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NFL Week 7 Jaguars at Bengals game preview: Of feline and feral

One squad is in the hunt for its division, while the other is attempting to avoid being an NFL-laughingstock. They clash in The Queen City this Sunday.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Jacksonville Jaguars Cincinnati Enquirer-USA TODAY Sports

As the calendar chugs along into autumn, the Cincinnati Bengals are in a sadly familiar state of affairs. Whether it’s on-field issues, or disgruntled players off of it, the team has an eerily similar look to that of the 1990s.

This Sunday, they host the up-and-down Jaguars, who are 2-4 on the season. Like Cincinnati, they’ve suffered critical personnel losses, be it by their choice or not, but have steadied the boat in rough waters better than the Bengals.

Jacksonville is a team that “wins ugly”, as they say. The two teams they have beaten have combined for a 4-9 record (Titans and Broncos) and neither win was overly-dominant.

However, what did stem from those two wins is “Minshew Mania”. The mustachioed rookie has brought some of his magic from his days in the northwest down to the humid southeast.

After being selected on Day Three of the 2019 draft, Gardner Minshew II was regarded as a project who would be holding a clipboard tablet for 2019. After all, the Jags paid a pretty penny to bring Nick Foles to Jacksonville this offseason.

But, much like the rest of Foles’ eight-year career, another valley has followed a career peak. A broken clavicle suffered in Week 1 against the Chiefs has sidelined Foles, preventing his ability to show some of his own patented magic and paving the way for Minshew.

The rookie’s ability to improvise has paid off for the Jaguars, as he has thrown for nine touchdowns against just two interceptions. His brand of fun-‘n’-gun, coupled with his Mike Leach-influenced approach to life has ingratiated the signal-caller to the fan base.

It hasn’t been all Minshew, though. Leonard Fournette has seemingly regained a lot of the form seen from his rookie year, when Jacksonville rode him to the 2017 AFC title game. He currently has 773 total yards from scrimmage and a 5.1 yards-per-carry average on the ground.

Unfortunately for those outside of the respective fan bases of these two teams, this contest has recently lost a lot of its national headline luster. A.J. Green is doubtful to suit up from an two-month ankle injury that was originally deemed a 4-6-week ailment, while Jaguars star defensive back, Jalen Ramsey, was just dealt to the Rams.

Their now-infamous brawl between the two from 2017 dominated the news wire, as the always-mellow Green blew a fuse with Ramsey’s mouthy ways. So, one of the most interesting storylines in a Week 7 game featuring two teams with a combined two wins is now non-existent.

Speaking of “non-existent” that’s an apropos descriptor for many facets of the Bengals’ offense. Zac Taylor was supposed to reinvigorate that side of the ball after taking over for the defensive-minded Marvin Lewis, but Cincinnati has sputtered to put up a fight.

Injuries haven’t helped, but the team is dead-last in rushing offense, have one of the worst patchwork offensive lines in the league and sport a 33 percent touchdown success rate in the red zone. After an 0-6 start, fans are calling for Andy Dalton’s head, while the burners underneath Taylor’s seat have been cranked up a skosh.

Taylor is probably feeling the flames a bit more than with the previous five losses this week, though. As if starting a winless regular-season campaign as a first-time NFL head coach wasn’t disastrous enough, the team made headline news for its back-and-forth with veteran tackle, Cordy Glenn.

The “he-said-she-said” bickering between the two parties is yet another black eye on the year from an organization that seems to wear them like a badge of honor. Nevertheless, Cincinnati’s offensive line won’t be receiving the needed help from Glenn this week, as he’s been suspended.

Side note: Has anyone been checking in on Lewis and the Arizona Sun Devils football team he joined this spring? He and Herm Edwards have that program looking pretty decent.

This contest probably won’t come down to Taylor and the offense as much this week, though. Another inexperienced guy on the Bengals’ staff in defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has had his share of ups and downs this year as well.

His side of the ball has experienced injury issues, but the Bengals’ lack of willingness to go outside of their comfort zone in free agency and the draft has cost them once again in 2019. Preston Brown and Nick Vigil are simply not getting it done at linebacker, while the once-vaunted pass-rush has been inconsistent at best.

Much like their rushing offense, Cincinnati is dead-last against the run, as they were torched once again by the read-option offense of the Ravens last week. The Bengals are also tied for 29th in the league in sacking the quarterback, garnering just seven on the year. That’s seven from a line employing Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap (for most of the year), Carl Lawson (for some of it) and Sam Hubbard.

What is it the Bengals are doing well in 2019? Um...kickoff returns, I suppose?

It’s not going to be a pretty one this Sunday, folks. These squads will need to overcome quite a bit to emerge victorious and, as the old adage goes, it’s going to come down to which team makes the least amount of mistakes.

Simply put, the latter is not a forte of the 2019 Cincinnati Bengals. Even with four of their six losses being one-possession contests, they can’t seem to get out of their own way and find creative ways to lose every week.

Sadly, that’s probably going to be the case once again this week, as the 2020 offseason can’t get here soon enough.

Jaguars 20, Bengals 16

AC — Who’s cleaning the litter box?