The Bengals, coming off their first win of the season, are looking to even up their record at 2-2, proving their slow start was just that, a start. The Titans, also 1-2, are looking to get back on track as well.
Here are a few matchups to keep your eye on this Sunday when Joe Burrow and company take the field in Nashville.
Bengals Corners vs. DeAndre Hopkins
Hopkins, now 31, isn’t the wide receiver he used to be. Once feared as the best wide receiver in the league, he’s now been supplanted by guys like Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase. That’s not to say, though, that Hopkins isn’t still to be feared and respected, because he absolutely is. He’s still 6-foot-1 and still weighs every bit of 220 pounds, and he hasn’t forgotten how to play football.
So far this season, he’s caught 14 passes for 153 yards and no touchdowns, which is 54 yards more than the next receiver, Treylon Burks. The Bengals' front seven had an incredible game against the Rams. This is a great chance for the secondary to have a shut-down game.
D.J. Reader vs. Derrick Henry
The Titans offense flows through Henry. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is basically asked to manage the game and not screw things up too badly while the defense and the running game wear the opposition down. That has worked, especially when Henry is at his best. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound running back has an incredible top-end speed for a ball carrier of his size. However, the closest thing the NFL will ever see to Juggernaut will be 30 in a few months, and he’s showing some signs of slowing down.
Henry has carried the ball 51 times for 163 yards and one touchdown. He has only averaged 3.2 yards per carry, compared to rookie Tyjae Spears’ 5.5.
Reader is among the best run-stopping defensive tackles in the league, and the defense is coming off an amazing performance against the Rams. Reader has shut down Henry before, and I’m thinking he’s up for Round 3.
Bengals offensive line vs. Titans pass rush
The Titans defense is tied for fourth most sacks in the NFL, having brought down the opposing quarterback in the backfield 10 times. Both defensive end Jeffery Simmons and linebacker Arden Key have two sacks, while edge rusher Denico Autry has four so far this season.
The Bengals offensive line was embarrassed by Myles Garrett and the Browns pass rush in Week 1, but they’ve played fairly well overall. Outside of giving up a couple of sacks to future Hall of Famers like Garrett and Aaron Donald, they’ve held their own.
If we’ve seen one thing so far this season, it’s that Burrow isn’t quite himself. With his injured calf, he’s not nearly as mobile as he typically has been. The offensive line doesn’t get the benefit of Burrow’s ability to slide and move in and out of the pocket. They’ll need to hold up against the good pass rush to give Burrow the time he needs while he plays with concrete shoes on.
Joe Burrow vs. Joe Burrow
Willie Lutz said something fairly profound on Twitter or X or whatever it is a couple of days ago.
No one's gonna like this tweet, but Joe Burrow reminded me of end-stage Big Ben last night.— Willie Lutz (@willie_lutz) September 26, 2023
It's clearly all happening in his brain, his body just isn't letting him put all those throws on the money.
Sucks, but might be the short-term reality. Gotta play that old man game!
This is a perfect description of who Joe Burrow has been so far this season and who he might be over the next couple of weeks as he recovers. Maybe he’ll be back to normal, or a little more normal, by Sunday against the Titans, but if he’s not, there’s no reason to force it.
This defense is too good, and the team boasts the best group of skill-position players on offense in the league. There’s no excuse they can’t win a few games against the likes of the Titans, Cardinals, and Seahawks with an “Old Man Ben” style of quarterback play from Burrow. There’s no reason for Burrow to injure himself further, trying to do something that Old Man Ben couldn’t do.
In other words, Burrow needs to let the team lift him up. He doesn’t need to lift them up this week. For someone like him, that’s likely easier said than done.
It’s not a permanent thing, but it’s necessary for now.
Zac Taylor vs Mike Vrabel
The Bengals have faced the Titans more than any other team in the NFL, with the exceptions of the Steelers and Browns, and we all know from brutal games played in the AFC North that familiarity breeds contempt. The Titans have won 40 of the matchups to the Bengals’ 37 (there was one tie), but the Bengals have owned their former division rivals over their last several meetings. The Bengals are 7-2 against the Titans since 2005.
Taylor has coached the Bengals three times against the Titans and has been victorious every time. Vrabel, I’m sure, would like to put an end to the trend, as would he like to avenge the home playoff loss Cincinnati handed them on their way to the Super Bowl following the 2021 season.
What matchups will you be keeping an eye out for on Sunday?