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Bengals Week 4 Preview: Battle of the Felines

The Bengals are 0-2-1, and it’s on me. I owe the fans an apology. Around 10:45 AM last Sunday while eating a hearty bowl of Special-K cereal, I fired up my laptop and sent out this tweet:

What was intended to be an innocent message that would share my work with friends instead became a wicked curse that would ruin many-a Sunday for football fans in southern Ohio and northern Kentucky.

“One team’s gotta win.”

Those words echoed in my mind as Carson Wentz led the hapless Eagles’ offense down the field and into the end zone with under two minutes to go in the fourth quarter. Then again when Cincinnati won the coin toss in OT and chose to receive. Then again when Zach Ertz caught a deep ball with just a few moments left in the sudden death period, presumably setting up Philly in field goal range.

But alas, the Eagles false start led to the punt which led to the Bengals running out the clock. Two teams pitifully waving the white flag after a brutally long four-hour marathon.

We deserved more, but here’s the good news: we may just get what we’ve been waiting for this week.

Week 4 against the Jacksonville Jaguars brings a game full of favorable matchups to Cincinnati. And on top of that, the Bengals will experience something this week they haven’t all season. Before we get into the game, let’s recap this week’s news.

The search for a Right Guard rolls on

As Xavier Sua-Filo remains hampered with an ankle injury suffered in Week 1, the Bengals continue their desperate search for a somewhat suitable right guard. After Billy Price and Fred Johnson failed the test, it appears Alex Redmond may get a shot in Week 4.

It’s been an interesting road for Redmond in his short career. Over the past three seasons, he’s played in 23 games with the Bengals.

After failing to get drafted in 2016, Redmond signed with the Cincinnati practice squad. Then in 2018, he became a full-time starter during Marvin Lewis’ last year as head coach. When Zac Taylor took over in 2019, Redmond found himself suspended for performance-enhancing drugs, then landed on the injured reserve after tearing a bicep.

He was waived from the team earlier this year, then recently signed back to the practice squad. And now, he’s Cincy’s best hope to protect its darling of a franchise QB who has already been sacked a league-high 14 times.

Fingers crossed.

Offensive line coach Jim Turner backs his Right Tackle

Ever since the Bengals picked up Bobby Hart off the street and proceeded to sign him to a multi-million dollar extension, there’s been much speculation amongst fans and analysts alike about his worthiness to be a starter in the league. It seems the only ones who believe in his ability is the Bengals coaching staff, and offensive line coach Jim Turner went to bat for Hart this week.

Turner professed that Hart is playing the best football of his career, which might be true, but what is that saying? Hart’s leading all tackles with 15 pressures allowed in just three games and has allowed 10 hurries, which is tied for the league lead. By that logic, his best football still makes him one of the worst pass-protecting right tackles in the NFL.

Fans stopped buying whatever it is this team is trying to sell about its offensive line long ago, and this quote by Turner is discouraging. If you want a deeper look into this Hart conversation, check out Paul Denher Jr.’s fantastic piece on The Athletic that separates fact and fiction from Turner’s comments.

Read of the Week

Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated spoke with Zac Taylor about Joe Burrow’s play this season. 

There are some really cool insights and analyses from Taylor on Burrow as he talks about his favorite moments from the star rookie’s first three weeks of NFL action. You really ought to check it out; right after you finish this post.

Joe Burrow says Week 4 is a must-win

The Bengals are favored for the first time this season, and it’s crucial that they take advantage of a home matchup against a Jacksonville team that’s on their level. Burrow’s quotes from this week reflect that.

They’ll face some good opponents in the following weeks, traveling to Baltimore in Week 5 and Indianapolis in Week 6. If it doesn’t come this week, we could be waiting a while for that elusive first win.

And with that, let’s transition to our Week 4 preview. Bengals vs. Jaguars talk coming just as soon as I “Throw it away! Throw it away! Throw it away!”

Four things to know

1. Fans will be at the game today: Paul Brown Stadium will host 6,000 fans. Maybe we’ll get to see some crowd shots on the broadcast and hear some real noise.

2. Geno Atkins is still out and Joe Mixon is questionable. Despite some days of padded practice, Atkins remains out. It was a roller coaster of a week for Atkins, who strapped on pads and practiced but will ultimately sit out for the fourth straight week. The wait continues for the Bengals’ best defensive player.

As for Mixon, he popped up on the injury report Saturday morning with a chest injury. He’s riding a streak of 31 straight starts and would be a significant loss to the Bengals’ offense. Though he hasn’t had a super productive season to this point, he’s in for a favorable matchup against Jacksonville today, should he play.

3. The Bengals have the 6th best passing defense in the NFL. If the Bengals have done anything good defensively this season, it’s been because of their defensive backs. Cincinnati is only allowing 210 passing yards a game, which could be attributed to a couple of things. First, William Jackson III and Jessie Bates have been playing some good football. But I think even more so, this figure is reflective of the opponents the Bengals have played and the game script the defense has faced.

