If Florida is America’s mullet, Jacksonville is definitely its cowlick.
That’s where the Cincinnati Bengals are headed for their Week 13 Monday Night Football matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars. What was once billed as the main event of Week 13 has now become a matchup between the first-place team in the AFC South versus the last-place team in the AFC North, and instead of a battle between two No. 1 overall picks from back-to-back years, it’ll be a No. 1 overall pick versus an undrafted free agent making his second-ever start at quarterback.
Now then, let’s get on to the good stuff! Here are a few matchups to keep an eye out for on Monday night.
Trey Hendrickson vs. Walker Little
Notice how Hendrickson seems to show up in all of these? Well, that’s because the man is a menace, especially to backup left tackles like Little. Starting left tackle Cam Robinson was placed on IR with a knee injury, and stepping into his place is Little, who, like Hendrickson, looks like a summer camp counselor.
Hendrickson has 12 sacks so far on the season and has brought down the opposing quarterback in the backfield in three consecutive games. He is on pace for a 17-sack season, which would be a career-high.
Due to Robinson’s health this season, Little has played multiple games at left tackle and has only given up one sack so far.
I’m anxious to see who’s still smiling when the game is over.
Bengals linebackers and safeties vs. Christian Kirk and Evan Engram
If the Bengals' defense showed one thing last week against the Steelers, it was they struggled to cover Pat Freiermuth, who ate the Bengals up for nine catches for 120 yards. Two of Lawrence’s favorite targets are both primarily going to line up in the slot, wide receiver Christian Kirk and tight end Evan Engram, and they’ll work the middle of the field a lot.
Kirk leads all Jaguars receivers with 761 receiving yards, and Engram is third on the team with 524 yards. Both have the ability to stretch the field. Both Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt scored below a 45.0, per PFF, in coverage against the Steelers. The duo is typically one of the best when it comes to pass coverage in the league, so they’ll be looking for a bounce-back game.
Bengals defensive line vs. Travis Etienne Jr.
The Jaguars are much more balanced on offense than the Bengals are and like to mix in a good amount of run plays to open up the play-action pass and complement the passing game in general. Running back Travis Etienne Jr. isn’t averaging over five yards per carry the way he did last year, but he’s still leading the Jaguars in carries and has the seventh most rushing yards in the NFL so far in 2023.
The Bengals have given up the fifth most yards on the ground so far this season, and they’re allowing five yards per carry, which is second worst in the NFL, behind only the Broncos. The Bengals allowed 154 yards on the ground against the Steelers and will absolutely be looking to clean that up.
Paging DJ Reader.
Jake Browning vs. Mike Caldwell
Browning struggled in his first start. There were a handful of times he had receivers open down the field that he just didn’t see for some reason. It is what it is. He’s not Joe Burrow, but he’s still surrounded by one of the most talented offenses in the league. He’s got his first start under his belt, and hopefully, it’s all uphill from there.
Caldwell is in his first year as the Jaguars defensive coordinator, and so far, they’ve given up the fourth-least rush yards, but they’ve been carved up through the air for even more yards than the Bengals have allowed.
If the Bengals are going to move the ball on offense, it will likely have to be through the air. Hopefully Browning, along with Brian Callahan and Zac Taylor, are ready to sling the rock Monday night.
The Bengals running game vs. fate, or itself... I dunno
The Bengals' running game doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked all year, and it didn’t work much better in 2021. It isn’t all Joe Mixon’s fault, but he’s getting a ton of the blame for it.
I was hoping the Bengals would come out against the Steelers with an old-school, I-formation running game, complete with a full back. Obviously, that didn’t happen. Instead, they only ran the ball EIGHT times for 16 whole yards.
That’s not how they’re going to win football games.
The Bengals offense has to figure out a way to run the ball, if for no other reason than to give the defense a second to breathe on the sidelines. They’re already fighting an uphill battle with Burrow being out, and not making a serious effort to run the ball will be like trying to fight that uphill battle while wearing roller skates.
I’m not exactly sure what has to happen to get things rolling. Maybe it won’t get rolling and the team will have to bring in new coaches to help get things fixed. It would be nice, though, to see Mixon be able to carry the ball for more than two yards at a time.
And if he can’t do it, put in Chase Brown.
Ronnie Bass Trevor Lawrence vs. Lou Anarumo
Lawrence has been good so far, and while he hasn’t had the same level of success as Burrow in the postseason, it’s not crazy to think the Jags can’t do some damage in the playoffs this year. He has thrown for 2,756 yards, 12 touchdowns, and seven interceptions.
His yards place him in the top 10 in the NFL this year, but the Jags are far from having one of the most explosive scoring offenses in the league. In fact, they’ve only scored 26 touchdowns, which puts them in the middle-ish of the league when it comes to scoring.
Anarumo’s defense hasn’t been what it was over the last couple of seasons. While they’ve upgraded the athleticism in the secondary, the inexperience in the second level of the defense has hurt their ability to get off the field.
Hopefully, Anarumo has a couple of cards up his sleeve that might confuse Lawrence a little.
That said, what matchups will you be keeping an eye on?