Can Joe Burrow finally lead Cincy to a win over a good team?
Fresh off their first loss of the season, the Tennessee Titans make the short trip north to take on the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. Cincy has won four of the last six in this series, although the last matchup came in 2017. Tennessee got two rushing touchdowns from DeMarco Murray in a 24-20 victory, and the quarterback matchup for this one featured Andy Dalton against Marcus Mariota.
Tennessee (5-1) fell 27-24 last week at home against Pittsburgh. It was the Titans' third game over a 12-day span after having a makeup game on a Tuesday a few weeks ago. Derrick Henry struggled a bit against the Steelers' solid run defense, and the defense couldn't get the stops when it mattered. On the positive side, A.J. Brown continued to play like a No. 1 receiver with six receptions for 153 yards and a touchdown. Even with the loss, they are in first place in the AFC South by a game over the Colts and have the third-best record in the AFC, trailing only the undefeated Steelers and 6-1 Chiefs.
Cincinnati (1-5-1) went up and down the field with Cleveland but ended up in a 37-34 loss to the Browns. Cleveland scored the final touchdown with just 11 seconds left as Cincy's defense struggled in the second half, especially the fourth quarter. There were five possessions in the fourth quarter between the two squads, and each of them resulted in a touchdown. Joe Burrow was magnificent outside of an interception in the end zone, throwing for 406 yards and three touchdowns. He did so without the help of much of a running game, as Joe Mixon missed the contest with a foot injury that will sideline him again this week.
Tennessee at Cincinnati
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 1 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Titans -6
Three Things to Watch
This is the Titans' first road game since late September as they just finished a three-game homestand that came after an early, unexpected bye week due to their COVID-19 outbreak. I'm interested to see how the team continues to hold up considering it will be their fourth contest over the last 19 days. Next up will be a home matchup with the Bears, so focus shouldn't be an issue. Meanwhile, this is the Bengals' second straight at home, and it's situated right before their bye week, so Cincinnati should be ready and raring to go. At home, the young Bengals have beaten the Jaguars and lost by just three points to the Browns and Chargers.
2. A tale of two styles, part 1
With no Joe Mixon, Cincy only ran it 21 times compared to 48 passes last week. Giovanni Bernard did his best with his touches, racking up nearly 100 yards, but it wasn't enough. Cleveland had a pretty fierce pass rush that got to Joe Burrow four times in the loss. Unfortunately, Mixon won't be back to take some pressure off of the rookie quarterback. When he's had time though, he's been amazing, as Tyler Boyd, A.J. Green, and Tee Higgins have formed a potent trio.
Tennessee's defense has been a massive disappointment so far with six players accounting for just seven sacks as a unit. They've made up for it with eight interceptions, but teams have taken advantage of the lack of a pass rush. Three opponents have scored more than 30 points against them already this season. They're also one of eight teams to allow more than 400 total yards of offense per game.
3. A tale of two styles, part 2
The Titans want to grind you down on offense with Derrick Henry and a play-action passing attack that usually works. The reigning NFL rushing champion has three 100-yard efforts already this season. That number seems a little low, but last year, Henry had only one triple-digit rushing effort by this point of the season. Ryan Tannehill is more than capable of winning games by himself, but the offense is much better with some balance to it. The Titans were able to keep things close against the Steelers last week despite tight end Jonnu Smith having only one reception.
Outside of Week 2, Cincy's defense has put up decent numbers against the run. They haven't faced a back the caliber of Henry though yet — with all due respect to Nick Chubb and Jonathan Taylor. The Bengals D has 10 sacks and seven interceptions entering this one, which helps make up for run and pass defenses that rank in the bottom 10 of the NFL.
I really want to pick the Bengals because they have the talent to win this game. My problem is that they are still learning how to win and making mistakes in clutch time that are preventing them from doing so. Joe Burrow is going to have a couple of touchdown passes, but Derrick Henry will hit pay dirt several times in a fun shootout on Sunday.
Prediction: Titans 34, Bengals 30
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
(Top photo courtesy of @Bengals)