The Cincinnati Bengals appear to be turning a corner, of sorts, after a big Monday night win over the Los Angeles Rams. Still, concerns about the potency of the offense and the associated health of Joe Burrow’s calf are at the forefront of Who Dey Nation’s mind.
They face a familiarly tough foe this week in the Tennessee Titans on their home turf. Cincinnati has won each contest against Mike Vrabel’s Titans since Burrow joined the pros (3-0), and it appears like a winnable contest again this week, but looks can be deceiving.
Tennessee is looking to rebound and is always a tough opponent, despite the shape of their roster. We tapped the knowledge of Jimmy Morris over at SB Nation’s Music City Miracles site to get a peek over the Nashville fence.
1.) AC: What exactly happened last week against Cleveland? Obviously, the Bengals and their faithful were rooting for Tennessee to take care of business, but it seemed to get out of control quickly. Was that an anomaly or the beginning of a 2023 trend in your estimation?
JM: The Titans got whooped all over the field in Cleveland. The biggest concern we have had about this team all along has been the offensive line and they were terrible against the Browns. The question as to whether that is an anomaly or a trend is still too early to answer.
The line had been at least serviceable in the first two games. How they rebound in this one and going forward will answer the anomaly or trend question.
The offensive line wasn’t the only problem on Sunday. The defense was also unable to get off the field. Part of that can be attributed to the fact that the offense was unable to sustain any drives, but they still gave up too many big plays.
That is something that has been an issue for them in every game so far. The Titans’ defensive front is good and should be able to get sustained pressure, but when they don’t the defensive backs, specifically Kristian Fulton, have been getting torched.
Fulton is a guy in a contract year that has shown some promise. He missed week 2 with a hamstring injury. The hope is that he was still recovering last week and will bounce back this week.
That’s a long way of saying that I’m not sure if it was an anomaly or trend yet, but I’m praying it was an anomaly.
2.) AC: The Titans’ front is formidable, but the Bengals have been transitioning to a quicker passing game wherein the ball comes out much quicker since that nine-sack Divisional Round a couple of years ago. What can the Titans do to still get pressure against an improved Cincinnati offensive line and their quick-hitting passing game?
JM: Win on the defensive line. As I said above, the Titans have a problem at corner. Their only hope is to force Burrow off his spot.
That can start with Jeffery Simmons winning his matchups. The same can be said for Denico Autry. If they can force him to have to move it will allow Harold Landry and Arden Key to get Burrow on the ground.
Also, with the questions about how healthy Burrow is, it cannot hurt to make him move more than he wants to move. Make him prove that calf is healthy. With that being said, I’m terrified of the Bengals’ quick-hitting passing game and am not sure the Titans are at all equipped to stop it.
3.) AC: It looks, on paper, as if it’s been a rough start for Ryan Tannehill this year. Is he one of the main sources of the problems with the Titans right now? If so, is Will Levis (who’s been a healthy scratch) even close to being ready to start NFL games, or would it be Malik Willis, should a change occur? Is one even needed, or is it too early to go there because we’ve seen Tannehill have random career renaissances?
JM: It’s too early to talk about a change yet. The one thing that was clear in the preseason is that Tannehill gives them the best chance to win right now. This isn’t a Super Bowl team by any measure, but they are a team that can beat bad teams and that could be enough to win a pretty bad AFC South. Tannehill will be the starter as long as they are alive in the division and he is healthy, of course.
If/when they do make a change, it would be Willis who got the first crack at it. He outperformed Levis in the spring and summer. It didn’t help that Levis got hurt and had to miss the final two preseason games, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered.
Willis made some big strides from year one to year two. Is he the answer for the future? I still have my doubts. There is a good chance the Titans head into the 2024 season with an open competition between Willis and Levis.
4.) AC: Derrick Henry, DeAndre Hopkins and Denico Autry were all on the Thursday injury report. What is Tennessee’s plan of attack this week in general, and what might it be if some/all of these guys are to miss the contest?
JM: All three of those guys are going to play. The Titans always plan to establish Derrick Henry. They haven’t been able to do that through three weeks. The hope from a fan’s perspective is that they will try to throw first if the Bengals come out and load the box, but who knows if that is what they will do.
On defense, as I said above, the only hope is that they can make Burrow uncomfortable enough to force him into a few mistakes. A short field or two certainly wouldn’t hurt this team.
5.) AC: DraftKings Sportsbook has the Bengals -2.5 this week against the Titans. Is that a fair line? How do you see this one playing out this week?
JM: I thought the line might be more like Bengals -4.5 after what we saw last week. The Titans have a lot to prove here, and Mike Vrabel has been really good at rallying his team in these types of games in the past.
With that being said, I would find it hard to bet any money on the Titans after what we saw last week. I think Burrow and his weapons have a field day in this one. The only way they stay in this one is by keeping pace with the Bengals’ offense. I don’t see a scenario where that happens.
Our thanks to Jimmy Morris and MCM. Go check out the other side of the conversation here, where I answer some questions from Jimmy.