Euphoria might be one word to use when describing the fan base of the Cincinnati Bengals after week two of the 2014 season. They have shot out of a cannon and off to a 2-0 start, thanks to steady offensive play, smothering defense and the ability to overcome injuries. The scary thing is that one could argue that they haven't hit their collective stride quite yet.
The Bengals have done well on the keys we have laid out for them over the past two weeks and, not coincidentally, they have two wins under their belt. Let's take a look at the five keys to a Bengals victory over the Titans this week.
Cleaning Up Special Teams:
The Bengals have left 12 points on the board because of four missed field goals by Mike Nugent on the year. Think about this: Cincinnati has outscored their opponents 47-26 without those conversions. In truth, both of their wins would/should/could have been well out of hand if even some of those tries were made.
Unfortunately, the usually-steady Nugent has already tied the amount of misses he had all of last year with four. This Titans team is Jekyll and Hyde, so it's hard to predict which one will show up at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday. Whichever one it is, the Bengals can't afford to leave points on the board again because of the injuries they've accrued and this being the NFL.
Aside from Nugent, a big return from the unit would also be most welcomed and could stun the Titans--especially early. Is it too much to ask for a sweet return from Adam Jones against his former team?
Continue To Keep Andy Dalton Clean:
It's no secret: when you protect your quarterback, he plays better football. The Bengals' Dalton is a shining/glaring example of this (depending which side you're looking at it) and the two-game sample size in Hue Jackson's system continues to prove this. There have been zero sacks on Dalton so far and some stat gurus say only two hits on him. That obviously points to stellar line play.
This must continue on Sunday against Tennessee. Jurrell Casey is Geno Atkins Lite and already has two sacks this season. Aside from him, the entire unit is currently the No.1 ranked passing defense in the league, giving up just 163 yards per game through the air. Jason McCourty and Michael Griffin have combined for three interceptions so far, so ensuring Dalton's comfort in the pocket will enable him to make smart throws and continue to take care of the football.
Big Plays From Receivers Not Named A.J. Green:
It looks like the Bengals will have their Pro Bowl wideout this weekend, which is great news against that aforementioned No.1 passing defense of the Titans. Still, the team is missing a couple of their top offensive weapons in Marvin Jones (though it sounds like he's progressing well) and Tyler Eifert. Someone aside from No.18 will need to step up.
Last week, Mohamed Sanu broke the game open with a 76-yard sprint to give the Bengals a two-touchdown lead. He also added a 50-yard pass for good measure. Dane Sanzenbacher had a couple of catches--both were for first downs--and Brandon Tate was the recipient of that Sanu deep ball. The Bengals' receiving corps will need to prove that last week wasn't a fluke and that they truly are as deep of a team that they have showed the first two games.
Play Smart Football/Limit Penalties And Turnovers:
In the first two keys pieces, I wrote that the team needed to play turnover-less football. They did so and pulled out two wins. It's not rocket science, folks: if you turn the ball over in the NFL, you're going to lose. I'm not saying that they have to have a goose egg in this column again this week, but they have to keep them to a minimum, at the very least.
Moreover, penalties need to be few and far between as well. Last week, the Falcons decided to bring the chips that resided on their shoulders we saw in Hard Knocks. Atlanta tried to bait the Bengals into after-the-whistle penalties with cheap shots and the like and the Bengals didn't fall for it (the referees also inexplicably caught and penalized the true instigators of these and not the retaliatory players). Smart, level-headed play by the orange and black will be needed on Sunday to avoid falling into a trap and putting themselves in a big field position hole.
Crack "The Whiz's" Code:
From 2004-2006, Ken Whisenhunt terrorized the AFC North as the offensive coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The team won a Super Bowl under his eye and he continued to get under the Bengals' skin into last season when he led the Chargers to an improbable beatdown of Cincinnati at Paul Brown Stadium. Though the Bengals defense frustrated San Diego's offense just a few weeks prior to the Wild Card matchup, "The Whiz" made adjustments and tore apart the league's No.3 defense of 2013.
As the head coach of the Titans, Whisenhunt wants to limit quarterback Jake Locker's responsibilities, get quality play from his backs in multiple facets of the game and throw in the occasional trick play. The Bengals defense will need to be prepared for anything, ranging from Locker tucking the ball and running to a flea-flicker of some kind. Whisenhunt has had success against Marvin Lewis and the Bengals over the years, so the staff will need to emulate the success it had back in December of 2013 when they beat the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium.