1. How do you account for the up-and-down performance for the Cincinnati Bengals offense over the last few weeks? Against the Ravens, your offense was balanced and moved well in the middle of the field, but against the Colts you were, well, not so good. Which offense shows up on Sunday?
The Bengals (offense and defense) has been decimated by injuries in 2014. On the offensive side, they have been missing AJ Green, Marvin Jones (No. 2 wide receiver) and Tyler Eifert (their pass catching tight end) for most of the season (Jones is now on IR). As a result, a terrible game – like the Colts game – is always possible. However, with the exception of the Colts game, the Bengals offense has been pretty consistent and pretty good, which is impressive when taking the injuries into account.
On Sunday, I would expect to see the offense you saw against the Ravens for two reasons: 1) the offense against the Ravens was more reflective of what we have seen in most every game except the Colts game, and 2) A.J. Green sounds like he will play this Sunday. Green, even at less than 100%, demands double coverage and his presence opens up a lot of opportunities for the Bengals other playmakers.
2. The Jaguars running game has been improving in recent weeks, and the Bengals run defense has allowed teams to run for 100+ yards in six of their eight games. Do you think the Bengals run defense can bounce back this week, or will Denard Robinson run well?
Maybe and maybe.
Like the offense, the defense has been decimated with injuries up the middle and it has impacted their ability to stop the run. The Bengals have been missing their best run stopping DT (Brandon Thompson - knee) since early in week 2, Geno Atkins (DT) has not been 100% from his 2013 ACL tear and against the Colts, they were missing all 3 starting linebackers (Burfict, Maualuga, Lamur). When all parties are healthy, this is still a good run defense. Geno Atkins is now exactly one year removed from his ACL surgery and last week was the first time he started to look like his Pro Bowl self.
Brandon Thompson should be back as well, but with the announcement today that Burfict is out, that is big. Burfict calls the defensive plays and is the emotional leader of this defense, but has yet to play an entire game. His absence will leave opportunities for the Jaguars in the run game and with Robinson having put together impressive outings in back-to-back weeks, that could be trouble for the Bengals.
As far as raw talent goes, Robinson will be the most talented back the Bengals will have faced in 2014, so he will present some problems. I would expect the Bengals to crowd the line of scrimmage and try and force Bortles to beat them.
3. Blake Bortles has shown typical rookie mistakes since taking over the starting job. Do you think the Bengals secondary will shut down the young quarterback, or are there weaknesses Bortles can exploit?
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The Bengals secondary has been their strength thus far in 2014 and it features five first-round cornerbacks (Hall, Jones, Newman, Kirkpatrick, Dennard) and one first-round safety (Nelson). Despite some concerns with age (Newman, Jones, Hall), they have all played very well and their experience will be difficult for Bortles. Despite playing only seven games, the Bengals are fifth in the NFL with nine interceptions and they give quarterbacks fits -- especially at home.
The Bengals lead the league in opponent quarterback rating (73.0) and have caused problems for much more experienced quarterbacks than Bortles. However, Marvin Lewis’s record against rookie quarterbacks is not good, so there is that.
4. Knowing the Bengals weaknesses, what would you tell the Jaguars to do on offense and defense to have success?
On offense, I would make the Bengals prove they can stop the run. With Burfict and Maualuga out, the Bengals will be vulnerable in the run game and likely will cheat by moving up a safety. If the Jaguars can get Robinson going, they can not only open up things for Bortles, but can also keep the Bengals offense off the field.
On defense, the key will be getting pressure on Dalton, which is easier said than done. In seven games, the Bengals have only allowed eight sacks (second in the league), and though Dalton has played well against pressure in 2014, he has a history of struggling with pressure -- more so than the average quarterback.
5. What's your prediction for the game? A Bengals blowout? A close game? A surprise Jaguars win?
I do expect the Bengals to win, and though on paper they should blowout the Jaguars, this team likes to make things interesting and tends to allow teams to hang around. I see a comfortable Bengals win, but not a blowout. I will say Bengals 27, Jaguars 13