After Sunday's Bengals game in Las Vegas (4:05 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12), a pair of aces may turn up if rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase ends up pulling off a jersey exchange and swapping his Bengals' No. 1 for Raiders veteran wide receiver and fellow big-play artist DeSean Jackson's No. 1.
Jackson reached out to Chase via Twitter following last month's Bengals rookie-record 201-yard show in Baltimore, the first time Chase had ever heard from the 14-year veteran still a deep threat at age 34.
There's a bit of a generation gap. Chase, 21, is a few years behind him, but he knows enough about Jackson that he thought it was 'pretty cool," that he made time to congratulate him on his big day.
"I remember watching him when I was about ten years old and he was playing for the Eagles," Chase said this week. "I've always liked his game. He liked to go deep and that always makes it exciting."
He still is. Chase, Jackson and the 49ers' Deebo Samuel lead the NFL with six catches of 40 yards.
Chase says he's been thinking about a trade of jerseys, which comes, of course, only after the game. And not even then. A few weeks ago Chase was still waiting on his Davonte Adams request.
He figures he won't approach and chat with Jackson before the game and is going to save all pleasantries for after the first Bengals game in Vegas.
It's an intriguing matchup between long ball aces of two generations. But with the 5-10, 175-pound Jackson averaging nearly 30 yards per nine catches this season, you certainly can't say he's past his prime. With Chase third in the league with 19 yards per catch, you can certainly say he's worthy of a guy that has four NFL yards per catch titles in his career.
So it's more than ironic that the two guys ahead of Chase come out of the Raiders system in Bryan Edwards (20.7) and Henry Ruggs II (19.5). Ruggs is no longer with the team after he was charged in a fatal DUI crash. Jackson was signed to replace him and Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo anticipates seeing plenty of the other No. 1.
"To me they'll just keep giving DeSean Jackson those routes," Anarumo said before Thursday's practice. "That's what we're preparing for. When (Ruggs) was playing, he was making some good plays for them. I think DeSean will kind of take those roles. But I don't see it changing much."
How times have changed. Jackson, now with a career average of 17.5 yards per catch and 57 touchdowns, doesn't get the buzz of lore. Bengals cornerback Chidobe Awuzie was asked before Thursday's practice if he embraced traveling with Raiders All-World tight end Darren Waller (he did, of course), who just may be better than Travis Kelce. Edwards can obviously fly and Zay Jones, the nephew of former Bengals quarterback Jeff Blake, can also run.
"Maybe it's after the catch or maybe it's in the air but they find ways to get down there," said Awuzie of an offense that leads the NFL in most passes of 20 yards. "The unfortunate situation for Henry Ruggs and the family involved, RIP to them but, yeah, when he was on the field, he was a very deep threat, take off the defense and now you see they brought in DeSean Jackson. So Zay Jones is very fast, Bryan Edwards is very fast, so they have the guys to do it. I think it's going to be one of those games that we go out there, show people who we are."
But it is the Bengals that lead the NFL in 40-yard passes with ten, tied with the Rams and four ahead of the Raiders. That's thanks to Chase, but there were none in the last two games in what was a bit of a tough stretch for him. He dropped two touchdown passes in each of them, but that's not what he noticed and is trying to work on.
"It was my reaction," Chase said of his visible frustration. "You really don't realize it until you watch the TV copy. But you see how everyone is watching you. The world is watching and I've got to remember that."
Chase is an emotional player, but he's savvy enough at a tender age to know that there's a difference between playing with emotion and showing emotion.
"Yeah, I'm an emotional player," Chase said, "but if you show it, they know what you're doing."
Chase chalks it up to the same thing as his drops. He's still getting back into it mentally and physically after sitting out last year.
"I'm still learning," he said.
STEPPING UP: This is what head coach Zac Taylor is talking about when he talks about the Bengals having a solid locker room:
For the third time this week a starter publicly took the blame for some aspect of the last two losses. On Thursday it was Awuzie standing up for fellow cornerback Eli Apple, the closest guy to Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield's wide-open 60-yard touchdown pass.
But since it was quarters coverage, it wasn't really man-to-man.
