Since 1990, NFL teams that start 3-0 make the playoffs 75% of the time. The Bengals look to get to 3-0 this week when they welcome the Tennessee Titans to Paul Brown Stadium for an old AFC Central showdown.
Here is what to look for in week 3...
When the Titans Run the Ball:
Titans Running Attack: 15th -122.0 YPG
Bengals Run Defense: 11th - 95.5 YPG
I liked Bishop Sankey coming out of Washington, but so far, he has been non-existent for the Titans - 8 carries for 28 yards (including 2 for 3 yards against Dallas) and 0 catches. He had some ball security issues in the preseason and it looks like the coaching staff is a bit reluctant at this point to hand him the ball.
Fortunately for the Titans, the run game has been ok without him. In week 1, Shonn Greene and Dexter McCluster carried the load well (100 yards on 24 carries) and though they didn't have many yards against Dallas (70), they only had 9 carries but averaged 7.8 YPC.
However, the Bengals defense is a much different animal than that of the Chiefs and Cowboys. The Bengals run defense has not been as dominant in 2014 as they were in 2013, but that is in large part to Vontaze Burfict missing much of both games.
While Burfict's status for Sunday looks bleak, with a week to adjust, the Bengals run defense played much better in week 2 even though Burfict was still out. I would expect the Bengals to shut down the Titans rushing attack and make Locker beat them with his arm.
When the Titans Throw the Ball:
Titans Passing Attack: 14th - 237.5 YPG
Bengals Pass Defense: 26th - 270.5 YPG
After an impressive week 1 showing in KC (22/33, 266 yds, 2 TD, 0 INTs, 70.3 QBR, 111.4 rating), Jake Locker came back down to earth in week 2 at home against what should be a weak Dallas defense (18/34, 234 yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 13.7 QBR, 60.2 rating). Delanie Walker (TE) is the Titans top receiving threat at this point in the season (13 rec, 179 yds, 2 TDs), but they do have some young explosive WRs in Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter and Nate Washington and Dexter McCluster is difficult to cover out of the backfield.
The Bengals will look to shut down the 6'0" Walker with the tall and athletic Emmanuel Lemur (6'4") or George Iloka (6'4"), but McCluster could cause issues if Burfict does not play. On the outside, the Bengals corners have been top notch so far. With the exception of an 80 yard catch and run on a broken play by Steve Smith, the Bengals secondary has shut down the Ravens and Falcons passing attacks - both much more potent than that of the Titans.
The Titans line has also allowed 6 sacks in their first 2 games and will be tested with the best D-Line they have faced yet. The Bengals line should be able to pressure Locker and force poor decisions, something the secondary will capitalize on. And keep this in mind, in their last 10 home games, the Bengals defense has held opposing QB's to an average passer rating of 57.1 and 4.7 YPA.
That streak includes 4 quarterbacks that have accounted for 7 Super Bowl rings and 10 Super Bowl appearances (Brady, Roethlisberger, Rodgers, Flacco).
When the Bengals Run the Ball:
Bengals Running Attack: 14th -124.5 YPG
Titans Run Defense: 24th -143.5 YPG
The Bengals were not impressive running the football in week one, but the Ravens have a very good front seven and few teams will find success running the ball against Baltimore. In week two, the Bengals showed exactly what they can do in the run game with Hill and Bernard combining for 164 yards on 42 carries.
Their YPC (3.9) is still lower than you would like to see, but they looked impressive against the Falcons. The O-Line will be without Zeitler, but Mike Pollak is a more than capable backup. The Titans run defense is tough to get a handle on. A week after holding one of the premier backs (Charles) to 19 yards on 7 carries (2.7), the Titans were torched by the Cowboys for 220 yards on 43 carries (5.1) and were dominated on the time of possession battle 41 minutes to 19 minutes.
Hue Jackson and the Bengals offense will test the Titans to see if they have fixed what went wrong in week two. If they haven't, look for another heavy workload for Bernard and Hill.
When the Bengals Throw the Ball:
Bengals Passing Attack: 3rd - 301.5 YPG
Titans Pass Defense: 1st - 163.0 YPG
It is pretty amazing that even with the injuries to Jones, EIfert and Green, the Bengals passing attack is still 3rd in the NFL and that is a direct testament to their coaching, their depth and Dalton. However, a large part of that ranking is the result of a few big plays (including a long pass by Sanu) and a lot of dump offs to Giovani Bernard.
With Green less than 100%, I would expect the dump offs to Bernard to continue to be a large part of the game plan along with some gimmicky plays with Sanu and Sanzenbacher. Despite the Titans #1 passing ranking, I am not buying in. The Titans played well against a weak passing team in KC that was missing their only WR (Bowe), and against Dallas, thanks to Dallas's 220 yards on the ground and 22 minute TOP advantage, Romo barely had to throw the ball.
If all of the Bengals weapons were healthy, this would be a huge advantage for the Bengals. However, given the injuries to Jones, Eifert and Zeitler, combined with Green being less than 100%, I have to make this a push. If Green plays, and can contribute, I give the Bengals an advantage
Advantage: Push* (if Green plays, advantage Bengals)
Kickoff Returns: Titans -29th (15.0 avg); Bengals - 4th (29.0 avg)
Punt Returns: Titans - 31st (-2.0 avg); Bengals - 4th (17.8 avg)
Kickers: Ryan Succop 5/5 (100.0%; t-1st) Long 47
Mike Nugent - 6/10 (1 blocked, 3 misses; 60.0%; t-26th) Long 49
Punters: Titans - Net 48.0 - 1st; Bengals - Net 36.0 - t-26th; Punts inside the 20: Titans t-12th (3); Bengals t-4th (4).
Kick Coverage: Titans - t-10th (19.0 avg); Bengals t-26th (28.0 avg)
Punt Coverage: Titans - t-26th (12.0 avg); Bengals - t-7th (3.0 avg)
The Bengals special teams still concern me - especially Nugent's 6/10 start to the season. I give the Bengals the advantage at punter and punt returner, but the Titans get the advantage everywhere else. McCluster is a shifty punt returner, and if Nugent can't get the kicks out of the end zone, Leon Washington is still one of the most dangerous kick returners around. After Nugent's terrible 1/4 day last week - on a gorgeous day with little wind - I cringe if this game gets into a FG kicking contest.
While Ken Wisenhunt is clearly superior to Marvin Lewis in the playoffs - he is 4-2 with a Super Bowl appearance and a win in each trip to the playoffs - Wisenhunt is 6 games under .500 (46-52) in the regular season and 22-34 in games not started by Kurt Warner (24-18 with Warner). Since this game is occurring during the regular season - and Kurt Warner is not playing - I actually give Lewis the advantage.
Key to the Game:
The Bengals Defense Sans Vontaze Burfict. All indications are that Burfict won't play. Burfict makes all the defensive calls and is arguably the best player on a defense full of good players. If the Bengals defense can play the way they did against Atlanta, Jake Locker and the Titans will struggle to put up enough points to beat the Bengals.
I think the Bengals are just too talented, deep and well-rounded for the Titans and I actually believe this will be a comfortable win for the Bengals.
Bengals 34, Titans 13