Game Preview: Sick-note Cincy down to the bare bones against the Jags

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After losing 23-17 in Baltimore on Sunday, Cincinnati are the only 0-6 team in the NFL – their worst start in (only) 11 years. Next up, the Jacksonsville Jaguars, are at 2-4. We’re also due to play the lowly New York Jets, the under-par Cleveland Browns (twice) and the tanking Miami Dolphins, so things could pick up (or go even more wrong, depending on your commitment to coming last this year and picking first next year). However, it seems the issues that have plagued us all season remain.

As a Bengals fan, there’s never much to shout about but it’s been particularly slim pickings his season. We’re showing admirable resilience in the face of adversity. We’ve been within a score in two-thirds of our games and rallied well in the fourth quarter. Our defense is holding up just enough to give the offense a chance. We’ve seen flashes of brilliance from Special Teams and some hints of things to come from lanky receiver Auden Tate. But that’s probably about it.

Still on the to-do list

The worst offensive line in the league can’t protect quarterback Andy Dalton or create holes to ignite our running game (Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard combined for 14 yards last week). Dalton, under real and imaginary pressure, is constantly being panicked into throwing quickly but with AJ Green and John Ross injured, his options are limited. Maybe Head Coach Zac Taylor needs to design him a few quick, short throws to build some confidence and momentum?

These offensive limitations leave the defense on the field twice as long as their opponents and that’s unsustainable. Our shoddy run defense (ranked dead last in the NFL) has allowed at least 250 yards rushing three times this season, and last week, Ravens QB Lamar Jackson rushed for 152 on his own – almost five times more than our entire team. In 2018, the Bengals gave up the fourth-most rushing yards and fired first-year Defensive Coordinator Teryl Austin mid-season, so I suspect current DC Lou Anarumo probably doesn’t sleep well at night.

Without bad luck, we’d have no luck at all

Though I’m loathe to use it as an excuse, we have been absolutely blighted by injuries.

Around this time last year, I read an article wondering if this was the most injury-devastated Bengals team ever. After a fast start, we’d dropped to 5-3 and key players were falling like flies. Three tight ends were injured, two (Tyler Eifert and Cethan Carter) for the season. Vontaze Burfict was only healthy for four games. Giovani Bernard, Billy Price, Joe Mixon, AJ Green, Ryan Glasgow, Nick Vigil and Preston Brown all lost multiple weeks, as did many of the backups and makeweights filling their shoes. And then we had the five-week Jeff Driskel Experiment after Dalton injured his thumb.

Fast forward a year and it’s all happening again… and then some. In last week’s game alone, right guard John Miller injured his groin and we lost two starting cornerbacks: William Jackson had to pop his shoulder back in while on the field and Dre Kirkpatrick hyper-extended his knee; both will miss a few weeks. One of their backups, BW Webb, is already playing with a broken hand so the return of Darqueze Dennard from the Reserve/PUP list couldn’t be more timely, despite his lack of practice time. Then there’s the absence of defensive ends Kerry Wynn (concussion) and Carlos Dunlap (knee).

Cutting the Cord?

Not surprisingly, Cincy are eagerly anticipating the return of star receiver AJ Green, who won’t pad up this time around, and John Ross, who’s a few weeks away yet. Other long-term absentees include our first three left tackle options: Jonah Williams, Cordy Glenn and Andre Smith. Believe me, if you’re relying on players lower down the depth chart than Andre Smith, you’re really up a creek without a paddle!

Credit: AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Unfortunately, when he comes back, Smith is as good as it’s going to get in our sieve-like O-line. Williams is already a season-long absentee and now it looks like Cordy Glenn won’t suit up for the Bengals again, having played just 13 times. On Thursday, a day after returning to practice after the longest-running concussion protocol in history, he had a training ground bust-up with an unnamed coach (what price O-line coach Jim Turner?). This prompted a $200k fine for ‘behaviour detrimental to the team’, putting him on the same naughty step as Stefon Diggs and Antonio Brown. In return, Glenn asked to be released. If you believe him, he’s being pressured to come back while still suffering symptoms and if you believe the team, he’s holding out, making it up, refusing to play… This one may run for a few days yet but as of Friday afternoon, he’s been suspended for the Jags game and fined again. It won’t end well.

As we struggle to field 11 fit players at any given time, what of our opponents? The Jags are also struggling at the moment, so I’m expecting a error-filled game that will test the patience of a saint. Given that he hasn’t played that much anyway, I suspect Ngakuoe, Jack, Bouye, Campbell et al will do just fine without Jalen Ramsey. That means there’ll be no repeat dust-up with Green this week but Ramsey’s trade to the LA Rams, our Week 8 opponents in London, gives AJ another week to get match-fit.

Credit: Sam Greene

Giving Minshew his due

Overall, rookie QB Gardner Minshew is doing a fine job as Nick Foles’ stand-in but he came back down to earth against the Saints last week (163 yards passing, no TDs, one interception). He’s fun but flawed – completing under 60% of his passes and coughing up a few fumbles – and he’s no Lamar Jackson, so Leonard Fournette should be the main ground threat. The RB has only nabbed one TD this season and has blown hot and cold but given our inability to stuff the run, he may turn up the heat on Sunday. Out wide, DJ Chark (averaging a TD and 100 yards per game) could be one of the brightest stars from last year’s draft class and without our two starting corners, he spells trouble.

Jacksonville come to Paul Brown Stadium at 2-4, and lead this big cat series 12-9. The Bengals have won four of the last five, including the last two at home but the Jaguars won the most recent clash 23-7 in 2017.

Given our injury woes, defensive woes, offensive woes and morale woes, matched against an impressive pass rush, an explosive wide receiver and an exciting QB, I can only see one winner – and, surprise surprise, it isn’t Cincinnati.

Prediction: Jaguars 24, Bengals 16

Featured Picture – Credit: Reinhold Matay/USA TODAY Sports

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