Cincinnati (5-6) will be hoping that translates into a better second start for Jake Browning, who now has two full weeks of practices running the offense. The defense struggled against Pittsburgh’s run last week and gave up too many explosive plays, and the running game was almost non-existent. All needs to be better for the Bengals to bounce back from their three-game skid against the AFC South-leading Jaguars (8-3).
Here are five things to know about the game:
1. Higgins provides a boost
Chase said one reason he was feeling more energetic this week was the return of Tee Higgins to practice. Higgins has missed the last three games with a hamstring injury but was a full participant Friday and Saturday and is good to go for Monday.
Higgins’ return to play should open things up for Chase and be a welcome addition to Browning’s arsenal.
“No more bringing the whole defense to me,” Chase said. “Bring the defense to him. But, no, anytime Tee gets on the field, it’s a blessing to have. He looks like Tee. Running fast, still moving good.”
Higgins said he was feeling 100 percent and was anxious to help the team get a win, to end the three-game slide that coincided with his absence. Jacksonville could be down a starter with cornerback Tyson Campbell questionable with a hamstring injury.
2. Taylor brothers competing
Monday’s game will be a battle of offensive minds between Bengals coach Zac Taylor, who calls the plays for the Bengals, and his brother, Press Taylor, who is the offensive coordinator for Jacksonville.
The two have met on NFL sidelines four times before, and Press Taylor owns a 2-1-1 record against his older brother, though all of those previous matchups were when he was an assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles. This is the first matchup where both are signal callers for their team, and Zac Taylor is looking to even the score and add a win to the Taylor Bro Bowl Trophy, which their dad has perched on a desk in his home in Norman, Okla. The trophy has engraved on it the dates, teams and scores of each NFL game the Taylor brothers have coached in against one another.
“I think it’s a great conversation piece in his office,” Zac Taylor said. “It’s not something that comes up between me and Press. It was a fun thing to start 10 years ago, when we were young. And obviously, there’s a lot of trash talking, our roles have increased to where now you know, it’s what’s more important is preparing our teams and getting our teams ready. It’s still there. I know what the record is. Obviously, I want I want the Cincinnati Bengals to be the better team on Monday night. That’s what’s most important, but it’s a fun thing for our family.”
3. Ready for speed
The biggest challenge with Jacksonville’s offense is its speed, as wide receivers Christian Kirk, Calvin Ridley and Zay Jones “can all really fly,” according to Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo. On top of that, Evan Engram can be a handful at tight end, and running back Travis Etienne, if healthy, is “fast and tough,” as well.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence has a strong arm and can move, and when he and his receivers are in sync, the Jaguars can be tough to stop. They average 23.1 points per game and 344.2 yards per game, and the Bengals will be without cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt again, this time due to an ankle injury suffered as he was returning from a quad issue.
“There’s a reason why they’ve won all these games,” Anarumo said. “So far, so big part of it is what they can do on offense.”
4. Bengals digging into the trenches
Cincinnati has been exposed especially in physical games played in the AFC North, where the Bengals have been unable to run the ball and unable to stop the run. The Jaguars have been successful moving the ball with an efficient enough running game helping open up the pass, but with Etienne questionable with a ribs injury, that could create some concern on their end.
Etienne is a top seven rusher this season, and there isn’t anyone behind him that has even 100 yards rushing this season. D’Ernest Johnson has 26 carries for 86 yards, Tank Bigsby has 36 carries for 86 yards and two touchdowns.
Offensively, the Bengals have said they need to be able to run the ball more consistently to put Browning in better third-down situations, where he struggled last week. Joe Mixon has 621 yards and four touchdowns on 161 carries, but last week was held to 16 yards on eight carries.
“Defensively, sometimes it’s just being one step too late to fit in your gap and that can bust out a 25-yard run as opposed to what could be, maybe a 4-yard gain, 3-yard gain,” Taylor said. “So, there’s some opportunities there that I can think we can continue to clean up. And offensively, same thing. It’s on the entirety of the offense and myself as the play caller to put ourselves in better position and get some dirty yards out of some tough spots sometimes.”
5. Changing the narrative
A New York Times playoff predictor gave the Bengals a two percent chance of making the playoffs after last week’s loss to Pittsburgh, but they can still keep those hopes alive with a win Monday. They likely need to win their final six games, or at least five of them, to get in.
Taylor twice made reference this past week to this game being a chance to “change the narrative.” Chase said he couldn’t predict what would happen, but was encouraged by the mood of the team this week and seeing players still having something to prove.
“It shows us we have hope,” Chase said. “That’s what it’s really about, getting us out the door for the playoffs.”
Bengals at Jaguars, 8:15 p.m., ESPN, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7