Bengals vs. Jaguars: 5 Ways for Jacksonville to Get on a Winning Streak

Nate DunlevyGuest ColumnistSeptember 27, 2012

Pound the rock right up the middle.
Pound the rock right up the middle.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Jacksonville Jaguars saved their season with a stunner in Indianapolis in Week 3.

If they don't play much better against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 4, their season goes right back to the brink.

Cincinnati poses a perfect test for Jacksonville. They are a good team as evidenced by their winning record and playoff appearance in 2011, but no one would call them elite.

If the Jaguars have any hope at all of making a playoff run, they have to move past winning by miracle and reach the stage where they win by habit.

Here are five ways they can take those steps in Week 4.



Unleash Blaine Gabbert Deep

The Bengals have the worst run defense in football, so the Jaguars should pass.

Why? Because Cincinnati is almost as bad at defending the pass as they are the run.

How bad are they?

Brandon Weeden has a passer rating of 114.9 against the Bengals and 34.9 in his other two games.

The training wheels have to come off for Gabbert. Jacksonville cannot win without more downfield passing.

It's a risk to throw long on Cincy. They rush the passer better than almost any team in football, but they can be had for big plays.

There's a vicious circle going on right now in Jacksonville. On one hand, fans want to blame the line for not blocking and the wideouts for not getting open. Those same fans don't want to consider that Gene Smith made a horrible mistake in taking Gabbert.

The problem is that the same man who took Gabbert assembled the wideouts and the line. Blaming him for those decisions while giving him the benefit of the doubt on Gabbert is irrational.

If the Jags can't throw on Indianapolis and Cincinnati in consecutive weeks, they can't throw period. They will never get a better opportunity than now to prove Gabbert can pass long.


Run it Right Down Their Throats

The Bengals have been terrible on runs up the middle.

Despite strong play from Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson, Robert Geathers and Domata Peko have been abjectly horrible. The Bengals are 30th on runs around the left end, and 32nd on runs up the middle and off right tackle.

Conversely, the Jags are outstanding running to all three spots.

It's a perfect storm for the Jaguars. They've got a team that can't defend the pass or the run at home.

By pounding away at the middle of the Bengals line and then complementing heavy doses of Maurice Jones-Drew with the deep ball, they have a chance to hang a crooked number on the board against Cincinnati.


Get Blackmon Involved Short

Justin Blackmon has been the worst wide receiver in football through three weeks.

While there is serious question as to where the blame lies, it is true that he has struggled to get open.

Against Indianapolis, the Jaguars tried to send Blackmon deeper downfield, and it didn't play to either his strength or Gabbert's.

While other receivers can work deep, Blackmon should stay in the slot and be the primary checkdown option for Gabbert. He has to get the ball in space in the middle of the field. That's where he'll do the most damage.

Nate Clements has been a disaster for the Jaguars covering second receivers. The Jags have to take advantage of that matchup if they get it.



Bring the Heat on Andy Dalton

If Gene Smith is going to avoid the second-guessers who blame him for taking Gabbert over Dalton, this is the week to prove he didn't make a regime-killing mistake.

Dalton has already gone done 12 times in 2012 and has had trouble identifying blitzers.

The Jaguars have the worst sack rate in the league with only two sacks on the season. It's the second-most sacked quarterback against the least-sacking line.

Something has to give.

If Dalton has time to throw, he will punish the Jaguars. Jacksonville couldn't get enough pressure on Andrew Luck in Week 3, and when they, did he escaped for first-down runs. Dalton isn't nearly as nimble, so that's to their advantage.

Again, much like the passing game, if the Jaguars can't get pressure on Dalton, they simply can't get pressure at all.


Keep Derek Cox on A.J. Green at All Times

Cox may not be 100 percent, but he's the best option the Jaguars have right now in the secondary.

Green may be the next "best receiver in football" and is already averaging over 100 yards a game in 2012.

Cox blanketed Donnie Avery in Week 3, and he's the best hope to take away the best weapon the Bengals have. He'll need help over the top at all times, but if he can keep Green quiet the Jaguars have a chance.



This team is still at a crossroads. Beating the Colts was great, but a loss this week will undo any good that was done previously.

It's all there on a plate for the Jags. They have a suspect defense at home, and a quarterback they can pressure.

If they pull out a win, they'll be sitting 2-2 and in no worse than a tie for second in the division.

Is this team closer to the playoffs or another total house cleaning followed by a rebuild?

This is the week we find out.