NOVEMBER 2, 2008
The last time the Bengals beat the Jaguars, heck actually froze over.
In the coldest Paul Brown Stadium game ever back on Dec. 17, 2000, Peter Warrick negotiated an 82-yard Bobby Orr punt return in nine-degree weather spiced by a 20-degree wind chill. The oddsmakers doubt heck is going to need antifreeze again and the Bengals.com roundtable doesn't quibble with the Jags installed as a touchdown favorite.
"It's hard on the Bengals because they just haven't been able to score," says The Guru, a former top football exec in the NFL. "At some point you have to be able to make plays, move the ball, and keep your defense off the field."
The Eye, an NFL scout that evaluates talent in both conferences, thinks the Bengals can throw against a banged-up secondary and a front seven that is diminished by the loss of defensive tackle Marcus Stroud. Note that the Browns' winning drive last week started with four Jamal Lewis runs for 26 yards against an eight-man front.
But the Bengals are averaging just 78 yards per game on the ground, so there is little doubt that Jags head coach Jack Del Rio's conservative defensive philosophy is going to be geared to prevent the big-play Bengals wide receivers from breaking out until the Bengals prove they can raise their average of 3.4 yards per rush by at least a yard.
This, then, is a battle of 7-Up with the Front Sevens to decide it.
Slowly but surely Cincinnati's running game is coming around and it has to against Jacksonville because Del Rio will do what he did last time and try to suffocate the receivers in Cover 2 while stuffing the run game with seven in the box. The Jags aren't the dominators like they were when they beat up the Bengals in '05, but like The Guru says, "They're still formidable and physical," and they are barely out of the top half of the NFL at 17th against the run even though they crumbled late against Cleveland.
It does give center Eric Ghiaciuc a chance to show what he does best, which is moving to the second level against a 4-3 defense. The problem is that Peterson is one of the league's top backers.
"Depending on what technique the line is playing, (Ghiaciuc) is going to come off the double-teams, peel off and get to the Mike backer," says The Eye of a player who has been criticized for his lack of strength against 3-4s. "Ghiaciuc is very good at that because he's an athletic guy that can get there in a hurry."
Whitworth has to climb another Man Mountain in the wake of Albert Haynesworth, Jason Tuck and Shaun Rogers. He came out of those with a growing reputation, but at 6-7, 335 Henderson offers another huge obstacle.
"He isn't what he was and they miss Stroud," The Eye says. "But he's still a load in there and he's a hard guy to move. But I think Houston has a better defensive line."
And the Bengals did have their best day of the year running the ball against those Texans and even though Benson averaged just 3.8 yards per carry, that is a yard more than the backs have averaged this season.
Henderson isn't going to be much of a threat against the pass. Nobody is for that matter. He has one sack on a team that has nine and no one has more than 1.5. The Jags basically gave up six players to get pass rushers in the first two rounds but first-rounder Derrick Harvey has no sacks and second-rounder Quentin Groves has 1.5 even though they are each playing end on passing downs.
"They've only got one move. They just try to use their speed and get upfield," The Eye says.
Which is why some believe the lack of pressure allows the Bengals to throw it on them.
With Jacksonville's best corner, Rashean Mathis, probably going to shadow Chad Ocho Cinco all over the field, Houshmandzadeh ought to be able to make some hay with Florence in the slot. That should be an interesting matchup in itself. Mathis was limited this week with a foot injury and didn't practice Friday and The Ocho was limited Friday with a foot injury of his own he must have received in practice Thursday.
Florence has said he's got a sore hamstring and while he has yet to surface on the injury report something must be going on because he's only playing in nickel and the Jags just paid him $13 million guaranteed. The Jags allowed passes of 43, 51 and 53 yards to Browns quarterback Derek Anderson last week and the Bengals need one of those badly.
Their last 20-yard-plus completion came when Carson Palmer hit Houshmandzadeh in Dallas in Palmer's last game on Oct. 5.
