Things are moving in the right direction for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2021. After hanging tough for a victory in Week 1 and handling their longtime rivals pretty easily in Week 3, Zac Taylor’s team is a respectable 2-1. And, most feel like this team should be 3-0, if not for many self-inflicted errors in their second game versus the Chicago Bears.
Still, disbelievers in this Bengals team are prevalent—be it on the local or national levels. Even with Ja’Marr Chase proving everyone wrong about his preseason woes, the defense becoming a suddenly-swarming unit and the offensive line playing to quiet those sounding the preseason red alerts, this club is being written off.
Need more proof? On his Wednesday program, FOX Sports Radio host Colin Cowherd noted how a team like the
Oakland Los Angeles Oakland Las Vegas Raiders being 3-0 is good for the NFL, but the Bengals winning does nothing to advance the league’s brand.
Even with the 2020 No. 1 overall pick and Heisman Trophy winner, Joe Burrow, hosting former NCAA National Champion, Heisman nominee and 2021 No. 1 overall pick, Trevor Lawrence on national T.V., we’ve got national takes like this coming in on the reg:
can we all just pretend bengals-jags isn't happening on thursday? lets ignore the game as a family.— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) September 26, 2021
But, enough from the talking heads outside of this one here at CJ. Even though the Jaguars are winless and the Bengals don’t often move the ratings needle, this clash to kick off the NFL’s Week 4 has a lot to be excited about—both in storylines and on-field talent.
The Lawrence-Burrow rematch from that iconic 2020 college football title game is one of those peripheral headlines, but the Jaguars’ new coach going up against Cincinnati’s star quarterback is another. Back in 2018, Burrow left (THE) Ohio State because Urban Meyer, now returning to football to head up Jacksonville, elected to start Dwayne Haskins for the Buckeyes.
Burrow went on to have one of, if not the best college football season we’ve ever seen from a quarterback a year later at LSU, while Haskins parlayed his opportunity into being a first-round selection by Washington in 2019. Burrow had a major professional speed bump in the form of a knee injury last year, but he is rebounding and looks like a budding superstar in the league.
Haskins is now Ben Roethlisberger’s backup, but Lawrence is under the tutelage of Meyer. It’s been a bit of a mixed bag for Lawrence, who has had multiple interceptions in each of his first three starts. Still, he looks every bit the part of a franchise quarterback, as he, Meyer and the rest of the Jaguars team endure a major rebuilding effort.
One of Lawrence’s best buds, trusted teammates and fellow first-round picks in Travis Etienne seemed like it was a match made in heaven for Jacksonville. It would build natural comfort for a young quarterback to be reunited with one of his deadliest college weapons, a la Tu’a Tagovailoa and Jaylen Waddle, Jalen Hurts and DeVonta Smith and, of course, Burrow and Chase.
Unfortunately, Etienne suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason, forcing the Jaguars to call an audible. As evidenced by their 0-3 start and Lawrence’s seven interceptions in three games, they’re still trying to figure things out in the rookie running back’s absence.
From an X’s and O’s standpoint, both teams are trying to mold an identity on offense. Cincinnati seems to be finding its own, seeking balance between pass and rushing attempts. Joe Mixon is providing more stability than has been seen in recent years, while a combination of his 4.3 yards per carry and the arrival of big-play Chase has Burrow operating at an efficient level, despite a much lower amount of pass attempts from year-to-year (75 through three games this year, as compared to 141 to start 2020).
The Jaguars have had a rockier road, however. Plentiful weapons exist at wide receiver with D.J. Chark, Marvin Jones, Jr. and Laviska Shenault, but inconsistency has plagued the winless team.
Of course, the usual aspects of any football game also reign supreme, in terms of what will play into this Thursday night’s result. Offensive line performance, pressuring the quarterback and forcing turnovers are all part-and-parcel of a win.
The short week and injuries are playing a somewhat-unusually-high role in this one, too. For the former, the “basics” sometimes slip away with so few days between games.
Tackling, a lack of time to alter game plans and an inability to heal up properly are part of what makes Thursday Night Football a mixed bag, in terms of quality of play. Executing the elementary facets of the game is oftentimes the most effective approach to a game such as this.
Whether it was Carson Palmer or Andy Dalton, Marvin Lewis and his team struggled in primetime. It was one of the major catalysts to Lewis’ departure after 16 seasons.
Taylor is 1-2 in primetime as the Bengals’ head coach; 0-1 with Burrow as his quarterback in said contests. In an odd twist of irony, Burrow’s lone start was on the road in Cleveland, while Taylor’s only win under the brightest lights was in a Ryan Finley-led thumping of the Steelers last December.
So, it’s only natural that when we hear “primetime” and “the Cincinnati Bengals”, it elicits shivers. And, while most believe this should be a cruise through Fountain Square for the Bengals, this has the unfortunate makings of a trap game.
The aforementioned injuries are starting to familiarly pile up for the Bengals, as Jessie Bates and Tee Higgins are out, while Chidobe Awuzie and others’ statuses remain cloudy. Aside from the Etienne loss, Jacksonville seems relatively healthy, so it’s a matter of how a perceived superior, albeit banged-up roster, can stack up against a traveling, winless one.
Many elements are making Thursday an extra special evening in the Queen City. Out-of-town reporters, podcasters and other favorite mega-fans are in town to analyze and ultimately, watch the game. But, that’s not all.
The Cincinnati Bengals organization has made the sage decision to start properly honoring their past greats in a number of ways. Aside from recognizing the 1981 AFC Championship squad, the four inaugural members of Cincinnati’s freshly-minted Ring of Honor (Paul Brown, Anthony Munoz, Ken Anderson and Ken Riley, respectively), will be formally unveiled during the TNF festivities.
The emotions and passion surrounding these endeavors by the club will undoubtedly inspire the home crowd to bring a ton of noise to potentially rattle Lawrence & Co. The rest is on the Bengals’ ability to shake off old stigmas, overcome injuries and allowing Burrow to harness the chips that constantly reside on his shoulder en route to willing his team to a win.
I think the Jaguars are on to something promising. While all-time college coaches have had not-so-great results in the pros, the Meyer-Lawrence combo seems very promising. And, while they came close to getting their first win last week and the old cynical Bengals demons creep in on a game like this, Cincinnati seems like a team with a different DNA than prior talented Bengals teams.
Given the secondary issues (injuries for the Bengals, lack of talent for the Jaguars—especially after just trading C.J. Henderson), as well as the talent at wide receiver and quarterback for both teams, this will probably be less comfortable than most Bengals fans would like. However, Burrow has the innate ability to internalize doubts and past chapters of his football life—both positive and negative—to spin them into signature wins.
I think that Burrow and his superior roster get the win on a special night at Paul Brown Stadium.
Jaguars 23, Bengals 34
AC — Congratulations to P.B., Anthony and the Kens.