The Cincinnati Bengals are in unprecedented territory. Their playoff drought-ending victory over the Las Vegas Raiders awarded them a chance to face the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs.
While the Bengals beat the Titans the last time they played each other, the rosters that will take the field on Saturday are completely different. This year’s Titans, the No. 1 seed in the AFC, are a tough matchup for the Bengals, particularly in lieu of recent injuries on the defensive line. Tennessee enters the matchup as a 3.5-point favorite via DraftKings Sportsbook.
However, the Bengals can get the win this weekend if they focus on these five keys to success.
Play from the Front
When they played the Cleveland Browns in Week 9, the Bengals turned the ball over thrice in the first half (once via a fumble, once on downs, and the infamous opening-drive pick-six) and fell behind 24-10. This allowed the Browns to lean on the run game in the second half and the forced the Bengals to abandon it. This was a recipe for disaster against the Browns, and it’s the same against Tennessee.
While the Bengals run defense is greatly improved from a year ago, they face a unit in Tennessee that is hard to contain with or without Derrick Henry. The best way to control it is to get out to an early lead, putting pressure on the Titans’ offense to favor the pass game.
In this way, the cliché is true. The best defense is a good offense, because a good offense can dictate the game script.
Air it Out
In order to get out to an early lead, the offense must come out swinging. Let Joe Burrow get into empty and do what he does best. Get Ja’Marr Chase the ball in a position where he can make a guy miss and turn a short pass into a huge gain, and don’t be afraid to take deep shots to Chase.
You might think that after getting out to an early lead, they’d do best to run the ball and in doing so run the clock. Theoretically, I’m with you, but mirroring their offense, the Titans defense is much better against the run than the pass. With Burrow’s high completion rate, they can continue to chuck it and still keep the clock ticking. This is the right moment for Burrow and crew to put up some serious numbers on their way to an upset.
Be plus-two in Turnover Margin
Zac Taylor has talked about their team goal of being plus-two in turnover margin, or generating two more turnovers than they give up, every week. At the beginning of the season, Burrow was throwing too many interceptions and the defense was not generating enough turnovers, but things have changed in recent weeks. Burrow has been much better with the ball and the defense has been getting interceptions and causing fumbles.
If they can get the ball in Burrow’s hands two extra times, it will help them build their lead and put them in a great position to get the win this weekend. But the offense has to do their part too. They must capitalize on turnover opportunities by putting points on the board. Plus-two in turnover margin should equal plus-14 on the scoreboard.
In addition to creating turnovers, getting red zone stops is vital for a defense. The Bengals have been excellent in this area, Last week they held the Raiders to one touchdown in five red zone appearances.
Unfortunately, the offense did not share in this success. They only scored two touchdowns in five red zone appearances. In order to build a commanding lead and force the Titans to put the game in Ryan Tannehill’s hands, they must finish drives in the end zone.
There have been some scary moments on special teams in recent weeks. The Bengals have given up long returns, although a couple of these were nullified by penalties, but it is cause for concern.
Special teams plays are incredibly important, as a return for a touchdown or a blocked punt can change the game instantly. The special teams unit must be on top of their game to get the win this weekend.
This will be a tough matchup for the Bengals, but if they can achieve these five keys to they’ll be moving on to the AFC Championship Game.