The Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3) travel to Ohio to take on the upstart Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) for a Thursday night matchup at Paul Brown Stadium. Kickoff is set for 8:20 p.m. (Eastern Time) and the game can be watched on NFL Network.
We spoke to Patrick Judis of Cincy Jungle — SB Nation’s website for all things Bengals — to get a better picture of what Cincinnati has looked like so far in 2021, and what to expect from the Bengals on Thursday Night Football.
Check out our conversation below.
1. The Bengals have a lot of young talent on offense. How have players like Joe Burrow, Ja’marr Chase and others progressed so far throughout the season?
Patrick: Burrow really did take a minute to look like himself. He came back from a pretty catastrophic injury to his knee, so that is to be expected. You can still tell the play-calling is being used to protect him quite a bit. However, when they open things up and he gets time, Burrow has looked like his old self.
The addition of Chase to Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd has already proven to be a great improvement for this offense. The rookie has four touchdowns so far on the season, and three of those touchdowns come from beyond 30 yards. To put that in perspective, Burrow didn’t have any touchdowns of over 30 yards last season. It adds a whole dimension that this offense was missing previously.
2. Is there one under-the-radar player on Cincinnati’s offense and one player on Cincinnati’s defense who Jaguars fans should watch out for?
Patrick: I’m going to give some love to the good offensive linemen here for the offense. There really isn’t anyone else offensively that isn’t obvious from Burrow to Joe Mixon. Jonah Williams is coming into his own at left tackle, and he seems to be a forgotten player considering how many people thought Cincinnati didn’t have a viable option at left tackle this offseason. He has held up on the outside, and looks like he is the franchise left tackle.
Defensively, linebacker Logan Wilson earns a shout out here. He leads the NFL with three interceptions, but he has also been great in the run game as well. He is quick to fill up any gaps for running backs are looking for. He is the linebacker that Bengals fans have been begging for for what seems like decades.
3. The Cincinnati defense also seems to be playing well in the early season, ranking 14th in the NFL against the pass, eighth against the run and seventh in points allowed per game. The Bengals have also recorded 10 sacks through three games. What has made the defense successful so far?
Patrick: The ability to actually get to the quarterback has made all of the difference. Last season, the opposing quarterback had all day to throw the ball. It is just impossible to play defense like that. Also D.J. Reader in the middle of the defensive line has made it extremely hard for offensive lines to open any running lanes that were common last season.
4. With the 2-1 start, have the Bengals surprised you so far this season, or did you expect a fast start? What do you think the ceiling of this team is and how do you project the Bengals finish out the season?
Patrick: There seems to be an understanding among Bengals fans that this team goes as Burrow goes. This year felt different as it was coming closer and seeing how the defense played in the preseason was really encouraging.
It also seemed like the Bengals could compete within these first few games on paper as long as they avoided crucial injuries, and it has played out that way. Last week’s win seems like a turning point as the Pittsburgh Steelers have always been a major hurdle for Cincinnati. The fact they weren’t scared in that game was huge.
The team is gelling together like it seemed they would do on paper, though. I know it may be surprising from the outside, but those of us who have followed the team the past few years thought this could easily be one of the outcomes.
5. What is the general feeling from Bengals fans on head coach Zac Taylor and his staff?
Patrick: General feeling is that there is a ton of pressure to win now. It also didn’t help that his first year was wasted trying to keep a shutting window of opportunity on a team that was just a failure on all parts. Then the handling of moving on from the Andy Dalton-era veterans was handled poorly.
The reasons expectations were so high this season is because the offensive tools are there with a healthy Burrow. The concenus seems to be that most of us wished they added more competition at the interior of the offensive line, but Riley Reiff and Jackson Carman gets this line closer to average. The team also spent some serious money on brining in contributors on the defensive side of the ball, which is just something fans really have never seen.
There is a ticking clock when you have a quarterback on the rookie contract, so the quicker the Bengals start winning the better. Up until now, we just really hadn’t seen Taylor actually win that many games.
Bonus: Score prediction?
Patrick: I feel like it is a bit of a hot take to say this is going to be a close game. While Cincinnati’s defense has done a great job this season, they have still let teams get big plays or untimely conversions that lead to long drives. This is also a very desperate team at 0-3 that seemed to play closer to the Cardinals than the score appeared.
I still think this is the Bengals’ game to lose in front of a home crowd that is dying to cheer for a team that actually feels like it has a chance at something for the first time since the 2015 season. Also Burrow is going to Burrow late in this one to put it away in a game that also will feel closer than the final score.
Bengals 30, Jaguars 20