NASHVILLE – The Titans face the Bengals on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here’s a look at six things to watch in the contest:
1Get After Joe
There are few things Titans fans want to remember about the 2021 season’s playoff game against the Bengals. Yes, it was a painful loss. But one memory that lingers is the sight of Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow getting sacked nine times in that contest. Well, the Titans need to get after Burrow again on Sunday, and the QB’s lingering calf injury should give them a chance because of his limited mobility. One thing that could make it difficult: Burrow has been getting the ball out quick, in roughly 2.5 seconds. The Titans need to pressure Burrow in the middle of the line, and get their hands up to bat balls the line of scrimmage. Big defensive linemen Jeffery Simmons and Denico Autry are among those ready to reintroduce themselves.
2Settle in Ryan
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been the subject of criticism following both of the team’s losses, even though the offense has plenty others who’ve also come up short so far. Still, Tannehill has thrown just one touchdown pass, and his 548 passing yards in three games ranks 28th among 34 qualified QBs. It’s the lowest total through three games during Tannehill’s career. Tannehill has proven capable – he completed 83.3 percent of his passes with a 123.3 passer rating in the team’s last home game against the Chargers. The Titans – and the team’s fans – would like to see some consistency, but the QB needs help.
3Protect the QB
One of the best ways to help Tannehill: Give him time in the pocket. Tannehill has been sacked 13 times in three games this season, which is tied for 2nd in the NFL. Left tackle Andre Dillard has allowed six sacks in 2023, which is the most in the NFL, per PFF. The Titans need to give Tannehill time against a Bengals defense that’s recorded nine sacks in three games, including three by defensive end Trey Hendrickson. Getting positive yards on first and second down – and staying out of third-and-long – would also be a big help.
4Quit Giving Up X Plays
Coach Mike Vrabel talked in detail this week about the difference between busted coverages, and guys flat getting beat in the secondary. Through three games, the latter has been the biggest issue, as the secondary has allowed one big play after another. Cornerback Kristian Fulton has been victimized on several occasions (he’s allowed seven receptions, 165 receiving yards and one touchdown on eight targets, per PFF). Fulton isn’t the only Titan defender who needs to tighten up, though. This week’s challenge is a tough one, as the Bengals have some dynamic playmakers in Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.
5Run the Damn Ball
The Titans have struggled to find any consistency in the running game this season, and Titans running back Derrick Henry sounds like a guy ready to change that trend this week. After facing the NFL’s No.2 ranked run defense a week ago in Cleveland, the Titans will face a Bengals team ranked 30th in the NFL in run defense this week, allowing 192.0 rushing yards per game, and 4.99 yards per carry. Something else to monitor: Henry needs 77 yards to pass HOFer Earl Campbell for the 2nd most rushing yards in team history. Don’t forget about rookie running back Tyjae Spears here either, because he’s going to be a part of the plan each week.
6Importance of Week 4
The Titans have been riding a roller coaster at the start of the season, down one week, up one week, then down the next. It’s time for another up, right? Well, the Titans are going to need to play a lot better than they did last week in Cleveland. The Bengals, who are 1-2 like the Titans, are favored by 2.5 points in this one. Since 1990, teams that started a season 2-2 have made the playoffs 37.1% of the time, won the division 18.2% of the time and won the Super Bowl 1.6% of the time. The percentages for teams that started 1-3: 14.5 %, 7.7 % and 0.4 %.