As the Jaguars head up to Cincinnati for a showdown with the winless Bengals, the feeling around Jacksonville is that this is a win.
But, not so fast. The Bengals are winless, which means they are due.
Despite injuries to receivers A.J. Green and John Ross, they still have talent on the offensive side of the ball. If the Jaguars are unable to put the Bengals away and allow them to stay close, the outcome will be interesting.
In order for the Jaguars to avoid being the Bengals first win of 2019, three things must improve.
Offensive Third-Down Percentage
Through the first three games there are several factors to point to for the Jaguars inability to convert third downs. Sure there’s been numerous untimely penalties and quarterback pressures. However, the fact that the Jaguars sit in the bottom quarter of NFL teams for third down conversions (32%) is eye opening. Check that, it’s more than eye-opening, it’s a perplexing concern.
Even more shocking is that the Jaguars were over 40% in third down conversions last season. Perhaps the lone bright spot for an offense that was inept at best. Furthermore, the NFL leader in third down conversions is the AFC South leading Houston Texans at 51.35%. That is quite a difference between the two teams. And also is a big reason behind the AFC South standings.
It’s up to offensive coordinator John DeFilippo to adjust the game plan on the early downs. Perhaps mix it up a bit with play action and misdirection.
The Jaguars overpaid offensive line must be held accountable as well. Too often running back Leonard Fournette is being hit behind the line of scrimmage on first down. Obviously this needs to change to create more manageable third downs to help extend drives and rest the Jaguars defense. This week against the Bengals is an opportunity to get on track.
So far in 2019, inconsistency has riddled the Jaguars defense. A defensive unit that was lauded in the preseason as a top group, has been pedestrian at times this season. The biggest concern has been the inability to create turnovers.
The unit has caused a handful of fumbles but failed to recover. The secondary has dropped game-changing interceptions (example, Jalen Ramsey against the Texans in week two) at critical times and extended drives.
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As a whole, the Jaguars are tied as the fourth worst turnover ratio in the NFL at minus five. This has to change and it’s not just the rookie quarterback’s inability to hold onto the ball.
The defense must do their job on the other side. The pass rush led by defensive ends Calais Campbell and Josh Allen needs to be more consistent and disrupt the timing of the opposing offense. That will lead to turnovers or at least an opportunity for turnovers.
Once again, a trip to the winless Bengals is a prime opportunity to move the needle on turnovers.
Dede Westbrook Gets His Groove Back
Perhaps the biggest void through the first six games on offense has been wide receiver Dede Westbrook. Entering Sunday’s matchup against the Bengals, Westbrook is third on the team in receptions with 26.
During the offseason, the expectation was for Westbrook to play a more dynamic role. It might be too early to label Westbrook a disappointment this season, but he has certainly been lackluster.
Perhaps he can jumpstart the remainder of the season with a strong showing against a porous secondary in Cincinnati. Getting him involved early on quick slants and bubble screens to utilize his talents with the ball in his hands can work wonders for the offense.
DeFilippo can get him the ball on jet sweeps or directly out of the backfield. The Jaguars offensive line should be able to hold their own against a group of reserves the Bengals trot on the field. Therefore, Minshew should take advantage of the time in the pocket and help Westbrook find his groove in game seven this Sunday.
This is definitely a “must win” for the Jaguars.