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5 players and matchups to watch for in Bengals vs. Titans

The Bengals’ secondary faces their toughest test of the season today.

Cincinnati Bengals v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

At 1-5-1, far behind the rest of the AFC North, the Cincinnati Bengals have very little to lose this week. The 5-1 Tennessee Titans are in town and can improve on their lead over the AFC South against a Bengals team that’s trying to hold it all together.

The main on-field story surrounding this game this week is how in the world the Bengals plan to contain Titans’ running back Derrick Henry. It’ll take the entire defense to hold their gaps and collapse on Henry at the sign of first contact to limit the damage he can create on the ground.

The matchup of Henry vs. all of the Bengals is a bit too broad for this weekly article, and while we know Henry is a beast, his quarterback isn’t too shabby either. Here are the other matchups and players to watch for in the Bengals’ final game before their bye week.

A.J. Green

The offense’s oldest player has certainly elevated his game in the last two weeks. Green has 178 yards on 15 receptions since he put up a goose egg against the Baltimore Ravens. We’ve seen Green line up in the slot more often since then, but the vast majority of Green’s production has come from outside targets. Does he have one more vintage A.J. game in him before the bye week? Green has exactly 300 career yards in three games against the Titans.

The Matchup: Malcolm Butler — In Green’s one career game against Butler back in 2016, the former Super Bowl hero limited Green to one four-yard reception. Butler isn’t the same player as he used to be, but he’ll face Green for the majority of his coverage snaps.

Hakeem Adeniji

Throughout the offseason we’ve heard plenty of praise from offensive line coach Jim Turner regarding Adeniji. Cincinnati’s sixth-round pick has only played a handful of tackle snaps so far this season, but with no Jonah Williams available today, Adeniji will be starting for the first time in his career. Williams has set a pretty high bar at the left tackle spot, and Adeniji meeting that in his first ever start is not the expectation. But how he performs could impact if he gets future chances to start this season.

The Matchup: Harold Landry III — No Jadeveon Clowney will hurt the Titans’ pass rush and his absence puts more pressure on Landry to perform well. The former second-round pick in his in third season and only has one sack on the year and sports a lowly 57.6 pass-rushing grade via Pro Football Focus. Landry has a chance to turn his season around against Adeniji, unless Adeniji keeps him in check.

Margus Hunt

In his first week back with the Bengals, only Carl Lawson had more pass-rushing snaps last week against the Cleveland Browns than Hunt had. Now that Carlos Dunlap is out of the picture, defensive coordinator will have to rely on Hunt even more on obvious passing downs against a quarterback in Ryan Tannehill and his 108.2 pass rating under pressure.

The Matchup: Dennis Kelly — Before the Titans had to replace left tackle an injured Taylor Lewan during the season, Kelly became Jack Conklin’s replacement at right tackle when Conklin signed with the Browns in the offseason. Kelly’s had some rough games this season in pass protection and is PFF’s third-worst right tackle going by pass-blocking grade.

William Jackson III

Cincinnati’s defense sorely missed Jackson last week when Baker Mayfield completed over 20-straight passes against them. Jackson returns to the secondary with the hopes of continuing a strong season in a contract year. He and the rest of the unit need to play mistake-free defense against Tannehill and the NFL’s best passing offense from an expected points added per play perspective.

The Matchup: A.J. Brown — A knee injury sidelined Brown for the team’s second and third games of the year, but on the days he has played, he’s looked like the player that took the league by storm as a rookie last year. Jackson will have his hands full today.

Vonn Bell

One of the few healthy free agent signings from this year is becoming a popular scapegoat for the defense’s woes. It’s true that Bell hasn’t played well and criticism is well warranted. He’s also being used in ways in which he struggled with the New Orleans Saints. Whatever issues the coaches have in terms of utilizing Bell need to be fixed quickly against the Titan’s potent offensive attack.

The Matchup: Jonnu Smith — Tennessee’s talented tight end has been pretty quickly the last two weeks. In the first five weeks of the season, Smith was PFF’s third-best tight end by receiving grade, so we know he’s capable of popping off in any given week. He’s got a great matchup against a Bengals’ defense that continues to struggle stopping tight ends; a problem Bell is complicit it.