Think about it… the Chargers were led by Tyrod Taylor, a known game-manager and dink-and-dunker. The Browns had the most lethal run game in the NFL and gashed the Bengals for 215 yards on the ground. Carson Wentz led one of the most inefficient passing attacks in the league, partly due to his interceptions and partly due to his lack of receiving weapons.

I think this week will show us just how effective this passing defense is. The Jaguars have some talented playmakers in DJ Chark, Keelan Cole, and Lavishka Shenault and are led by a gunslinger in Gardner Minshew. He’s averaging 262 yards a game this season and threw for over 300 in Week 2. We’ll see a little about who we are this afternoon.

4. Tyler Eifert returns to town. The Bengals’ 2013 first-round pick will have his homecoming today. After an injury-plagued stint in Cincy that was highlighted by an incredible 2015 season, Eifert signed a two-year $15.5 million deal with Jacksonville. So far, he’s having a solid 2020 campaign that’s seen him catch one TD pass in Week 2. It’ll be interesting to see how he plays in Paul Brown Stadium sporting something other than stripes.

Three matchups to watch

1. Jaguars WR vs. Bengals DBs: As stated in the previous section, the Bengals have a pretty good passing defense, statistically speaking. The Jaguars are deep at wide receiver and will challenge Cincinnati all game long. Jacksonville’s been a good passing team all season, but they struggled mightily last week against the Dolphins. They were without young star DJ Chark, who missed time due to a chest and back injury. Though he only has seven targets this season, he’s caught every one for a total of 109 yards and one touchdown. Given Gardner Minshew’s inefficiency last week, it’s reasonable to conclude Chark’s presence is paramount to their passing attack, even if he isn’t the team’s leading receiver in terms of yardage. With him back in the fold, it seems the Jags are in position to throw the ball well Sunday.

2. James Robinson vs. Bengals D: Nearly a polar opposite from their pass defense, the Bengals run defense is ranked 31st in the league, allowing nearly 182 yards a game. They’re not facing a big named star like Nick Chubb or Miles Sanders this week, but rather an emerging talent in undrafted rookie James Robinson.

After cutting Leonard Fournette, it seemed that Jacksonville would be taking a running back by committee approach this season, but Robinson has quickly established himself as a bell cow, racking up 339 total yards and three TDs in just three games. If history has taught us anything, Robinson will be a thorn in Cincy’s side all game long, especially with no Geno Atkins.

3. Bengals RG vs. Jaguars DL: It’s time to ask the age-old question: Which Bengals’ lineman will be turned into a turnstile today? Might it be Alex Redmond? Perhaps Shaq Calhoun? Maybe even sixth-round rookie Hakeem Adeniji? The good news is that the Jags don’t have many big-time players on the interior of the defensive line, so perhaps whoever the Bengals line up at right guard can hold his own.

Once again, fingers crossed.

Two names to know

1. DJ Chark, Jaguars WR

Photo by Steve Flynn/USA TODAY Sports

Chark is the Jaguars’ top wide receiver, and after the offensive fiasco Jacksonville endured last week in his absence, it’s clear he’s an important part of their game plan. Although he’s not even top three on the team in targets, Chark’s always a threat down the field and definitely commands a defense’s attention. He’s healthy coming into today’s matchup and will present a tough challenge for William Jackson III. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him set a season-high in catches and receiving yards this week, as Minshew will surely be looking for him in what could turn into an offensive shootout.

2. Carl Lawson, Bengals DE

Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals’ speed rusher out of Auburn has entered a contract season on absolute fire. He’s registered three sacks through three weeks, along with three QB hits, two tackles for losses, and one forced fumble. He got Carson Wentz twice last week, and the Bengals would really benefit from a repeat performance this week.

In their 31-13 loss to the Dolphins, the Jaguars couldn’t get anything going with the passing game. A large reason for that inefficiency was Gardner Minshew being pressured frequently and sacked four times. He couldn’t find a rhythm, and Minshew is very much a player that rides waves. When he’s on, he can’t miss. When he’s off, he’s cold as ice. The way to keep him cold is to get to him and corral him, and Lawson will have plenty of opportunities to do that Sunday.

One way the Bengals can win

Make Minshew uncomfortable. Minshew has inexplicable poise in the pocket for a sixth-round draft pick and a knack for pulling rabbits out of a hat. Miami had success limiting him because they made him one-dimensional and pressured him early. If Cincinnati can follow a similar game script, establish the run early on offense and mount a lead, they should be in a great position to get their first win of the season.

This should be a fun game. Fun offenses led by exciting young players. Both teams needing a win. Fans in the stadium.

It’s a catfight in the jungle this afternoon; may the better feline win.

Article written by Ty Schadt