The Jaguars and Bengals have combined for two wins and 10 losses this year, though three of the Jaguars losses came by one point to the Texans, seven points to the Panthers, and seven points to the Saints — while the Bengals (for all the public lashings they receive) have losses on the year of one point to the Seahawks, four points to the Bills, three points to the Cardinals, and six points to the Ravens. As is the case with almost any team in the NFL (the Dolphins being the notable exception), these teams (while not particularly strong) are closer to the middle of the pack than their records make them appear.
The way to attack the Bengals so far has been clear and straightforward for opposing offenses, as this team has faced the fifth most running back rush attempts and allowed the fourth most running back receptions, while facing the fourth fewest wide receiver targets and allowing the fifth fewest wide receiver receptions. The Jaguars rank only 18th in pass play rate on offense and are quite content to lean on the run, while Cincinnati has faced the second lowest opponent pass play rate in the league.
If we add in quarterback rushing (Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, and Lamar Jackson all had season-best days vs the Bengals), no team has allowed more rushing yards than Cincinnati — and it is unsurprising that we see those quarterbacks on this list, as the Bengals (as noted last week with the Mark Ingram // Lamar Jackson setup) are actually solid against runs up the middle. The Jaguars are comfortable using Leonard Fournette to the edges, and with Fournette having played 131 out of 141 snaps across the last two weeks (with a consistent pass-catching role to boot), he sets up well in this spot. He’s priced fairly on FanDuel relative to other backs, but is curiously underpriced on both DraftKings and FantasyDraft.
William Jackson will be on the sidelines this week for an already talent-low Cincinnati secondary — though any hype around this fact (and around Jaguars pass catchers) should obviously be tempered by the elements we’ve been talking about all season with this defense, as this unit continues to do a good job tilting coverage toward number one weapons, and is one of the only teams in football that has not yet allowed a 100-yard receiver. The best games against the Bengals through the air belong to number two weapons Diontae Johnson and Deebo Samuel, who went for 6-77-1 and 5-86-1, respectively. D.J. Chark has played well enough this year to be considered a matchup-breaker, but this a tougher spot than it looks like on the surface.
Things get thin quickly behind Chark in this passing attack, with Chris Conley fading after his hot start and Dede Westbrook topping 70 yards only once. You’re hoping for a broken play and a score if going here.
The Bengals are a pass-heavy team (currently first in the NFL in pass play rate) that has quickly become more interested in establishing their offensive identity than they are in winning games. (Note: this is not a slight against them. The Bengals aren’t going to win many games anyway, so why not use each game as “practice” for the future if this is the offense they want to run?) The major takeaway here is that — against a Jags team that is neutral in opponent run/pass distribution — chances are high that the Bengals will remain pass-heavy in this spot.
We were correct in assuming last week that Tyler Boyd would see a lot of attention from Marlon Humphrey, and it seems likely that his dud in that spot will lead to him going overlooked here. While there will always be concerns about Boyd finding his way open with not only A.J. Green off the field, but only Auden Tate and Alex Erickson // Damion Willis around to attract attention away from him, this spot does set up well for him against a Jaguars defense that has been hit for 90+ yards by D.J. Moore, Adam Humphries, and Emmanuel Sanders — all of whom run similar routes and have similar responsibilities to Boyd. Late in the week last week, I solved the mystery of why Tyler Eifert was totally ignored by the Bengals two weeks ago in what Austin Hooper reaffirmed last week is the best tight end matchup in football; in that Bengals // Cardinals game, the Bengals actually deployed Boyd on tight end style routes — using Boyd (their best pass catcher) as their seam-beater, rather than wasting those touches on a less explosive option in Eifert. That’s an impressive approach from a Cincy coaching staff that continues to be underrated due to this team’s record, and it tells us that this team will continue to look for ways to feature Boyd.
One of the best matchups in football right now is “whichever wide receiver is facing the Ravens and is not matched up on Humphrey,” so I’m not reading too deeply into Auden Tate’s 12 targets. The Bengals have shown trust in him, however, and with six or more targets in four straight games, he should be in for steady work once again — as long as A.J. Green remains out.
If Green plays, everything in this passing attack becomes quite a bit more speculative, of course, with Green unlikely to play a full compliment of snaps, yet likely to play enough to limit some of Boyd’s workload.
The Jaguars have been a mess against the run this year, getting hammered in particular on runs between the tackles, though Joe Mixon remains a bit of a “hope for things to go right” option at the moment with the Bengals’ line ranked 31st in adjusted line yards and runs between the tackles for Cincy barely averaging three yards per carry. If it doesn’t happen for Mixon here, it may not happen for him this year; but that still doesn’t guarantee that it will happen here.
JM’s Interpretation ::
A.J. Green’s status will have a lot to do with things on the Bengals’ side of the ball (Boyd would likely become more of a “tourney play only” if Green does indeed make it back onto the field this week), but if Green misses, Boyd stands out to me at the front end of the week as a play with a solid, workload-driven floor and a nice ceiling in this spot — especially as Zac Taylor would prefer to feed 12 targets to Boyd over Auden Tate. But the standout play in this spot is Fournette, who will be on the field close to 100% of the snaps, and who matches up well with the Bengals. If you’re looking for a counterpoint on Fournette: although the Bengals rank 25th in opponent drive success rate (i.e., having a hard time getting opponents off the field), they impressively rank seventh in red zone defense, while the Jaguars rank 29th on offense. Fournette’s pass game usage and role in this offense keep his floor high enough regardless, and he’ll have plenty of opportunities to hit for ceiling; but those numbers do close off a few of the (many) paths available for a tourney-winning score from him in this spot.
:: Bonus feature: find current NFL Defensive Identities here!