"That's not Eli. That's not only Eli. That's all of us," Awuzie said. "There's supposed to be at least two of us back there and I'm one of those people that's supposed to be back there, for sure. When my guy goes over, I was kind of lollygagging on the backside. I'm supposed to be there for Eli and be deep. That's one thing that I noticed that I could have done better, for sure, on that play. And again, earlier in the season, we had finished that. We had made that play plenty of times. Stuff like that.
"Basically when my guy gets cut, there's a couple of things you can worry about. You can worry about the other tight end to my side who can leak out and come vertical. That would be my responsibility. And if he doesn't come out, then I'm supposed to be going backwards."
DEFENSIVE CLEANUP: Awuzie and slot cornerback Mike Hilton met the press with a laundry list of must-dos after giving up 75 points in the last two games.
"Starting the season, we're kind of establishing an identity. The past two games, obviously, weren't our best performances," Awuzie said. "A couple of performances, too, even the games that we won weren't our best. Some things that I've seen how we play, some stuff that we have solved already kind of came back to bite us, you know?"
While Hilton talked specifics, such as tackling, Awuzie talked concepts.
"Certain concepts that we played and certain coverages," Awuzie said. "There was a play that we played earlier against Chicago, it was a deep route concept and we nutted it. It was done. And then it kind of bit us the last game. So yeah, some stuff like that where we just have to stay on top of our cues. Me personally, I can do a better job of that. Yeah, it's just something that I noticed."
Hilton says another thing they were doing in the first seven weeks that they didn't do in the last two was getting all 11 people to the ball. There looked to be a drop-off in gang tackling.
"We did," Hilton said. "A lot of guys are not bursting to the ball like we saw early in the season. We know in this game it's hard for defensive players to make one-on-one tackles. So you have to get as many bodies to the ball to get the ball carrier down. That's something we're pushing this week, on top of the tackling."
After 26 missed tackles in the last two games (per Pro Football Focus), it's pretty clear what is top on the list for the Raiders.
"No. 1, the last two games our tackling has been horrible," Hilton said. "We missed a lot of tackles, giving guys opportunities to run after the catch and make first downs and big plays. So, we feel like we tackle a lot better, we'll be in position to win games. That's something we're going to take pride in this week because knowing we have an explosive offense to go against, it's not going to get any easier so we have to up our tempo, up our mentality and get ready for Sunday."
SLANTS ANDS SCREEN: Bengals wide receiver Auden Tate went full for the first time Thursday since he bruised his thigh two weeks ago …
Center Trey Hopkins (knee) went limited for the second straight day …
As expected, Markus Bailey got off the COVID 19 list Thursday and went full. With fellow backup linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither (foot) out for the year, Bailey is destined to play the most he ever has from scrimmage in his two seasons. Look for Germaine Pratt to also get more looks on passing downs.
"I busted (Bailey's) chops pretty good (Wednesday) when he was on the Zoom, in the unit meeting," Anarumo said. "Markus is a worker, he'll prepare. He's a gym rat-type of guy so I'm not worried about him. Germaine will take some of that stuff, too. So, we've got capable guys. We're going to miss Akeem There's no two ways about it. He had a great niche in the role he had (cover backer, special teams) and what he was doing for us and playing really, really well." …
The Chiefs held Waller to four catches for 24 yards in Sunday night's rout of the Raiders. This is why Anarumo thought they did and what the Bengals would like to do. Get a lead:
"They were able to play more third down defense when you're ahead like that. Now it's what do we have schemed up on third down to take it away," Anarumo said. "First and second downs, I have to get my run fits as well as take care of that. The way the score was, it helped them in that regard. They did a good job across the board. We'll be very aware of where he is going to be on every snap." ….
DeSean Jackson is a familiar figure for Bengaldom and not just because of his yards per catch. It will be recalled that he was still on the board in 2008 when the Bengals selected Coastal Carolina wide receiver Jerome Simpson at No. 46. Jackson went to the Eagles at No. 49. Simpson was bigger at 6-1, 193 pounds and had a huge upside as an athletic rarity. But he played just 63 games. Jackson plays his 169th game on Sunday …