Only one other game on the Sunday slate features a worse combined record than the Cincinnati Bengals and Jacksonville Jaguars’ bout in Cincinnati. That doesn’t mean this matchup is without its share of narratives to play out.
A.J. Green is set to face the Jaguars for the first time since he was ejected for fighting former Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey. The Jaguars’ prominent secondary of 2017 has been completely eradicated now, as has most of the dominant defense that carried the team to an AFC Championship appearance.
Tyler Eifert didn’t play in that 2017 game, but he did play in last year’s matchup. Now as the starting tight end for the Jaguars, this is the first time Eifert will play against his former team. Could a revenge game be in order now that Eifert has played in a career-high 19 straight games?
The Bengals’ defense isn’t in great shape to prevent that from happening, but we’ll be watching some newer faces try. Here are the players we’ll be focusing on.
The rookie put together a pretty good performance last week for his second-career start. Two red zone touchdowns is no small feat for a Zac Taylor-run offense. But Tee Higgins could’ve had so much more against the Eagles. He and Joe Burrow nearly connected twice for big gains down the field, one of which would’ve put the Bengals near field goal range in overtime.
Higgins finished second in targets last Sunday, but he was the recipient of Burrow’s only four throws beyond 20 yards down the field. Obviously none of them were completed, unfortunately, but don’t expect Burrow to stop trying. There should be more deep shots in Higgins’ immediate future against Jacksonville’s 32nd ranked pass defense per Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric.
If he doesn’t start on Sunday at right guard (but he probably will), expect to see Alex Redmond man the position sometime. It would be bad business to trust either Fred Johnson or Billy Price making it through an entire game without getting benched.
Redmond hasn’t played a game since Week 8 of last season, but the struggles of the aforementioned Johnson and Price are why Redmond is set to suit up for this game. Thankfully, the Jaguars haven’t been getting quality play from their defensive tackles this season, so Redmond has a good chance of actually looking competent, at least for the Bengals’ standards at that position.
The reason why Markus Bailey hasn’t been active on game days has nothing to do with his health. He just isn’t as experienced as special teams veteran Jordan Evans is and there’s little value in the defense dressing six linebackers when only two are on the field at the same time. But when Logan Wilson can’t be out there due to a concussion, it won’t be Evans taking his snaps; it’ll be Bailey.
Expect to see Bailey see some opportunities on obvious passing downs alongside Akeem Davis-Gaither. Both linebackers originally fell in the NFL Draft because of injury concerns, and it’s Wilson who becomes the first of the three to miss a game due to injury after a completely healthy college career. With a clean bill of health, Bailey could’ve easily been drafted ahead of Wilson; Sunday is his first chance to prove that.
Mackensie Alexander may’ve not been declared out for the game, but being listed as doubtful is almost equally telling that he’s not going to play. If/when he doesn’t dress, Sims is next man up, and for good reason. He’s only played 11 coverage snaps this season and already has an interception.
In order to get Sims on the field, the Bengals might move Darius Phillips into the slot as Alexander’s true replacement and have Sims take Phillips’ spot at left cornerback. That’s the position Sims was at when he cleanly picked off Carson Wentz last week. He might not get a chance to do that against Gardner Minshew on Sunday, but the Bengals will be counting on him to hold his own.
Alexander and Wilson’s injuries may also have a ripple effect with the entire defense. It might be the Bengals’ best interest to roll out some “big nickel” packages with three cornerbacks, three safeties, and only one linebacker. That would give Williams an opportunity to make his first impact within the unit this season.
Williams missed the first two weeks with a calf injury and when he was active for the first time last week, he didn’t play a single snap on defense. A sudden lack of depth in the back seven should give Williams the opportunity to implement himself back into the defense.