at 4-3-1 with four division games remaining, their chances of making the playoffs would certainly take a hit.
So, here is what to look for on Sunday as the Bengals take on the Jaguars...
When the Jaguars Run the Ball:
Jaguars Run Offense: 97.3 YPG (25th); 4.3 YPA (t-13th)
Bengals Run Defense: 30th - 140.7 YPG (29th); 4.8 YPA (t-28th)
Toby Gerhart, the Jaguars big offseason pick up, has been dinged up all year and at 2.6 YPA, he will likely be a non-factor on Sunday. It may sound crazy to give the Jaguars 25th ranked running attack the advantage here, but since Denard Robinson has taken over as the Jaguars starting running back, the Jaguars have averaged 180.5 YPG on the ground and Robinson has amassed 235 yards on 40 carries (5.88 YPA).
The Bengals - and their 30th ranked run defense, will yet again be without starting middle linebacker Rey Maualuga and their leader (and best player) Vontaze Burfict. The expected return of Brandon Thompson and a healthier looking Geno Atkins should help, but until the Bengals prove they can stop the run, I won't trust them.
Cincy has given up 100+ yards on the ground in six straight games and are allowing a whopping 4.8 yards per carry. The Jaguars game plan will be simple. Run. Run. And run again. If the Bengals can't stop the run, they may not get a chance to force Bortles into mistakes.
When the Jaguars Throw the Ball:
Jaguars Pass Offense: 209.0 YPG (t-27th); 6.6 YPA (t-27th); 13 INTs (32nd); 33 Sacks (32nd); 71.7 Rating (30th)
Bengals Pass Defense: 258.4 YPG (23rd); 6.3 YPA (t-2nd); 9 INTs (t-5th); 11 Sacks (25th); 73.0 Rating (1st)
At 6'5" 232 pounds, Blake Bortles certainly looks the part of an NFL franchise quarterback. However, he is still a rookie and is on pace for a historically bad season. In six games, Bortles has just six touchdowns to three fumbles and 12 interceptions - four of the pick six variety. While most believe Bortles will be just fine (including the folks at Big Cat Country), over the course of a season, Bortles' numbers translate to 32 interceptions, eight fumbles and 16 touchdowns.
Like any rookie quarterback, Bortles poor numbers are a combination of many things: rookie mistakes, a bad offensive line and inexperienced receivers. The Jaguars top two receivers (Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns) are both rookies, and in fact, three their top four receivers are rookies (Marqise Lee).
The only non-rookie - Cecil Shorts III - was a late fourth round pick out of Mount Union College. If the Bengals can stop the run and force Bortles to put the ball in the air, he will make mistakes and this secondary will capitalize on them. However, the key is "IF" the Bengals can stop the run. If they can't stop the run, the Jaguars can be very selective on when they throw the ball and Bortles will be less prone to making mistakes.
When the Bengals Run the Ball:
Bengals Run Offense: 111.4 YPG (16th); 4.0 YPA (t-20)
Jaguars Run Defense: 115.0 (20th); 4.0 YPA (t-9th)
This is surprisingly a pretty even matchup and with Giovani Bernard out, I think it is a push. I believe Jeremy Hill is a very good running back and can/will be a 1,200+ yard running back in the NFL one day, but right now, the Bengals have not shown they know how to use him effectively. Maybe the absence of Bernard will actually be a blessing in disguise and force the Bengals to build some plays around Hill and discover exactly what he can add to the offense.
On the other side of the ball, the Jaguars defensive line is their strength, but more so from a pass rush standpoint, not from a run stopping standpoint. The Bengals YPA (4.0) is exactly what the Jaguars give up per carry (4.0) and the YPG stats are separated by just 3.6 yards. You couldn't ask for a more even matchup.
When the Bengals Throw the Ball:
Bengals Pass Offense: 241.0 YPG (14th); 7.7 YPA (t-10th); 4 INTs (t-7th); 8 Sacks (t-2nd); 91.9 Rating (18th)
Jaguars Pass Defense: 267.4 YPG (t-27th); 7.7 YPA (t-22nd); 3 INTs (t-26th); 25 Sacks (t-2nd); 97.4 Rating (23rd)
The Bengals should get a huge boost with the return of Green and guys like Sanu and Little should become better simply as a result of Green's presence on the field (100 percent or not). Despite the Jaguars ranking second with 25 sacks, their pass defense is ranked in the bottom 10 in every other category and with the Bengals line ranking second in sacks allowed (eight), they should be able to neutralize the only strength of the Jaguars pass defense - that is assuming Andre Smith decides he is done dressing as a turnstile for Halloween.
Think about this for a moment, Dalton has been without his top three receiving options for essentially the entire season, yet if you take away the Colts game - a game I see as an anomaly - Dalton would rank second in completion percentage (69.3%), second in YPA (8.46), 11th in rating (97.4), 12th in QBR (64.12) and 16th in yards. Given what he is missing, that is damn impressive. Throw in the fact that the Jaguars will likely be starting an undrafted rookie (Sherrod Martin) at nickel cornerback, and it could be a big day for Dalton and the Bengals passing attack on Sunday. Welcome back A.J. Green!
Kickoff Returns: Jaguars - 25.3 Avg (t-8th); Bengals - 28.6 Avg (3rd)
Punt Returns: Jaguars - 6.8 Avg (25th); Bengals - 13.6 Avg (2nd)
Josh Scobee: 9/13 (69.2 percent - 30th) - Long 49 yds
Mike Nugent: 13/19 (68.4 percent - 31st) - Long 49 yds (1 blocked)
Jaguars - Bryan Anger: NET 42.7 (10th); Inside 20 - 12 (26.1 percent); TB - 5 (10.9%)
Bengals - Kevin Huber: NET 44.6 (third); Inside 20 - 12 (38.7 percent); TB - 1 (3.2%)
Jaguars - 28.0 Avg (28th);
Bengals - 25.3 Avg (23rd)
Punt Coverage: Jaguars - 7.3 Avg (10th); Bengals - 4.8 Avg (third)
Recently, it has been rare for the Bengals to have the advantage in special teams, but this makes two weeks in a row. The Bengals have the advantage is every category with the exception of the kicker - and even there, it is mere percentage points, as Jose Scobee is shanking the ball as good as anyone right now.
Gus Bradley has coached 24 NFL games and has a .208 career winning percentage (5-19)
Marvin Lewis has coached 183 NFL games (plus five playoff games) and has a .519 career winning percentage (94-87-2) - even Marvin's 0-5 playoffs record doesn't hurt him this week.
Key to the Game:
Stopping the run. If the Bengals force Blake Bortles to beat them with his arm, the Bengals win. However, that is easier said than done. Since Denard Robinson took over the starting running back role, the Jaguars have averaged 180.5 YPG on the ground and stopping the run has been a challenge for the Bengals in 2014. Thompson may play - which would help - but the Bengals will again be without Burfict and Maualuga, both big keys to the Bengals' run defense.
The Bengals are the better and more talented team by a large margin and even with their injuries, a loss at home would be a colossal upset. If the Bengals can stop/slow the Jaguars running attack and avoid turning over the ball, this should be a comfortable win. Should being the key word.
Bengals 31, Jaguars 20