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Key Matchups: Breaking Down Bengals vs Jaguars on Thursday Night Football

Cincinnati hosts Jacksonville on Thursday at Paul Brown Stadium.

Cincinnati hosts Trevor Lawrence and the Jacksonville Jaguars Thursday night. This is the Bengals’ lone primetime game of the season.

This game will feature the battle of back-to-back number one overall picks in Lawrence and Joe Burrow. It's also Urban Meyer’s return to the Buckeye state.

Let’s take a look at the matchups before the lights come on at Paul Brown Stadium.

Joe Burrow vs. Jaguars Defense

Burrow has been up and down to start the season, but arguably had his best outing last week against Pittsburgh. The second-year quarterback has a 70.7 completion percentage and is averaging 12.1 yards per completed pass in the Bengals' first three games. Burrow has thrown four interceptions, but aside from those turnovers, he has been able to lead Cincinnati’s offense to a good start.

Jacksonville’s defense has given up the fifth-most passing yards (907) through three games. Their defense hasn’t produced much of a spark, only forcing one turnover and compiling four sacks.

Advantage: Bengals

Bengals Offensive Line vs. Jaguars Defensive Line

The strength of Cincinnati’s offensive line has come in the run game. Joe Mixon has pounded the rock due to the line’s ability to open lanes and Mixon’s pure athleticism. The running back is second in the league in rushing yards with 286. He has averaged 4.3 yards per rush on 67 attempts.

Pass protection has been in question. The line did not allow a sack on Burrow against the Steelers, but the quarterback has been sacked 10 times with 21 pressures and six quarterback hits.

Riley Reiff’s game status is in question as he was limited in practice Tuesday with an ankle injury.

Jacksonville plays a 3-4 defense. Malcolm Brown and Davon Hamilton lead the Jaguars defensive line, but the unit hasn’t been able to provide much pressure. Along with their four sacks, the defense has 15 quarterback hits and 11 tackles for loss.

Advantage: Tie (if the offensive line from Pittsburgh shows up, then advantage Bengals)

Bengals Offensive Skill Players vs. Jaguars Defense

Ja’Marr Chase has been electric to start his career. The rookie is averaging 20 yards per reception and has hauled in four touchdowns. Chase is the only player in the Super Bowl Era with a 30-yard touchdown reception in his first three career games.

Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd round out the three-headed monster the Bengals have at wide receiver. Higgins missed Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh and has not practiced this week, leaving his status for Thursday night in question.

The Jaguars made a splash in free agency this offseason by signing Shaquill Griffin to a three-year, $40 million contract. Griffin and the defensive backs have had a slow start to the season. They are allowing an average of 12.3 yards per catch and 74.3% completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks.

The Jacksonville defense is stout against the run, giving up just 3.4 yards per carry on the ground.

Advantage: Bengals

Trevor Lawrence vs. Bengals Defense

Lawrence has had a rocky start to his young career. The rookie has thrown 7 interceptions through three games with a 54.2% completion percentage. Almost a third of Lawernce’s throws have been considered poor. He has shown glimpses of his potential, but is still getting used to life in the NFL.

Cincinnati’s defense has made their pressure known with 10 sacks and 21 quarterback hits. The defense is holding opposing teams to an average of six yards per reception. Logan Wilson is budding into a star as the linebacker has all three of Cincinnati’s interceptions on the season and 30 total tackles.

Advantage: Bengals

Jaguars Offensive Line vs. Bengals Defensive Line

Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor have played well on the outside, but the interior of the line continues to be a problem for the Jaguars. Lawrence has seen pressure on 21% of his dropbacks. The quarterback has been pressured 27 times and been sacked another five times in three games.

Starting guard and Cincinnati native Andrew Norwell has been limited in practice this week with an ankle injury.

The Bengals' defensive line has been one of the bright surprises this season after finishing at the bottom of the league in most categories in 2020. Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard are motors on the outside with DJ Reader, Larry Ogunjobi, and BJ Hill continuing to push offensive lines backwards. They have 10 sacks in three games after finishing with just 17 sacks last season.

Advantage: Bengals

Jaguars Offensive Skill Players vs. Bengals Defense

James Robinson and Carlos Hyde lead the ground game for Jacksonville averaging 5.1 yards per carry, which is fifth-best in the league. Robinson is a dual-threat out of the backfield with 160 rushing and 92 receiving yards. Robinson has coughed the ball up twice as well.

DJ Chark Jr. and Marvin Jones Jr. have been a solid 1-2 option for Lawrence. Chark is third in the league averaging 22 yards per reception. The deep-threat has seven receptions for 154 yards and 2 touchdowns. Jones has been a favorite target of Lawrence with 17 catches for 194 yards and 2 touchdowns.

"They’re both big, they both can run," defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said. "They can go get the ball, they’re tough, they block in the run game. You could throw them a fade ball at any point and they’ll make a play. Those guys are two really good receivers in our league."

Trae Waynes could make his Bengals debut on Thursday, which would be a welcomed sight with two key members of the secondary dealing with injuries. Jessie Bates III (neck) and Chidobe Awuzie (groin) both missed practice this week. 

Advantage: Tie

Bengals Special Teams vs. Jaguars Special Teams

Evan McPherson is the real deal. The rookie has come up in clutch moments to put points on the board for Cincinnati. McPherson has made all four of his field goal attempts (longest was 53 yards) and eight extra points.

Josh Lambo missed practice Tuesday due to personal reasons. Jacksonville has not made a decision on the kicker’s status for Thursday’s game. They also signed Matthew Wright to their practice squad.

Advantage: Bengals

The Bengals have advantages in almost every position and skill group over Jacksonville heading into Thursday night. They need to take advantage of this and not overlook the Jaguars. This is the definition of a trap game following an emotional win over the Steelers. 

This is a must-win for Zac Taylor and company. It would be huge for Cincinnati to finish September 3-1 with their remaining schedule.

Make sure you bookmark All Bengals for the latest news, exclusive interviews, film breakdowns and so much more!

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