By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) – The Cincinnati Bengals have become experts at offensive
Their run game has collectively managed only 3.1 yards per carry over the last
two games, with leading rusher Giovani Bernard gaining just 62 yards on 23
attempts. Meanwhile, No. 1 wide receiver A.J. Green has missed three
consecutive games – and is questionable this week – with a toe injury.
His prospects for Sunday against Jacksonville will depend on how much practice
work he can handle.
But amid the adversity, some jewels have been uncovered.
The Bengals have seen No. 2 man Mohamed Sanu pick up the aerial slack in
Green’s absence, catching 18 balls for 299 yards while serving as quarterback
Andy Dalton’s main target. He caught five passes for 125 yards last week
against Baltimore, in a 27-24 win that ended 0-2-1 streak since a Week 4 bye.
“Mo’s been playing great,” Dalton said. “I have a lot of confidence in him,
and he has a lot of confidence in himself that he’s going to make plays.”
Dalton hasn’t had a touchdown pass since the 37-37 tie with Carolina in Week
6, but he’s got a chance to have both Sanu and Green in the lineup together
against the Jaguars for the first time since Oct. 5.
It’s a prospect that’s got Sanu sounding confident.
“Now it’s going to be that they’re going to have to play us straight-up,” he
said. “They can’t double-cover any one of us. They’re going to have to play
man-to-man. That’s what we want.”
It doesn’t help Jacksonville’s cause that starting cornerback Alan Ball won’t
be available after he was placed on season-ending injured reserve. The Jaguars
signed Tommie Campbell, who played 37 games with Tennessee from 2011 to 2013,
as a roster-filler.
Linebacker Paul Posluszny was lost for the season with a torn chest muscle a
week earlier, and defensive end Andre Branch is out for several weeks with a
Jacksonville is winless in its last five road games with an average deficit of
more than 17 points, while Cincinnati is 12-0-1 in its last 13 regular-season
games at Paul Brown Stadium.
“We have to come back and truly attack these things,” Jaguars coach Gus
Bradley said, “because we can’t continue in this fashion.”
The Jaguars have scored 14.8 points per game through seven games – worst in
the NFL – while their weekly average of 306.6 yards per week is better than
just two teams, winless Oakland and one-win Tampa Bay. They’ve turned the ball
over 18 times to tie the one-win New York Jets for the league’s worst mark and
the resulting minus-10 turnover differential is 31st among 32 teams.
Cincinnati is plus-5 in that statistic, tied for sixth in the league.
The quarterbacking era heralded by first-round rookie Blake Bortles has been
more miss than hit, with the youngster tossing 12 interceptions in five-plus
games since he took over for veteran Chad Henne.
Two of the interceptions – and a lost fumble – came in a 27-13 defeat last
week against Miami.
Four of the interceptions have been brought back for touchdowns.
“I’m not going to say I’m mad at myself, because that’s not really going to
help anything,” Bortles said. “Nobody cares, and it’s not going to help me do
anything. You’ve just got to learn from it. You’ve got to go figure it out,
start watching film and find out what you can do to try to be better.”
On the plus side, Bortles may have a new gem in his arsenal, too.
Former University of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has run for 127 and
108 yards in his last two games, catapulting him to the top spot among
Jacksonville’s rushers in 2014 and becoming the first Jaguar to run for 100-
plus in two straight games since Maurice Jones-Drew three years ago.
“It’s nice to see the running game getting better,” guard Brandon Linder said.
“He’s a talented athlete and a great team player. He brings it on every play
and is very confident in the way he runs. That’s Denard. He makes things
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Two if by Air
Presuming Green finds his way to the field on Sunday, it’ll create a matchup
for he and red-hot teammate Sanu against the Jaguars’ cornerback tandem –
minus the injured Ball – of Demetrius McCray and Dwayne Gratz. Their most
recent test came last week against Miami, whose top threat, Mike Wallace, was
limited to two catches and no other target had more than three.
A Developing Situation
The Jaguars drafted Robinson as a wide receiver after he was a quarterback
with the Wolverines, but he’s clearly found a niche as a runner. Cincinnati
hasn’t exactly been a collective run-stopping machine either, allowing at
least 107 yards on the ground for five straight games after its first two foes
in 2014 – Baltimore and Atlanta – accounted for 94 and 97, respectively.
Robinson’s a nice little story and the Bengals haven’t reached the level
they’d presumably attained after going 3-0 in the season’s early stages, but
it’s simply hard to imagine the Jaguars winning here. They don’t travel well,
they don’t score much and their defense is inconveniently beaten up on the way
to a visit to face a team that’s got a number of potential difference-makers
Sports Network predicted outcome: Bengals 27, Jaguars 10