JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton break down three Jaguars keys for Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals at EverBank Field in Jacksonville
1.Run.It's tempting to lead this week's three keys with quarterback Blake Bortles needing to test the Bengals on the outside – and Bortles without question needs success each week to keep defenses from stacking against the run. But while Bortles must be able to take advantage of single coverage, the Jaguars' running game and rookie running back Leonard Fournette figure to be key Sunday. Fournette has had three weeks since sustaining a sprained ankle against the Rams; he will be the engine of this offense whenever he plays. It also seems likely center Brandon Linder will return after missing three games with an illness. The Bengals' defense is ranked 18th in the NFL against the run, and the Steelers and Colts have had success running against Cincinnati in recent weeks. The Jaguars need similar success Sunday.
2.Lock down A.J.The Bengals' offensive line is struggling this season, and the Jaguars' defense would seem in a sense to have an advantage Sunday. But a trouble area for the Jaguars in losses this season has been allowing big, shock-and-awe plays (75- and 69-yard touchdown runs in a loss to the Jets; two special teams touchdowns in a loss to the Rams). Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green is one of the NFL's best receivers and a down-in-down-out shock-and-awe threat from anywhere on the field. The Jaguars' cornerbacks – Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye – are capable of shutting down Green. They must play to that capability Sunday.
3.Overwhelming the Bengals' offensive line.This is key for the Jaguars every week. The Jaguars this season are at their best when the defense forces opponents into passing situations; the secondary then gets into lockdown mode on opposing wide receivers and gives the Jaguars' defensive line an extra second or so to pressure the quarterback. That has accounted for a majority of their league-leading 33 sacks. Locking down Green won't be easy, but the Jaguars' defensive line seems to have a huge advantage over a Bengals offensive line that has struggled all season. The Bengals are struggling to pass block and run block, having allowed 22 sacks and rushing for just 3.2 yards per carry. It's difficult to win against any NFL opponent with that combination, but it's especially tough to win with that combination against the Jaguars this season.
1.Time to start acting like a playoff contender.The Jaguars could be a wild-card team or they could win the AFC South; unfortunately, they also could miss the postseason. That's the reality of a team that hasn't figured a way to play at a consistent level. That must change this week. The Jaguars ran for 188 yards without Fournette against a Colts team that billed itself as much-improved on their defensive front; that's a great sign. They also attacked the quarterback against the Colts, and they've found a way get after the passer in nearly every game this season. Bortles played a very efficient game against the Colts, which is something the Jaguars needed to see. Special teams were an asset in Indy a week after being a liability against Los Angeles. They must do what they do and do it well … again … after two weeks off. Playoff teams rise up in November, now is the time.
2.Make Andy Dalton very uncomfortable.The Colts aren't a great pass-rushing team but they certainly made Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton dance in the pocket last week in Cincinnati. The Jaguars have to win up front with their superior defensive front against a depleted Bengals offensive line that hasn't found a winning formula without Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, each of whom left in free agency. Pressure isn't enough; the Jaguars must collapse the pocket around Dalton and make him antsy to get out and make a play on the run. Time can't be an option with Green running down the field.
3.Win the turnover battle.The Bengals were shut out in Week 1 when the Ravens took the ball away five times. The Jaguars obviously can't turn the ball over and give Dalton and Green more possessions. But the defense, which was blanked against the Colts in terms of takeaways, needs to find a way to force a couple of turnovers against a quarterback who has thrown eight interceptions and an offense that has fumbled the ball 13 times this season. The Bengals' defense is for real. Ever heard of Geno Atkins? Did you see the game-winning play Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap made last week where he batted a pass, intercepted it and then scored? The linebackers are tough and the corners play tight coverage. In other words, the Jaguars' offense could use a little help from its defense on Sunday.