For those of you who have followed the the NFL and the Cincinnati Bengals for some time, hearing and seeing the name “Tennessee Titans” can feel odd. Sure, the Titans have been around since the old AFL days, but that was with a franchise up in New York.
Many can remember the old AFC Central days where this current team in the Music City was actually born in Houston, Texas. The Oilers were a team who were both feared and reviled—especially in the 1980s.
Earl Campbell was a force for Houston from 1978-1984, and eventually made the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as Bum Phillips rode his big back to success. However, after Campbell’s departure to New Orleans in 1985, a new coach took over and the bad boys of the decade were formed.
Jerry Glanville taught the Oilers to be rough, sneaky and sometimes play beyond the whistle in his five-year tenure as head coach. He was absolutely hated within the division, which employed great coaches in Chuck Noll (Steelers), Marty Schottenheimer (Browns) and, of course, Cincinnati’s Sam Wyche.
The clashes between Wyche and Glanville were epic, as both went back-and-forth in both tight games and contests where they tried to really give it to one another. In one of the most notorious moments of Wyche’s career, he throttled Glanville’s Oilers, 61-7.
Up 58-7 with a minute left in the game, Wyche opted to kick a field goal in that December clash back in 1989. “Sam tried to beat us by a hundred, but stopped at 60 only because the time ran out,” Glanville recalled.
The Houston coach who left weekly tickets at will call for Elvis Presley and James Dean had the last laugh that year, as he had his players send Oilers playoff tickets to Wyche, while the Bengals sat at home.
When the Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1997, the rivalry still lived with the Bengals. The late Steve McNair and Eddie George almost-annually pounded the pre-Marvin Lewis Bengals, as “the mustache”, AKA Jeff Fisher, put it to Cincinnati. Side note: what a division for running backs in the late-1990s and early 2000s. At any given time, George, Jerome Bettis, Corey Dillon, Fred Taylor and Jamal Lewis were grinding out tough games for the Oilers/Titans, Steelers, Bengals, Jaguars and Ravens, respectively.
But, it’s 2017. As the Titans have changed divisions, the rivalry has dissipated some. The two squads don’t play each other nearly as often, and the Bengals have gotten the better of Tennessee in the past few years.
However, with all of the close history that has lessened, there are so many parallels with these two franchises. Between their lack of Super Bowl wins and appearances, the untimely deaths of former players (McNair for the Titans and Chris Henry for the Bengals), or the lack of playoff wins, there are many similarities.
While the Bengals have embodied postseason futility—as evidenced by their 27-year quest for a lone win in the postseason bracket—the folks in Tennessee have been waiting quite a long time for a playoff win as well. In fact, the last time Nashville saw a postseason win by their pro football franchise was back in the 2002 season.
Additionally, both teams saw similar draft needs this offseason. The NCAA trifecta of Corey Davis, Mike Williams and John Ross were considered as high-end, first round picks, with the Titans taking Davis at No. 5 overall and the Bengals grabbing Ross at No. 9.
Even with the high picks resulting from poor 2016 seasons, the two teams are headed in different directions at the moment. The last time they faced off, Cincinnati trounced the Titans in 2014, 33-7. But, that was when the team was struggling through a combination of Jake Locker, Zach Mettenberger and Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback.
Marcus Mariota is now at the helm of the squad and despite some injuries, he’s had the Titans knocking at the postseason doorstep over the past two seasons. But, it hasn’t been all on him. The Tennessee brain trust has made the wise decision to supplement their often-high draft picks with savvy trade and free agency moves.
Edge rusher Brian Orakpo, running back DeMarco Murray, tight end Delanie Walker, as well as wide receivers Rishard Matthews and Eric Decker have all been veteran additions to assist Mariota. The plan has had the Titans sniffing a Wild Card berth with nine wins last year, with them also being a co-leader in the AFC South at 5-3 this year.
Bengals fans have been frustrated at the lack of usage and progress with Ross this year. However, if there is something they can take solace in, it’s that Davis—a guy many Bengals fans wanted this April—also hasn’t played much and has been injured for much of the season. While it’s a terrible that both have been injured, it’s part of football.
Ross has one carry for 12 yards and a lost fumble, while Davis has just nine catches for 101 yards. Williams has just two catches for 22 yards with the Chargers, so this exciting trio has disappointed all of their respective fan bases so far in their rookie campaigns.
There are so many things to look at this week. Possible fatigue on behalf of the Bengals is one, as they are making a pretty long trip for the second week in a row. Spotty quarterback play by both Mariota and Andy Dalton is another, as expectations for both are higher.
Like last week against the Jaguars, this week will likely be determined by who can both establish and stop the run. Both teams employ some great running back stables, complete with some big names. However, Tennessee’s offensive line is playing much better football than that of Cincinnati.
Additionally, Cincinnati is facing a couple of relative Achilles heels for their defense. A nimble quarterback in Mariota (three touchdown runs this season) and an able tight end in Walker, should he end up being available, could spell doom for a unit that does a couple of other important facets well.
On paper, the rosters seem to be of equal talent, but coaching, effort and execution seem to tip the scales towards the Titans. Obviously, those three aren’t mutually exclusive from one another, so Marvin Lewis’ squad will have needed to take major leaps from their terrible failures in all three aspects last week against the Jaguars.
Do you have confidence in that happening, based on what you’ve seen from Lewis in his 15 years with the Bengals? I don’t.
Titans 23, Bengals 16.
AC — Are there such a thing as miracles? If so, it ain’t happening for Cincy this week.