When the Jacksonville Jaguars take the field against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 13, it will be the first time in TWELVE YEARS that the team plays a game on Monday Night Football. Here are three key matchups to look out for:
Travis Etienne vs Logan Wilson
With the passing game beginning to really flourish in Jacksonville, it might have escaped attention that the run game has seen a dropoff in productivity the last few weeks. Lead ball carrier Travis Etienne, still a dangerous weapon both through the air and on the ground, has been held to 56 rushing yards or less in his last three games - and five out of the last six. Whilst the Jaguars have gone 5-1 over that period, having a balanced offense by the time playoff football rolls around will no doubt be a focus of the coaching staff. Etienne was labelled ‘day to day’ by Doug Pederson on Thursday after suffering a chest injury against Houston - but considering he returned to that game, confidence is high he will be healthy for the visit of Cincinnati.
Etienne doesn’t have a particularly easy assignment on Monday night, going up against one of the hardest hitting linebackers in the NFL. Logan Wilson has become one of the leaders on a physical Bengals defense, averaging more than eight tackles a game If he continues on this trajectory, Wilson will easily smash his season best figure of 123 tackles (2022), and likely make the first Pro Bowl of his career. His sideline to sideline speed makes him an ideal candidate to match up with the elusive Etienne, and he will also be a factor should ‘ETN’ be used in the passing game - Wilson has ten interceptions in less than four years as a pro.
Joe Burrow’s injury may mean that the Jags’ offense is on the field more than usual, and they’ll want to control the clock accordingly. How Etienne fares against Wilson will determine how successful they are in this regard.
Josh Allen vs Jake Browning
Jaguars LB Josh Allen belongs in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. His career season in a contract year is helping Jags be a top contender for AFC number 1 seed.— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) November 29, 2023
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The Bengals are fairly confident that backup quarterback Jake Browning has what it takes to step in for Joe Burrow, whose 2023 season abruptly ended with a torn ligament in his wrist sustained against the Baltimore Ravens. That was somewhat vindicated by the reasonable outing Browning had against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, throwing for 227 yards with both a touchdown and an interception to his name. He was, however, under duress all afternoon, and took four sacks from a potent Steelers pass rushing unit. Browning will want to get the ball out of his hands quickly in order to avoid that kind of punishment this week.
Josh Allen will be licking his chops. After adding two and a half more sacks against the Houston Texans last weekend, the Jaguars edge rusher now sits with 12 takedowns on the season - the best return of his career, and there’s still six regular season games to go. Some with a cynical disposition may attribute Allen’s production spurt to him being in a contract year; whilst it’s true his form may have given the Jaguars’ front office a headache when it comes to contract negotiations this offseason, it’s exactly the type of playmaker the team envisioned when they selected him in the first round of the draft back in 2019. Allen will be ready to take advantage of any indecisiveness in the Steelers’ backfield on Monday.
Christian Kirk vs Mike Hilton
Excellent trigger on the now screen by Mike Hilton who misses at first, but cleans it up the second time. Hendrickson with great screen recognition. Goes free and throttles down before redirecting on the throw. This helps Mike by taking away that lane behind 65#RuleTheJungle pic.twitter.com/cOD7agdNzD— NASDEY (@DevilDigest) November 30, 2023
Despite an underwhelming season in Cincinnati, the Bengals remain a dangerous team. Particularly on defense, where they have playmakers across the board. One of those is nickel corner Mike Hilton, who in his seventh year as a pro is comfortably having the best season of his career. Hilton has been a key cog in a defense fighting hard to keep their offense in games - and he absolutely balled out on Sunday, shutting down the middle of the field. Hilton recorded eight tackles as he limited slot receivers Allen Robinson and Calvin Austin to just two catches and 16 yards between them. Whilst the Bengals still ended up losing, it certainly was no fault of the seven year pro.
I would be surprised if Hilton enjoyed so much dominance on Monday night. The Jaguars paid a lot of money for Christian Kirk’s services back in the 2022 offseason, and it earned derision from some quarters. But Duval County has embraced the wide receiver, who has proven to be a productive, dangerous weapon for Trevor Lawrence wherever he’s been asked to line up. Last season Kirk was predominantly utilized on the outside - but with the addition of Calvin Ridley and the return from injury of Zay Jones he has thrived in the slot in 2023. Kirk has racked up 761 receiving yards so far, and if he stays healthy it’s hard to see him not break 1,000 yards again this year - particularly with Lawrence starting to fire on all cylinders. If he can get the better of Hilton, the Jags look primed to pick up another win as they march towards another AFC South title and push for a bye week in the playoffs.
Which matchups will you be watching on Monday night?