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What to Watch: Jaguars-Bengals into Focus


JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser addresses five topics as Jaguars-Bengals nears, including defensive consistency, Geno Atkins and how Blake Bortles is dealing with turnovers

1. Handling it right.We begin this pre-Jaguars-Bengals "Into Focus" on the Topic of the Week, which is Blake Bortles and what he's doing about turnovers. An important thing to note about this topic is there's far more angst outside the team than within. Not that the team is nonchalant about 12 interceptions – five in the last two weeks – but there's also a knowledge within the team that Bortles is a young quarterback in a learning process that most young quarterbacks endure. Teammates and coaches also see Bortles as handling the situation the right way. "I definitely think he's confident," backup quarterback Chad Henne said. "He's down a little bit, but he doesn't shy away from confidence. He comes out every week with great preparation, doing our same film work. The team is really behind him and pushing him to be the leader and be that guy on Sundays and play well."

2. Consistency is the goal.The Jaguars' defense has improved significantly in recent weeks. The statistics are striking; none more than the defense not allowing more than 16 points in any of the last four games. They are playing as a unit, and defensive players have said it's as simple as all players trusting other players to do their assignments while carrying out their own. That has helped gap control in the run game, which in turn has helped create pass-rushing situations. The challenge is to maintain the level of the last month in a difficult stretch that includes games at Cincinnati and Indianapolis and a home game against Dallas at Wembley Stadium in London with players such as middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, cornerback Alan Ball and defensive end Andre Branch out with injuries. "Guys have to step up," defensive tackle Roy Miller said. "Injuries happen. It's important we get to a point where we're playing consistently every week."

3. A tough task.Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins may or may not be at the level he was before an ACL injury ended his 2013 season. But reports out of Cincinnati are he was a lot closer in a game against Baltimore this past week than he had been early this season. That makes for a tough challenge for a Jaguars offensive interior starting two rookies, center Luke Bowanko and guard Brandon Linder. Because the Bengals use Atkins in various schemes, neither will face Atkins one-one-one throughout the game. "He's an extremely good player," left guard Zane Beadles said. "He has great quickness and he's savvy. He has great strength. You know he's going to bull rush and it doesn't matter. He still gets pressure anyway. He's coming off a knee injury, but he's a hell of a player. It's definitely going to be a challenge for us. We're going to have to be on top of our game."

4. All together. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley this week addressed the possibility that the defense could become frustrated if it continues to play well with the offense continuing to struggle. The defense has allowed 10, 16, six and 13 points in recent weeks while the Jaguars have scored nine, 14, 24 and six points while also having three turnovers go for touchdowns. Bradley said it's his belief that the team's strong culture is critical in such situations. "You would hope that the defense says 'Hey, we have the offense's back, because there will become a time when we need the offense to step up,'" Bradley said. "Hopefully you hear that kind of talk. But I'm sure they sit there and go 'oh…' but the veteran guys know that sometimes, it swings up and we're going to need the offense. What I'm hearing from them, I think it's pretty good, but it is hard. There will be a time when the offense does really good and the defense struggles. You're going to need both sides as well as special teams. If it happens, and they start talking, we'll address it, but so far, at least I haven't heard or it hasn't been brought to my attention."

5. No fear.Bradley said one concern as Bortles works through the learning process is that he continues to play without fear, saying that a message to the young quarterback has been, "We don't want you to have any fear. Just ball, man. Now, make good decisions. Fear doesn't mean reckless." Bradley added, "We trust in him. He has a conscious. It's not that he doesn't care about throwing interceptions. It hurts him, but I think the best thing we can do is to teach him to learn from these difficulties and grow from them. That's really what we're looking for him to do." Bradley said his primary concern is that Bortles continues to learn from mistakes. "I do know this: he has to learn from that failure, not dwell on that failure," Bradley said. "He can't see there and go, 'Oh shoot, I let the team down. That's my fault.' That's not learning from it. He has to learn from those things. If he does that, it will make him better in the long run. My issue is if he stops learning from that then we have an issue."

Take a look back at images from past matchups between the Cincinnati Bengals and Jacksonville Jaguars.

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