Bengals-Jaguars Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated October 05, 2011
A surprisingly strong defense has the Cincinnati Bengals optimistic about their future, while their first-year quarterback's continued improvement bodes well for the offense. Andy Dalton and the Bengals face off with fellow rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert and the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. After playing three teams that ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in total offense, Cincinnati (2-2) showed it could compete against one of the league's top teams, handing Buffalo its first loss in a 23-20 win last Sunday. The Bengals gave up 273 yards of total offense and moved to the top of the league in overall defense for the first time since 1983. They are allowing 275.5 yards per game and have surrendered 347 rushing yards. "Everyone was counting us out as being the worst team in the NFL," linebacker Rey Maualuga said. "We don't buy into all of that. We just control what we can control. That's playing fast, disciplined, effort defense and flying to the ball. ... I know that's a good statistic, but then again, it's only been four games." Cincinnati has similar hopes for the development of its offense. Wide receiver A.J. Green, the fourth overall pick in this year's draft, and Dalton, the team's second-round pick, continue to improve. After struggling in the first half against Buffalo, Dalton completed 11 of 16 passes for 182 yards as the Bengals outscored the Bills 20-3 after the break. He ran in 3 yards for the tying score with 4:19 remaining in the game, then converted a key third-and-3 to set up Mike Nugent's 43-yard field goal with 1:48 left. "It's not about whether he's got Superman talent or all this," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "He knows how to get you in and out of the huddle and put you in the good situations, and he's going to play with his heart. And that's going to help you win football games." Dalton still has room to grow. His 76.9 passer rating ranks 27th in the league, and he's completing only 58.1 percent of his passes. He's also thrown four interceptions to one touchdown in the last two games. While Dalton was helped last week by a 104-yard rushing effort by Cedric Benson, the running back is still waiting for word from the NFL regarding his appeal of a three-game suspension for an offseason arrest. It's been a steeper learning curve for Gabbert. After the Jaguars (1-3) released David Garrard before the start of the season, Luke McCown was named the starter, but he struggled and Jacksonville turned the offense over to the 10th overall pick in this year's draft. Gabbert is 0-2 as a starter. He completed 16 of 42 passes for 196 yards while throwing one touchdown and one interception in a 23-10 loss to New Orleans last Sunday, getting sacked three times. Gabbert has a league-worst 62.9 passer rating, completing 47.8 percent of his attempts. "Once Blaine tightens his footwork up, we're going to be fine," tight end Marcedes Lewis said. With the offense last in the league with 39 points, including six in the second half, coach Jack Del Rio wanted to open things up last Sunday. Maurice Jones-Drew was limited to three touches in the first half before finishing with 84 yards rushing on 11 carries. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said he wants to get Jones-Drew - third in the league with 97.8 rushing yards per game - more touches, but that may prove to be difficult against the Bengals' defense. Still, the Jaguars don't believe the offense is as bad as the statistics show. "I think there are a lot of things that are very close," Del Rio said. "I recognize the fact that 10 points a game won't get it done, and we have design on much better, much more, and need it. No amount of bellyaching is going to help that process improve. "It's execution, it's taking care of the little details and making the plays that are there to be made. We need production, we need play-making and that's what we're looking for." This is the first meeting between these teams since Cincinnati's 21-19 win in 2008. The Jaguars have won seven straight at home in the series.
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