The Bengals travel to Jacksonville for a primetime matchup this week when they take on the Jaguars on Monday Night Football. The game airs at 8:15 p.m. on ESPN. In Cincinnati, the game will also be broadcast on WCPO-TV (ABC Channel 9). Here are five things to watch:
1. Browning faces road test
After making his first career start in Week 12, Jake Browning now gets set to face the Jaguars' defense in a primetime road environment. It is not a setting he is unfamiliar with, as his first substantial action this season came at Baltimore on Thursday Night Football, when he completed eight of 14 passes with a touchdown throw and no interceptions in relief of Joe Burrow.
Browning shared earlier this week that while there were aspects of his starting debut against Pittsburgh he can improve, there also were positives that he hopes to build upon. He completed 73.1 percent of his passes for 277 yards and a touchdown, but did throw a pick in the red zone that saw the Steelers flip the game with a go-ahead scoring drive.
On Monday, Browning will meet a Jacksonville defense that allows 255.0 passing yards per game, the fifth most in the NFL. And though the Jaguars have 11 interceptions on the season, they have come up empty in that category in each of their last three games.
2. Hendrickson eyes career year
Trey Hendrickson has somewhat quietly put together another Pro Bowl-level season with a team-leading 10.5 sacks that rank as the ninth most in the NFL entering Week 13. He has a sack in each of the past two games, and heads to Jacksonville 3.5 shy of his career-high 14 in 2021.
Hendrickson may find an advantageous matchup this week, after Jaguars starting left tackle Cam Robinson was placed on the Reserve/Injured list in Monday (knee). Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence has a 40-20 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his career with Robinson on the field, but a 14-13 mark in the 12 games he has played without his blindside protector.
3. Youth movement in secondary
A bright spot for Cincinnati's defense this season has been the emergence of several young players on the back end. Safety Dax Hill has delivered a strong sophomore campaign, lining up for a team-high 99.5 percent of defensive snaps and totaling 74 tackles with nine passes defensed and a pair of interceptions. The 2021 first-round draft pick has carved out his spot as a foundational piece of the Bengals' roster in his first year as a starter.
Alongside Hill are two rookies in the secondary, including his former college teammate at the University of Michigan, DJ Turner II. The speedy corner has earned an increased workload over the past two months, starting each of the last seven games. Turner has five passes defensed, two of which came in Week 12 against Pittsburgh. In that game, he broke up a would-be touchdown catch in the back of the end zone, then the following play took his first career fumble recovery and returned it 28 yards.
Jordan Battle has provided the most recent emergence, making his first career start last week versus the Steelers. He has 19 tackles over the last two games, after totaling 11 in his first 10 appearances. Battle was PFF's highest-graded rookie defensive back in the NFL in Week 12 with an overall score of 76.8.
4. Lawrence vs. Bengals in primetime
Trevor Lawrence's first appearance in a primetime window came back in Week 4 of the 2021 season, when as a rookie he guided the Jaguars to a 14-0 halftime lead on Thursday Night Football at Cincinnati. The Bengals clawed back for a 24-21 win, but since that night Lawrence is 3-0 in prime time with no picks thrown and an average of 215 passing yards.
While Lawrence may not be tracking for his same numbers as last season, he is once again a driving force for a Jacksonville team that is looking for its second straight AFC South Division title. Through 11 games, he has completed 67.3 percent of his passes — which would be a career high — and has an 11-4 TD-INT ratio in games the Jaguars have won. Cincinnati also will need to be conscious of Lawrence's ability to make plays with his legs, as has 240 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the year.
5. Chase on 1K watch
Ja'Marr Chase enters Monday night needing 86 yards to reach the 1000-yard milestone for the third consecutive season. He would join A.J. Green (2011-13) as the only players in Bengals history with 1000 or more receiving yards in their first three years. Chase through 11 games has 914 receiving yards (ninth most in NFL), with four games of 100-plus.
Chase can also join the company of some notable names if he nets five catches in addition to the 1000-yard mark. That total would put him at 80 receptions on the season, and he would become just the fourth player in league history to log at least 80 catches and 1000 yards in each of his first three years. The others to accomplish that feat were Odell Beckham Jr., Michael Thomas and Chase's former LSU teammate, Justin Jefferson.
A Bengals win would likely coincide with another big performance from Chase, and hitting those marks provides an added bonus for the two-time Pro Bowler.