And Ocho Cinco, who has 113 career catches of 20-plus, has only one this season and that was Opening Day. It's only the second time in his career he's gone seven straight games without a 20-plus catch and ties his longest drought, which came in his rookie year.
But don't look for Del Rio to be giving the big one to the Bengals.
"This is a Jack Del Rio defense, not a Gregg Williams defense," says The Eye of the Jags defensive coordinator. "They line up all over the place and come from everywhere in a Gregg Williams defense. But Del Rio is going to make you nickel and dime him down the field."
Houshmandzadeh has been his usual beast-like self on third down. Twenty of his 54 catches have come on third down, tying him with Dallas tight end Jason Witten for the league lead.
Houshmandzadeh could have a field day because the Jags defense is having the same kind of problems that Cincinnati is. The Bengals are dead last in the league getting off the field on third down because they are next to last in generating sacks per pass. Meanwhile, Jacksonville is 30th in getting off the field, which could set up Houshmandzadeh, and the Bengals may finally have time to get it down the field because the Jags have the fourth fewest sacks per pass in the league.
What are the odds that both quarterbacks lead their teams in rushing? The Bengals' Ryan Fitzpatrick has done it twice in four starts and Garrard did it last week against Cleveland with 59 yards.
The 245-pound Garrard is called a one-man band in Jacksonville because his receiving corps isn't viewed so highly and his yard-per-pass attempt is below seven.
"This guy looks to run. It's not like (Ben) Roethlisberger, who is trying to get out of the pocket to throw it downfield," The Guru says. "He can turn into a running back very quickly and he still throws an excellent pass."
It's going to be on the Bengals ends to make sure Garrard doesn't break contain. Odom has had some success against him. He sacked Garrard once in each game the Titans played against the Jags last year.
"He's almost as good a runner as Maurice Jones-Drew," Odom says of the Jags speed back. "They don't need to max protect because they've got a quarterback that can move out of the pocket. He'll pump the ball on you and then he'll pull it down on you and go. And he's got good speed."
This is a running team. Its longest pass is a 35-yarder to Jones-Drew. If a big play is coming, it is coming off play-action.
Taylor is 32 and even though he's got just 3.3 yards per he is held in high regard in the Bengals locker room as still the league's most underrated back 10 years after everybody forgot him in a blizzard of Mark Brunell passes.
(The 110 yards he got here in the '00 game should have been doubled to 220.)
"He can still go 80," says defensive tackle John Thornton, although Jones-Drew is the guy who can really break defenses now on the outside.
Jones-Drew already has taken one 46 yards for a touchdown this year and is averaging 4.3 yards per carry. But the problem is both Jones-Drew and Taylor had miserable games against Cleveland (Jones had 29 yards on 12 carries and Taylor had 24 on eight carries) and the Jags are most likely going to pound the Bengals right away in an effort to recapture their first-class running game.
Neither back is on pace for a 1,000-yard season, but the Bengals have been vulnerable to at least one in a two-back rotation. Go back to the Ravens' Le'Ron McClain in the opener, then right to Chris Johnson of the Titans the next week, then the next week to Derek Ward of the Giants and then after a breather both Felix Jones and Marion Barber blew by them in Dallas for 5.6 per carry.
"Fred can still run, but he's going mainly up the middle," The Eye says. "Jones-Drew looks to bounce everything outside and he can."
Meester is hurting with a torn pectoral muscle and the Jags are playing with their backup guards. Which is why Shaun Rogers beat them up last week with one of his career games on eight unassisted tackles, a sack, three pressures and a blocked field goal.
The Bengals don't have a Rogers, but they have to start making hay against those offensive linemen nobody knows. What amounted to the Steelers backup crew dominated them and it wasn't much better last week against a Texans line that had been described as "journeymen."
The Bengals tackles need to push the pocket on the 6-1 Garrard from inside the pocket.
"The Titans were very effective doing that to him," The Eye says. "He's short. He has trouble seeing down the field if the pocket closes in on him. He does his best against the defensive ends that rush up the field because then he can step up in the pocket."