The Bengals get to play another game at home this week. They will be hosting the Jaguars who seem to be their last realistic shot at a win before their bye week in Week 9. This gave us the perfect excuse to catch up with Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country to get his perspective on this week’s game.
Patrick Judis: The Jaguars probably have the most interesting quarterback situation in the NFL. Can you explain the magic that is Gardner Minshew?
Ryan O’Bleness: Minshew Magic has swept Jacksonville and the whole NFL. This is a sixth-round rookie quarterback who was expecting to play a backup role behind Nick Foles this season, but was forced into action after Foles’ injury and has played really well overall. So well, in fact, that he was named NFL Rookie of the Week four times in five weeks. Minshew was the first player in NFL history to throw for at least 200 yards with a passer rating of at least 95.0 in his first five NFL games. He also set a record for most passing yards in a single game by a Jaguars rookie quarterback, and has thrown for the most yards in a player’s first six career games in franchise history (1,442 yards) . Needless to say, he’s broken many records. The other thing about Minshew is he is just easy to root for. His personality and the crazy stories he has really seems to resonate with people. The epic mustache, resemblance to Uncle Rico and jean shorts (jorts) already make him a cultural icon, of sorts. His spectacular play on the field adds to the narrative.
Unfortunately, Minshew Mania came crashing back down to Earth this past Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. The Saints may have found his kryptonite and gave other teams the blueprint to beat him. What the Saints were able to do was keep Minshew in the pocket (he makes his best plays on the move), while taking away his No. 1 receiver D.J. Chark with bracket coverage. They forced Minshew to play “in a phone booth” and didn’t give him time to extend plays. This led to Minshew’s worst statistical performance of the year, and a seven-point Jacksonville loss.
PJ: The Jaguars offense doesn’t have many people contributing that fans would recognize outside of Jacksonville (other than Leonard Fournette). Who is a guy Bengals fans should keep an eye out for?
RO: I alluded to this a bit above, but second-year wide receiver D.J. Chark has had a breakout year. He actually leads the AFC with 528 receiving yards, which also ranks third in the NFL. He has easily been Minshew’s favorite target, as he leads the team in yards, receptions (30) and receiving touchdowns (five). Chark has routinely made plays in the passing game throughout the season, although the Saints were able to shut him down by bracketing him with Marshon Lattimore at cornerback and a safety helping out on most plays. Chark finished the game with three catches for 43 yards (both season lows). He’s definitely a name to watch on Sunday, as he’ll be looking for a bounce-back game.
PJ: How do you feel about the Jalen Ramsey trade, and will it have positive impact with players not having to worry about it anymore?
RO: Personally, I wanted to see the franchise and Ramsey work it out. I do think the price was right -- two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick. That’s a nice haul. The Rams have lost three games in a row, but figure to be a fringe playoff team. For the Jaguars’ sake, the hope is that the Rams keep losing for a better pick. And I am happy that all of the drama and antics will be over with. But it’s still hard to watch a generational talent at cornerback just get shipped off. At the end of the day, it’s what he wanted, though. He’ll have the chance to reunite with his former teammates Blake Bortles and Dante Fowler Jr. in Los Angeles.
As far as the players not having to worry about the Ramsey situation, I am sure it is somewhat of a relief, at least from the standpoint of not having to deal with the media circus or not having to wonder if Ramsey actually wanted to be in Jacksonville or not. However, I want to make it clear that there were no real signs or reports of a rift in the locker room. Ramsey has always been acknowledged by his peers as a great teammate, and continued to be engaged with them while he was on the sideline, helping out where he could. Now, Tre Herndon, who has been filling in for Ramsey will really have to step up. Herndon is a former undrafted free agent who has had ups-and-downs with his play, but has flashed his potential.
PJ: Who is a guy on defense who you see as an X factor for this game?
RO: I’ll give you multiple. I would really like to see middle linebacker Myles Jack play with more consistency. He’s had his ups-and-downs, as have the Jaguars as a whole defensive unit. Jack was torched multiple times by Christian McCaffrey when Jacksonville played the Carolina Panthers in Week 5, and Joe Mixon, while he’s not McCaffrey, is another talented back that Jack may draw in man coverage and will have to stop in he running game. On the defensive line, I need to see Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue generate more pressure and quarterback sacks. Rookie Josh Allen is another pass rusher to watch. Any of these guys can affect the game and make an impact with their play, but each needs to do it on a more consistent basis.
PJ: What is your prediction for the game?
I think the Jaguars bounce back with a road win. The Bengals are dealing with a lot of injuries and their run defense is bottom-barrel. Cincy is giving up a league-worst 184.5 rushing yards per game. While Fournette was bottled up by the Saints and the offensive line couldn’t generate a push -- he rushed for just 72 yards on 20 carries (3.6 yards per carry) -- a bounce back week is needed and Cincinnati seems like an opponent the Jaguars can take advantage of on the ground. Fournette is averaging 97.3 rushing yards per game and the Jaguars as a team average 127.5 rushing yards per game, good for 11th in the league. I like this matchup for the Jags against an 0-6 Bengals team.
Jags 24, Bengals 10
Thanks again to Ryan O’Bleness for taking the time out to answer our questions. You can find more of his work and Jaguars coverage over at Big Cat Country.