Bengals (1-2) at Titans (1-2) Sunday, Oct. 1 at Nissan Stadium (Matrix Helix Turf), 1 p.m. ET, TV: FOX, WXIX-TV Ch. 19 (Cincinnati) Adam Amin, Mark Schlereth, Kristina Pink. Radio: Dan Hoard, Dave Lapham. WEBN-FM (102.7 FM), ESPN1530
CINCINNATI — Now to build a winning streak.
The Bengals visit the Tennessee Titans Sunday with the chance to string together back-to-back wins and gain on either the Baltimore Ravens or the Cleveland Browns in the AFC North, and possibly the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Bengals opened as 2.5-point road favorites, and that line has held steady all week as the Bengals enter with Joe Burrow looking healthier and healthier, with every finger and toe crossed across Who Dey Nation.
The Bengals are coming off their first win of the season, beating the Los Angeles Rams, 19-16, Monday night in Cincinnati.
Burrow played through a strained right calf, completing 26-of-49 passes for 259 with one interception. And while he completed 12 passes to Ja’Marr Chase for 141 yards, it was the defense that led the way for the Bengals.
“I was going to feed my guy. He was due for one,” Burrow said of Chase, who had just 10 catches for 70 yards in two prior games. “He showed up big for us. He showed why he’s one of the best.”
Trey Hendrickson had two of Cincinnati’s six sacks while Logan Wilson had two interceptions to help hold the Rams to 1-for-11 on third down and 1-for-4 in the red zone.
While Burrow was struggling to find his rhythm in the first half, he led a 10-play, 75-yard drive in the third quarter, capped off by a 14-yard TD run by Joe Mixon with 5:34 left in the third quarter. It marked the first Bengals lead of the season.
“That’s the whole key,” said Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor. “Our defense kept us right in this thing. One of 11 on third downs, the two interceptions, six sacks. That was outstanding.”
Dax Hill leads the team in tackles for loss (4) and is tied for most in the NFL among secondary players. He also leads the team in total tackles 👏 pic.twitter.com/bgCQNs2ruy
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) September 29, 2023
The Bengals have dominated the series of late, winning the last three meetings, including a 19-16 game in the AFC Divisional Round in 2021 when the Titans were the No. 1 seed and last year, 20-16. The Bengals have claimed five-of-six and seven-of-nine in the series.
One week after surviving Aaron Donald and the Rams, the Bengals face Jeffery Simmons and the Titans impressive defensive front.
“They’re really difficult. It feels like playing an AFC North team when you play these guys,” Taylor added. “I remember first feeling that in the playoffs a couple of years ago against them. Last year they had some injury challenges across the board on defense. This year they’re a lot healthier and it shows up on the tape.”
The Titans were embarrassed Sunday in Cleveland, 27-3, by the Browns, allowing five sacks and eight quarterback hits in the process. Myles Garrett had 3.5 sacks by himself as starting left tackle Andre Dillard struggled on the day.
“We’ll continue to look and see what’s best and where guys go,” Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said of potential changes on the line. “But as it stands… I don’t see something changing until we have some more time to visit on it … and see who is available, see who is healthy.”
After defeating the Los Angeles Chargers in overtime at home in Week 2, the Titans took a step back against the Browns, who controlled possession for more than 38 minutes.
“When you play like that, you are going to lose,” Vrabel said. “So we have to realize why we lost, but also realize that you can define your culture by what you look like when things aren’t great, when things don’t go well.
“(Sunday) they didn’t go well, and we’ll find out what kind of football team we have this week, and what kind of individuals and what type of people that we have here, which I believe in.”
Titans running back Derrick Henry, with 8,498 career rushing yards, needs just 77 to pass Earl Campbell (8,574) for second in franchise history. Eddie George (10,009) is atop the all-time rushing yards list.
Here’s what to look for:
Joe Burrow has won his two previous games at Nissan Stadium in rock fights, 19-16, in the AFC Divisional round two seasons ago and 20-16 last season. Burrow showed signs of getting his passing game in gear Monday, with help of Ja’Marr Chase and a surprisingly effective tight end game. All three tight ends caught passes in Monday’s win. Irv Smith is out again with a hamstring issue. Tanner Hudson could have a bigger and bigger role going forward, as he was targeted four times Monday, with two completions for 30 yards. Can Burrow get the time to throw deep to Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd?
Last week, Chase just wanted to get the ball more and had a talk with OC Brian Callahan about it. This week, Chase hinted that he’d like to see some deep balls that challenge the defense vertically. He acknowledged that eventually the deep shots will come.
For the third time in four weeks, the Bengals interior offensive line will be challenged with an elite pass rusher in Jeffery Simmons. But don’t forget about Teair Tart. The nose tackle is the perfect complement to Simmons. Both disrupted the Bengals last season. Add in the team-leading 3.5 sacks of Denico Autry off one edge and Harold Landry off the other and you see what kind of problems that front could present if the Bengals become too pass dependent and fall behind the chains on first and second down. Obviously, keep a close eye on Bengals center Ted Karras after his late-game run-in with Simmons last year and the epic “Up yours, Tennessee!” rant directed at the Titans. If Karras and Cordell Volson can hold their own against Simmons and Tart, the Bengals chances for victory exponentially rise.
Ted Karras pleads for Bengals fans headed to Tennessee and NFL fans to keep their cool in light of what happened last week during Ravens-Bengals game and Patriots fan that died at Gillette Stadium later on Sept. 17 pic.twitter.com/Zdg9WWZOZh
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) September 28, 2023
Tanner Hudson again could get some significant looks in the pass game. Hudson looked good against Rams Monday night. Two catches on four targets for 30 yards.
With the exception of last year’s 75-yard run that led to a TD on a Cam Britt-Taylor forced fumble, the Bengals have done a good job wrapping up Derrick Henry. The back is going to get yards. But his average is down through three games. He’s averaging just 3.2 yards per tote. His long is 23 yards. He has 51 carries for average of 17 carries per game. Tyjae Spears is capable of doing damage as a change-of-pace back and the Bengals have to make sure they take care of setting the edge, which they did not do in losses to Cleveland and Baltimore.
Zac Taylor didn’t want to confirm Friday that Irwin would take the place of Jones, who was placed on injured reserve Friday with a right thumb injury suffered in Monday’s game. But all signs point in that direction. Irwin took reps in training camp and practice. Tyler Boyd would be the emergency option. If it’s Irwin, he’ll have some shoes to fill as Jones returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown in his second NFL game and was averaging 18 yards a punt return.
The start to the rookie season has been a rocky one for punter Brad Robbins. The sixth-round pick out of Michigan is averaging just 38.9 net yards on 18 punts in his first three games. By contrast, Ryan Stonehouse is near the top of the NFL at 52.5 yards gross average and 43.1 net, and just three touchbacks.
This could be the kind of game the Bengals grind early and pull away late. They have the defense to force Ryan Tannehill into obvious passing downs and contain the Titans run game, which is a must. They have the better weapons and need to not self-destruct. With so much emphasis this week on not committing pre-snap penalties, that box needs to be checked. This should be a business-like win. With so much
Bengals 31, Titans 14