KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
TV: CBS, Bill Macatee, Steve Tasker
PREDICTION: Jaguars 16-13
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bengals' defense has kept them in games, but running back Cedric Benson wants "a lot of love" when it comes to his role in leading the offense. With a pair of inconsistent rookie quarterbacks squaring off, Benson should get more than the 19.3 carries he's been averaging in what figures to be a low-scoring game. RG Bobby Williams, fresh off a four-game suspension, could step into the lineup to aid the run-blocking. The Jaguars need RB Maurice Jones-Drew to be a workhorse to protect QB Blaine Gabbert, but the Bengals are allowing a league-low 3.1 yards per carry.
FAST FACTS: The Bengals have the league's top-ranked defense for the first time since the end of the 1983 season. ... The Jaguars' record is their worst through the first four games since starting 0-4 in coach Jack Del Rio's first season in 2003.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Even though he is tied for second in the league with 77 carries and has two 100-yard games, Cedric Benson has expressed some disappointment in the fortunes of the Bengals running game the past three weeks.
While the opener against the Browns was in the ground-and-pound style that some, including Benson, expected (33 runs, 31 passes), the last three games have had more passes than runs. A big part of that has been due to the Bengals' inability to convert on third downs and play from behind.
"It's kind of tough for any player who takes pride in what he does," Benson said.
"Communication is always important, but at times we sometimes struggle with communicating. That being said, you never know what is around the corner."
Many are hoping that the second half against Buffalo, where the Bengals rallied from 14 down for a 23-20 victory, is more of a template for future games, starting Sunday at Jacksonville. Against the Bills, the Bengals scored on four of five second-half drives but were equally adept at both running and passing. On the ground, they ran it 16 times and averaged 6.9 yards per carry.
Even though offensive coordinator Jay Gruden understands Benson's concerns, he also realizes that there is a tough balancing act.
"When Bernard Scott comes in for him, (Benson) feels like we don't love him anymore," Gruden said. "When we pass a couple times on first down and we have to punt, he gets a little upset. Most great competitors are like that. He just has to channel his emotions and understand we're all trying to do the best and win the game. Whether he gets the ball 10 or 50 times, I don't care as long as he wins the game."
Wide receiver Mike Thomas became the first member of general manager Gene Smith's first draft class to get a contract extension.
Thomas, who signed a four-year deal as a rookie in 2009, got a three-year extension Thursday worth $18 million that includes $9 million in guaranteed money. The new deal will tie him to the Jaguars through the 2015 season.
The Jaguars also extended special teams ace Montell Owens for three more years earlier in the week even though he is currently out with a knee injury.
Before the Owens signing, the Jaguars were $35.4 million under the cap.
The Jaguars aren't likely to do any additional extensions until after or late in the season.
A fourth-round selection in the 2009 draft, Thomas is making $525,000 in base salary this year in the third season of his rookie deal.
He started 15 of the 30 games he played in his first two seasons and caught 114 passes. This year, he leads the team with 20 catches.
Thomas' most memorable moment came last year when he caught a Hail Mary pass on the final play of the game to beat Houston. The Jaguars tried it again in a rainstorm in Carolina at the end of the first half, but the Panthers had it covered, so Blaine Gabbert threw it to him on the 7-yard line, and he managed to get into the end zone for the touchdown.
Thomas said he was humbled by the new contract.
"I'm definitely excited, but I've still got a job to do. It really isn't about the money to me. I play just as hard with the check I'm getting now. I'm grateful and ecstatic, but I still feel I have a lot ahead of me, so that is where my focus is," he said. "I want to be great. That's where my focus is now. It's kind of a surreal feeling."
Of the confidence the organization showed in him with the new deal, he said, "That's always a plus. But at the same time, I'm a confident guy myself. If it wasn't here, I'd be somewhere else. Pretty much how I feel about it."
He said the emphasis now has to be on the offense improving.
"We have to get better as an offense," he said.
--OG Bobbie Williams was activated to the 53-man roster after missing the past four games for a violation of the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Williams is on track to start Sunday at right guard at Jacksonville.
--OG Otis Hudson, a second-year player, was waived. He was inactive for the first four games and spent all of last year on the practice squad. There is a chance he could be re-signed to the practice squad if he clears waivers.
--CB Kelly Jennings did not practice for a second straight day due to a hamstring injury. If he doesn't play, Morgan Trent would be the corner in nickel situations.
--S Chris Crocker, who missed Wednesday's practice due to a knee injury, had full participation Thursday and will be in the starting lineup Sunday.
--S Jeromy Miles was limited Thursday due to a groin injury. He is mainly used on special teams.
GAME PLAN: The Bengals need to show more balance offensively in order to be more consistent. That showed in the second half of last week's game against Buffalo, when they were finally able to run the ball, which opened up a lot of middle routes. Also expect to see Bernard Scott in for a couple more series as the Bengals try to get a little bit more of a rotation.
Defensively, look for the Bengals to dial up various pressure packages and coverages in order to confuse Jaguars rookie QB Blaine Gabbert. The defensive line also needs to generate push up the middle in order to contain RB Maurice Jones-Drew.
--LT Eugene Monroe, who played only on field-goal attempts last week while his shoulder and neck injuries were healing, practiced Wednesday and Thursday. He will return to the starting lineup this week.
--CB Derek Cox missed practice Wednesday and Thursday with a groin injury, and he is likely to miss his second game in a row.
--RB Montell Owens missed practice Wednesday and Thursday with a knee injury, and he will miss his second game in a row.
--TE Zach Miller was limited Wednesday with a shoulder injury but returned to full duty Thursday. He is likely to play Sunday.
--WR Kassim Osgood, who missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, was limited in practice Wednesday and didn't practice Thursday. He probably won't play Sunday.
--DT Tyson Alualu was limited in practice Wednesday with a knee injury but returned to full practice Thursday. He is expected to play against the Bengals.
--S Courtney Greene was limited in practice with a neck injury Wednesday and Thursday. His status for Sunday is uncertain.
GAME PLAN: The Jaguars are expected to try to get more balance in their offense after emphasizing the run in Carolina when Blaine Gabbert threw only 21 passes and the pass against the Saints when Maurice Jones-Drew carried only 11 times and Gabbert threw 42 times. They need to have a viable passing game, but Jones-Drew needs 20 carries.
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