BENGALS RB JOE MIXON VS. JAGS MLB MYLES JACK
The Jags' formidable front seven is just a season removed from scaring the Salem out of New England in the AFC title game and holding the Bengals to 29 yards rushing in Jacksonville. Five of them are back for Sunday's game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) with a sixth an emerging rookie of the year candidate in edge rusher Josh Allen. They're anchored by Jack, now a patient, disciplined fourth-year 4-3 middle man as sketched out by Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham in the clip below, although the numbers (ranked 25th in defending the rush) don't match the pedigree.
The Bengals offensive line came out of last Sunday's game in Baltimore a little less beleaguered and a bit more emboldened despite its stitched-together personnel. They lined up with No. 4 left tackle John Jerry, Billy Price made his second NFL start at left guard and Alex Redmond, hauled out of back-up left tackle to play the final 52 snaps at right guard, a spot he hadn't played in a month when he went on a league suspension. They held up in pass protection for the most part, until the two-minute drill, down 23-10, when they allowed their only two sacks of the game. That came week after they kept Andy Dalton clean against Arizona, creating a little more separation from that eight-sack game in Pittsburgh on Sept. 30.
"That Pittsburgh game might have been a little bit of a wake-up call," says center Trey Hopkins. "We're trying to perfect our craft and help the team win, whatever that is."
Until franchise wide receiver A.J. Green gets back, and it is apparently not going to be Sunday, the Bengals have to somehow consistently get the ball in the hands of their next best player.
But Hopkins, who doesn't like to talk culture ("That seems more cliché than I like to get … it's about having pride about yourself and you should just bring that to the team you're on."), says it doesn't really matter how they move it.
"Pass or run, we just want to win," Hopkins says.
But it would be nice if Mixon, who is averaging 12 carries a game, makes hay Sunday for two major reasons. Giving the banged-up defense a break (their starting corners won't play and their two top edge rushers may not play) and keeping the Jaguars' monstrous pass rush off Dalton (the Jags are fourth in NFL sacks and are led by the dangerous tandem of Allen teamed with Renaissance Man Calais Campbell and his ability to line up everywhere up front). More reason for more Mixon? The Jags like to twist, stunt and play any game they can up front.
"They've got a lot of things going on," Price says. "You sit in that meeting room and they bring a lot of stuff."
Sometimes Campbell and Allen line up on the same side. Sometimes they flop. They've already combined for seven sacks. But it is Campbell and two big vet defensive tackles, 318-pound seventh-year man Arby Jones and 331-pound nine-year man Marcell Dareus that allow Jack to run.
Hopkins likes how his new guards responded in Baltimore and thinks it gives the line a little momentum. They'll need to get to Jack on that next level if Mixon is to bust out. Redmond, who played 15 games last year at a hectic pace, didn't have the penalties on Sunday that marred his first season as a starter and Hopkins can feel the vibe next door.
"(Redmond) and Billy had very good days," Hopkins says of Baltimore. "It was cool getting Alex back even though he didn't take as many reps there throughout the week. We had him at tackle throughout practice but he jumped right back in there like he never left. He's a high energy guy at all times. Not just in the games. That's Alex 100 percent. He knew what to do. I feel like there was only once or twice when he said 'What do I have here?' That's a big testament for someone who had only been here for a week, especially at a position he hadn't been in since he was back."
For Price, it's simply a matter of rhythm. Last week was his first full week working with Jerry. ("The rotation can be a good thing and it can be a bad thing," Hopkins says.) Now Price is in his second week playing for rookie Michael Jordan and Jerry is in his second week playing for the injured Andre Smith. But Redmond gets his first start this season at right guard, the third straight week there's been a different line combo.
"The more time you get, the better you get," Price says. "Just learning how he plays and the lingo we're going to use. How to make sure we're on the same page. Just getting rhythm. It really is about rhythm and making sure that you set your pads early in the game. Get yourself in good habits and each day working on technique. They've got some stuff, so we've got to win our one-on-one matchups and be physical with them."
The numbers are curious. The Bengals are ranked last in rushing. But the Jags are allowing 5.2 yards per carry, have allowed four teams 100-yard days on the ground and let the Cam-less Panthers roll for 285. But Price says they have no thought of record or ranking.
"Just trying to get to 1-0 this week, 2-0 next week," Price says. "That's what it's all about."