JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell rattled off three reasons why Sunday’s game against Cincinnati is important.
It’s at home.
It’s an AFC game.
It’s following a bye week.
“You never want to start talking playoffs too early in the thick in things, but every game is so critical to that future success and trying to win the division,” Campbell said. “This is a very important game for us for many reasons.”
The Bengals (3-4) and Jaguars (4-3) believe they have to start stacking wins if they’re going to be postseason contenders in the AFC. Jacksonville hasn’t won consecutive games in more than a year and followed three 20-plus-point victories this season with letdown losses.
The next chance comes against the Bengals, who are beginning a three-game road stretch that could go a long way toward determining whether or not they will be in postseason contention. Cincinnati has won three of four since an 0-3 start, with impressive wins against Cleveland and Buffalo, a lopsided loss at Pittsburgh and a nail-biter against Indianapolis.
“Everyone talks about the Pittsburgh game, but in our last four, we are 3-1,” quarterback Andy Dalton said. “So we’re trying to be 4-1 at this point. All we can do is worry about what we do this week and keep trying to stack wins on top of each other.”
The Bengals could have their hands full with Jacksonville’s defensive front, which leads the league with 33 sacks.
Cincinnati fired offensive coordinator Ken Zampese after a 0-2 start in which they failed to score a touchdown and elevated Bill Lazor. The offense got a little better, but it managed just one first down and 19 yards in the second half against the Steelers.
And Dalton was under constant pressure against the Colts last week.
Now, the Jaguars get a shot at Cincy’s rebuilt offensive line, which has allowed 22 sacks. Jacksonville has two games with 10 sacks this season and another with five turnovers.
The team traded for two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcell Dareus last week, hoping he solidifies the unit’s shaky run defense and provides another defender who can wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. Dareus has 35 career sacks in seven seasons with Buffalo.
“They’re doing a little bit of everything,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “They’re doing a great job when they straight rush you. They’re doing a great job (limiting) gains. ... They’re doing a lot of good things, and they’re all fitting together well.”
Here are some other things to know about the Bengals and Jaguars:
Getting healthy: The Jaguars expect running back Leonard Fournette (ankle), left tackle Cam Robinson (ankle) and center Brandon Linder (illness) to return from injuries. Fournette sat out the team’s last game at Indianapolis and got extra time to heal. Jacksonville also could get rookie receiver Dede Westbrook on the field for the first time this season. Westbrook, a fourth-round draft pick who led the NFL in receiving in the preseason, had core muscle surgery in September.
Running on empty: Cincinnati’s inexperienced offensive line has struggled to protect Dalton and open holes for the running game. The trio of Jeremy Hill, rookie Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard combined for only 34 yards on 17 carries against a Colts defense ranked next-to-last in the league. There was confusion in some of the blocking schemes, allowing linebackers to blitz untouched up the middle.
“With the different stuff they’re going to do, we need to know what we’re doing and what they’re doing, and then react,” Dalton said. “We just need make sure we get our job done.”
Stop the run: Frank Gore ran for 82 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry against the Bengals last week. They know they have to be much better against the Jaguars, who lead the league in rushing yards.
“They’re dedicated to run,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “They’re going to stay the course on the running game. Whether they’re going to get (stopped) or not, they’re going to run it. They’re going to play good field position and they’re going to play good defense. To me, that’s how you win.”
Record watch: Fournette can make history against the Bengals. The rookie has scored a touchdown in each of his first six games in the league. If he scores against the Bengals, he would become the first player in NFL history to score a touchdown in each of the first seven games of his career, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
“That’s my job, and I try to do it to my best,” Fournette said.