The Urgent Care Bengals look to get well Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) with a dented defense charged to contain the contrivances of crafty Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II before a sliver of fans at Paul Brown Stadium.
With 6,000 spectators allowed into the building for the first time this season, the majority of the Bengals.com Media Roundtable believes they're going to see the Bengals win an entertaining game that won't be void of points. Thanks to the presence of two young, athletic quarterbacks as Bengals rookie Joe Burrow gets a shot at the scrambling Minshew and his sneaky-good career passer rating of 93.1.
John Clayton, the man they call "The Professor," who broke into the business getting yelled at by Steelers Hall of Fame head coach Chuck Noll nearly 50 years ago and now writes about the NFL for The Washington Post, thinks the Bengals are on the right path with Burrow and sees them winning a tight one. John Oehser, the long-time Jagologist presiding over Jaguars.com, finds the visitors are well-rested and highly motivated after Miami's stunning rout in Jacksonville ten days ago.
After watching the Bengals not win two games that slipped right through their hands, The Table's local contingent believes they've had enough. Bengals radio voice Dan Hoard's legendary homework uncovered that he'll be calling the names of Abry Jones and Tre Herndon on the Jags defense instead of Marcell Dareus and Jalen Ramsey and Richard Skinner, digital sports columnist for Cincinnati's Local 12, believes they'll win because the alternative is so foreboding.
Let's go around The Table. As always, visitors and the alphabet first.
The Jaguars are going to play well. I think they need to play well. They were embarrassed on a Thursday night by the Dolphins. They think they're a better team than they showed on prime time. They didn't have D.J. Chark, the wide receiver very important in this offense, and the center Brandon Linder. Linder is out again but it sounds like Chark is going to play. The issue is if the Jags match up well enough against some of the Bengals' strengths and weaknesses.
The Jaguars haven't rushed the passer very well, so you wonder if they can take advantage of a Bengals offensive line that isn't quite intact yet. The Jaguars secondary is extremely young. They start fourth year, third year, second year, rookie across the board. That would seem to match up well for a Bengals team that has good skill players.
THE EDGE: To me, the Bengals are a dangerous matchup for the Jaguars. The Jags are facing a rookie quarterback and you're thinking from their perspective they want to try and pressure him into making some mistakes he hasn't made yet. At some point you wonder if the rookie quarterback makes a mistake or two along the way and if the Jags can take advantage they ought to win the game. It's a tight call, but I do think the Jags are going to play better and well. JAGUARS.
I see it as a pretty high scoring game. Both teams have two of the three same issues. In the case of the Bengals, defense and offensive pass blocking are issues. You saw how Jacksonville played against Miami. They got rolled over after a few years ago having as many as eight Pro Bowl defensive players. Their offensive line isn't bad. They've made a lot of investments there.
Joe Burrow and Gardner Minshew II are both good and there are enough weapons to make it work. I did a story for The Washington Post where I went back to 2016 and re-rated the drafted quarterbacks to 2019 with 2020 being too early. But there's no question in my mind Joe Burrow is really good when he can have a 37-completion game and have two games where he stayed with teams and almost won. I took Minshew and made him the second-best quarterback from that 2019 class. Say what you want, on a bad football team he can put up numbers, he's a good leader and even though he's a sixth-round pick he keeps the team competitive.
I like the direction the Bengals are going. But you can see the vulnerabilities. Burrow has been hit more than 30 times. The defense hasn't been helped by Geno Atkins not being there. But what you like is if you know you have the quarterback and you're developing the quarterback, you have hope. Look at the Jets. They wasted Sam Darnold's four years and they're so bad they may be drafting Trevor Lawrence next year. Look at other young quarterbacks struggling. The Daniel Joneses. But as long as he holds up, Burrow should be good. What he's doing without an off-season program is remarkable.
THE EDGE: I questioned how adamant they were about starting Burrow right away. I don't question that now. I think this is a fun, close, high-scoring game that goes to the home team. BENGALS, 30-27.
While the Jags have been dropping people, the Bengals have been adding people. It's crazy to think two years and three games ago the Jags were ten minutes from the Super Bowl. They had a ten-point fourth-quarter lead in New England to go to the Super Bowl. And now people accuse them of Tanking for Trevor. I don't know if that's the motivation, but I do know when the Bengals take the field Sunday Joe Burrow won't see Jalen Ramsey, Calais Campbell, Dante Fowler, Yannick Ngakoue, A.J. Bouye, Marcell Dareus. Or Malik Jackson, who unfortunately he saw all too often last week.
They were all on the field in 2017 for the Jags and they had the No. 1 defense that year and the No. 1 rushing offense. Those guys are gone and the Bengals have added a lot of great players in the last year between free agency and the draft. I think one team has gotten much stronger, even though it has not produced a win so far this year, and the other team has gotten a lot weaker.
