Having Maurice Jones-Drew in the Jacksonville Jaguars' backfield has made life a little easier for Blaine Gabbert as he continues to experience growing pains in his second NFL season.
Jones-Drew will try to help the Jaguars even their record Sunday when they host Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals.
During the offseason, Jones-Drew sought to renegotiate his contract after leading the NFL with 1,606 rushing yards in 2011. He missed 38 days – including all of training camp – but returned without a new deal and seems focused on exceeding last year's numbers. Jones-Drew ran for 177 yards, including a 59-yard score, in last Sunday's 22-17 win over Indianapolis.
Jones-Drew is second in the league with 314 yards, nine behind Kansas City's Jamaal Charles, and will face a Bengals defense that ranks 31st in allowing 155.0 rushing yards per game.
"It's a good team coming in. ... Every week is a chance to measure yourself," said Jones-Drew, who's had 29 carries for just 118 yards and two touchdowns in two career games against Cincinnati (2-1).
The contributions out of the backfield this season from Jones-Drew have certainly helped Jacksonville (1-2) while Gabbert struggles.
Though Gabbert connected with Cecil Shorts III on an 80-yard touchdown pass with 45 seconds to play against the Colts, he was just 10 of 21 for 155 yards. Gabbert ranks 31st in the league with a 50.6 completion percentage (40 of 79), one-tenth of a point ahead of the New York Jets' Mark Sanchez.
"The season is so long, there's 16 regular-season games," said Gabbert, who has four touchdowns and no interceptions. "We're going into our fourth game (and) there's a lot of time for things to get better. ... We've just got to keep working and things will kind of play out."
Jacksonville is the lowest-scoring team in the AFC with 52 points. Only Dallas and Philadelphia have scored fewer in the NFL.
After scoring 13 points in a season-opening loss to Baltimore, the Bengals' offense has turned things around in a big way by totaling 72 over the last two contests. Cincinnati opened last Sunday's game with a 72-yard scoring pass from receiver Mohamed Sanu to A.J. Green, and Dalton passed for 328 yards in a 38-31 win at Washington.
Behind Dalton – also in his second year - the Bengals are fourth in passing yards with 291.0 per game, and he's seen improvement throughout the team with each contest.
"We've gotten better each week," said Dalton, who's completed 65 of 95 passes for 867 yards with six TDs and three picks. "With the Baltimore game, we were in the game going into the second half and middle of the third quarter and things didn't go our way.
"We know we have to keep fighting and keep going. It's a long game. It's a long season, so we just have to find ways to win."
Green finished with a career-best 183 receiving yards against the Redskins, and continuing to put up impressive numbers would help the Bengals. The fourth overall pick in the 2011 draft is second in the NFL with 311 receiving yards, making him one of three players with the New York Giants' Hakeem Nicks and Detroit's Calvin Johnson to average more than 100 receiving yards per game.
The Bengals are 4-1 when Green has at least 100 receiving yards.
This will be the second career meeting between Dalton and Gabbert. In their first matchup Oct. 9, Gabbert had the better statistics but Dalton and the Bengals came away with a 30-20 win.
Dalton was 21 of 33 for 179 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, while Gabbert was 15 of 28 for 221 yards with a touchdown and no picks. Green had five catches for 90 yards and a TD.
Jacksonville is 11-7 versus Cincinnati but has lost the last two meetings.