JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser sets the table by examining key players, matchups and storylines as the Jaguars prepare to play the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio, Sunday …
The buzz revolves around the rookie quarterback.
And when the buzz around the rookie quarterback is about turnovers, that buzz isn't much fun.
But that's how it is around the Jaguars this week, with the good feeling of a victory over Cleveland two weeks ago having given way to the aftermath of a 27-13 to the Miami Dolphins at EverBank Field Sunday. The loss dropped the Jaguars to 1-7 this season.
Rookie quarterback Blake Bortles threw two interceptions against Miami. Both were returned for touchdowns, and those 14 points – and another lost fumble by Bortles as the Jaguars approached the red zone – helped negate a solid effort by the Jaguars' defense and running game.
Defensively, the Jaguars held Miami to 13 points, marking the fourth consecutive game the defense has held the opposing offense to fewer than 17 points. Running back Denard Robinson also rushed for 108 yards on 18 carries, his second consecutive game with more than 100 yards rushing.
Overall, the Jaguars showed improvement against the Dolphins, just as they have shown improvement overall the last four weeks. But Bortles has thrown 12 interceptions in six appearances, including 10 in five games as a starter.
The Jaguars remain confident in Bortles, and he will remain the starter, but interceptions and turnovers will be a storyline for a quarterback so long as they occur.
The Bengals may or may not be a hot team right now, but they are a first-place team.
That's true because Cincinnati on Sunday beat the Baltimore Ravens, a victory that snapped a stretch of three games without a victory and kept the Bengals in first place in the AFC North with a 4-2-1 record.
The Bengals had lost two games and tied one since a 3-0 start had observers ranking them among the NFL's best teams early in the season.
The Bengals have a talented roster, but have struggled at times defensively, particularly against the run. They also have been hurt offensively by the absence of A.J. Green. One of the NFL's best wide receivers, Green has just 17 receptions for 314 yards and a touchdown this season while missing the last three games with a sprained toe. The toe has hampered him since Week 1.
Green said he expects to play against the Jaguars, but Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis has yet to officially announce Green's status for Sunday.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has six touchdowns and four interceptions this season, and after a shutout loss at Indianapolis October 19, the Bengals responded Sunday with perhaps their best game of the season. Dalton led an 80-yard game-winning drive in that game to keep Cincinnati in first place.
Three matchups to watch
*Jaguars cornerbacks Demetrius McCray and Dwayne Gratz versus Bengals wide receivers A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu.With cornerback Alan Ball possibly out, McCray and Gratz – a pair of second-year veterans – are the starters. The duo played well against Miami, slowing wide receiver Mike Wallace much of the game. Green has missed four games with a toe issue, and while Sanu has played very well in his absence, Green is an elite talent whose absence is difficult to overcome.
*Jaguars running back Denard Robinson versus Bengals defensive front. Robinson has emerged as the Jaguars' feature back, rushing harder and more consistently than many expected. The past two games were by far the Jaguars' most productive running games of the season. The Bengals have struggled against the run much of the season, ranking 29th in the NFL, but improved last week and held the Ravens to 107 total yards.
*Jaguars center Luke Bowanko and guard Brandon Linder versus Bengals nose tackle Domata Peko and defensive tackle Geno Atkins.The Jaguars' rookie interior linemen have played well in the first seven games. That's particularly true of Linder, who has played at a strikingly high level. The Bengals' interior defensive front long has been a strength, with Atkins now beginning to return to full strength after missing the second half of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Jaguars to watch
*Bortles, quarterback.The rookie followed three interceptions against Cleveland with two more against Miami Sunday. The two interceptions being returned for touchdowns have made him the topic of the week. Bortles has completed 132 of 208 passes for 1,384 yards and six touchdowns with 12 interceptions, and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said Monday he would like to see Bortles' interceptions cut in half the second half of the season.
*Aaron Colvin, cornerback. The rookie has been on the Physically Unable to Perform list since training camp, and while he practiced last week, he was inactive. The Jaguars have two more weeks after Wednesday to activate him or move him to injured reserve. With Will Blackmon out an extended period with a fractured left index finger, Colvin could play the nickel if activated.
*J.T. Thomas, middle linebacker.Thomas last week moved into the starting lineup in place of Paul Posluszny, out for the season with a torn pectoral. The Jaguars' defense played perhaps its best game of the season, and Thomas showed speed and athleticism. His challenge now is to maintain that level for an extended period.
Keep an eye on …
*Tight end Marcedes Lewis has been cleared to practice beginning Wednesday. The ninth-year veteran is on the NFL's injured reserve-designated to return list with a high ankle sprain and can begin playing November 23 against the Indianapolis Colts. …
*Offensive tackle Luke Joeckel sustained a concussion against Miami Sunday, and his status is expected to be updated Wednesday. Rookie free-agent Josh Wells played in his place, meaning three rookies including Linder and Bowanko played most of the game. …
*An update is expected on Ball Wednesday. He missed Sunday's game with a biceps injury.