I will say the Jags have vastly exceeded my expectations the way they've played, even though they laid a Pterodactyl-sized egg on Thursday Night Football in their last game. I am worried about rookie running back James Robinson, statistically having a better year to Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the guy everybody is saying is the greatest rookie in the class. Robinson is averaging 6.4 yards per touch, which is amazing.
THE EDGE: I just think the Bengals are due. They've been close. They probably should have two wins and I think they'll do enough to get their first this week. BENGALS, 27-20
Zac Taylor better hope his team wins because if not, what's lying in wait before the bye week could be an ugly snowball in back-to-back years. He's done a great job holding it together so far. There's a lot of pressure on this game and you're not going to have defensive tackles Geno Atkins and Mike Daniels and probably be without slot cornerback Mackensie Alexander. You can't discount those losses. Early in the week it looked like you were going to get all three of those guys. You're main defensive tackle back, you're main rotational tackle back and it should be a winnable game. I don't think anything is a given for this club right now and they need one really, really badly.
It starts with figuring out what you are offensively. Are you a team that needs to drop back 40, 45 times? I think their offensive identity should roll through running back Joe Mixon. (Mixon was a late add to Saturday morning's injury report with a chest injury and is suddenly questionable.) He needs to touch it as many times as he has to touch it. When the media brought up Joe's low pass reception totals, Zac talked about not calling specific plays for specific guys and letting Joe Burrow read it out and make the throw.
I have to be honest with you. I'm watching the Saints set up plays for Alvin Kamara. I think I'm doing the same thing with Joe Mixon. He is my offensive identity as a rookie quarterback tries to keep maturing and the kid's played great but you can't put it all on him with no preseason and expect him to throw it as much as he has and win games. You signed Joe Mixon for a reason. It was the right thing to do in my opinion. Use him. Stop not using him. Until he tells you he's tired. Take him out for two plays and put him back in and use him some more.
THE EDGE: This team is better than last year and has shown that in the first three games. It's really close and I think that's proven with the eight-point differential. But you have to eventually win a game to get the winning feeling. I do think guys have talked a good game. I do think they're still grinding and preparing to win games and they really do believe they are close and truth be told maybe that one win does show them this is all it takes to win and we can do this. I think they get it. I cringe to think of the opposite. BENGALS, 27-20.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Bengals let an injured Tyrod Taylor steal the opener. They allowed Baker Mayfield to simply hand off to abscond with a Thursday night game. And last Sunday they watched Carson Wentz slither away with a win in the final minute of regulation last Sunday in Philly.
And now they are faced with Minshew, a dangerous athlete out of the pocket who went 19 of 20 in the opener after a season he became the fifth rookie quarterback in history to throw at least 20 touchdown while rushing for at least 300 yards.
But he also has a 7-8 career record, has lost six of his last nine and his last two on the road as the Jags try to re-build. He beat the Bengals in here last year, scrambling for 48 yards, handing off to running back Leonard Fournette for 131 yards and surviving a miserable 15 of 32 passing on those 216 yards on the ground.
That's head coach Doug Marrone's M.O., never mind the quarterback. Three years ago when the AFC final-bound Jags hammered the Bengals, 23-7, in north Florida, Bortles handed it off 35 times while flipping it for less than seven yards per throw. Yet the Jags made just a total of one turnover in both games while Minshew hogged the ball for 38:17 and Bortles kept it for more than 40 minutes.
Maybe if you can beat them, join 'em …
Old friend Jay Gruden is back as the Jags offensive coordinator. He's returning to the building where Andy Dalton put it up 51 times in Gruden's last game as the Bengals offensive coordinator, a loss in the 2013 AFC Wild Card to the Chargers in a game the Bengals got blanked in the second half of a game they led at halftime, 10-7.
Gruden had a terrific three-year run in Cincinnati with one of the franchise's great coaching jobs in guiding Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green to playoff berths in their first seasons. But don't look for the 50-pass recipe this Sunday from Marrone, the old Syracuse offensive lineman.
With the same two D-tackles that were down when the Browns rushed for 215 yards two weeks ago, guess what Marrone is doing with Minshew and running back James Robinson, a guy that appears to be a mystery with the most rushing yards by an undrafted rookie in the first three weeks of an NFL season with 210?
Meanwhile, Bengals running backs have just 174 yards and head coach Zac Taylor has spent the week underscoring the importance of getting Joe Mixon going. Then on Saturday morning he had to make Mixon questionable with a chest injury.
But whether it's Mixon or Giovani Bernard or Samaje Perine or maybe all three, there does seem to be an opportunity to seize the clock from Marrone. No one has been hit or sacked more than Burrow, but only one team has fewer sacks than the Jags' three.
The Bengals signed Alex Redmond on Saturday to fill the slot of the IR-ed Daniels and that would indicate he'll become their third starting right guard in four games. Redmond is known as a ferocious yet at times undisciplined run blocker who gives them power and size inside. That would appear to bode well for the run game. Plus, there looks to be a big edge for the Bengals wide receivers with the Jags' total NFL seasons in the starting secondary nine.
The defense is banged up, but all eyes are on the offense to save the day.