JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2023 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.
Up this week:
Bengals.com senior writer Geoff Hobson on the Cincinnati Bengals’ matchup with the Jaguars at EverBank Stadium Monday:
Q: The Bengals, after two consecutive appearances in the AFC Championship Game, won four consecutive games this season to move to 5-3 after a 1-3 start. But they have lost three consecutive games with quarterback Joe Burrow now out for the season with a wrist injury. What is the Bengals' mindset entering Monday?
A: It's tough. They're coming off a tough month. They had one loss in November the previous two years and this November they were sitting very pretty after beating Buffalo on a Sunday night in the first game in November. They had won four in a row and Burrow was really hitting a groove after coming back from a strained calf in training camp. Now, they've lost three straight – and on the way, they lost Burrow. They're playing with quarterback Jake Browning, who got his first NFL start last week against Pittsburgh. He made one mistake and it cost him – as it can against the Steelers. He's a guy who has been around. It's his fifth year in the league. He has been on two different practice squads (Bengals and Minnesota Vikings). He has been with the Bengals since the beginning of the 2021 season. He knows the playbook in and out, has the coaches' trust and they believe that he has enough for them that they can play good defense, get competent games from him and make a run at the thing.
Q: You mentioned Browning. What does he bring to the table when he's good? What does he do?
A: He's an accurate guy. He got a lot of experience in college. He was the winningest guy ever in the Pac-12, but he was undrafted coming out of Washington. As [Bengals Head Coach] Zac Taylor says, "He probably has taken more training camp snaps than any backup quarterback in the league because Burrow has missed time the last two years. We've seen a lot of him. He's accurate. He's mobile. He's really good on his feet. He's a very smart guy. He comes out of a great tradition of high school quarterbacks in Folsom, California, where he broke every record in California imaginable. He has a reputation as a future coach. He's smart, he's accurate when he's playing well, he's playing on time.
Q: With the new quarterback, what are they trying to do offensively?
A: They're trying to get the ball to [wide receiver] Ja'Marr Chase, who's a tremendous playmaker. During this losing streak, they haven't had [wide receiver] Tee Higgins and that has been a factor. Teams have been able to try and take Chase out of the game. The Bengals are trying to feed him. They would like to run the ball with [running back] Joe Mixon. They're getting criticized for not trying to run the ball enough against Pittsburgh, but Pittsburgh came in and said "We're going to stop Mixon," which is what you do with a rookie quarterback. That was tough sledding. When this offense is at its best, when Burrow was at his best, the quarterback's a point guard and there's not one guy he's focused on. He's distributing the ball because the receivers are good enough that any of those three guys – Chase, Higgins and [wide receiver Tyler] Boyd – can take over the game. That's why you can't really let one of them wander. Once Higgins comes back – and the hope is Higgins will be back – that should give Browning another weapon, and they'll keep trying to pound the ball and fix it.
Q: This is a good defensive team. Is it good enough to give them hope?
A: This defense is playing with an edge now because they haven't played too well in this losing streak. They've been very uncharacteristic. They've given up a lot of third-down conversions and they haven't had many pressures. They have to get back to their DNA. They have given up 17 pass plays of at least 20 yards in the last three weeks. They have to cut that down. They're young in the secondary. They're very fast, though. They feel like they have a lot of good athletes over there. [Jaguars quarterback] Trevor Lawrence is probably going to look at the youth of that and mull that around a little bit, but it's also probably the fastest secondary you'll see.
Q: When a quarterback, particularly one as good as Burrow, gets hurt a lot changes. But at 5-6, the Bengals aren't out of playoff contention. Do you get the feeling they Bengals are still fighting and that they still think they can make this thing work?
A: This is a proud team. The Bengals have been to the AFC Championship Game the last two years. They've won the best division in football the last two years, the AFC North. These guys know how to win. I would probably call them right now "dangerous" because their deal's slowly slipping away and they have to do something fast. It's a Monday Night Football game, on the road. I wouldn't look past them. I know what the numbers say, I know what the pundits are saying, but their record says they're still in it. They have won a lot of big games with these same guys the last two years, so I would think that it would be a very competitive game [Monday].