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Battle in the Trenches: Bengals Can Hold Their Own Against Titans

Bengals Can Hold Their Own Against Titans

The bye week is just a few days away, though it may seem like a lifetime for Jonah Williams, Bobby Hart, and Trey Hopkins. The Bengals ruled out all three injured starters for Sunday's matchup against the Titans. 

It comes at a point in the year when the Bengals' offensive line was beginning to gel. The group had strung together a couple of consistent weeks. This same group came together to make a human turnstile for most of September. They couldn't block anyone. 

The Bengals desperately need Billy Price, Hakeem Adeniji and Fred Johnson to be competent.

At first glance, it's hard to find positives in this matchup, but the Titans' front seven says otherwise.

Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel built his reputation as a defensive force playing linebacker on the 2000s Patriots. That magic hasn't carried over to his pass rush this season. The Titans rank 27th in pressure rate after slotting 25th last year. They have seven sacks, which is 31st in the NFL.

Vrabel didn't replace defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who retired during the offseason. That change, along with the additions of Vic Beasley and Jadeveon Clowney, had potential, but it hasn't come to fruition.

The free agent edge defenders have combined for 17 tackles and zero sacks on the season. Clowney is on pace for his worst season as a pro, posting a career-low pressure rate (9.2%) and riding the longest streak without a sack in his career. 

Clowney, 27, has gone nine straight regular-season games without a sack, matching a streak he set during his rookie season. He's a big-splash player allergic to the consistent dominance many associate with his name. The last time Clowney had a sack was in his game-wrecking performance against San Francisco last November. The Titans paid him with more of those gems in mind.

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Beasley busted onto the scene with 15.5 sacks his rookie year but has just 18 in the four years since. Tennessee took a flyer on him with a one-year deal, but it hasn't worked. Beasley has three tackles and two pressures in four games according to Sports Info Solutions. The 2016 first-round pick has the highest missed tackle rate on the team (25%). 

His nightmare start is a big reason why Tennessee has leaned on Harold Landry and Jeffery Simmons to pick up some of the slack.

The duo has produced 24 of the team's 51 pressures and half of their sacks. Landry is the lone Titans edge defender with a sack, but just like Clowney, he's posting a career-low pressure rate (6.4%). Simmons was the Titans' first-round pick last year and he's living up to his draft status. The Mississippi State-product is the second-highest graded second-year defender in the NFL with a PFF grade of 86.1. His 2.5 sacks are tied for fifth among all defensive tackles. Simmons may be the only player the Bengals have to double consistently.

Cruel poetry, the only healthy linemen at the Bengals' disposal are Michael Jordan and Alex Redmond. Guard has been a sore spot all year, but they'll have to lead the way for their three incoming teammates. Price will slot in at center, Adeniji at left tackle, and Johnson at right tackle. Jordan is coming off a career-high PFF grade (75.3) against the Browns. The young guard is moving in the right direction. 

Jordan has the best-blown block rate on the team (1.2 percent), while leading the unit in snaps (493). On the flip side, all three fill-ins have something to prove to this coaching staff. Price and Johnson started on solid footing last weekend. The two were on the field most of the game against Cleveland, playing 45 and 46 snaps out of a possible 75. The Bengals' offense allowed four sacks but they never fell out of rhythm.

"I was proud of those guys for coming in and playing the way they did, you know when stuff starts to hit the fan," Joe Burrow said when asked about the offensive line. "They played their tails off for us and stepped up when their number was called."

The Bengals know this unit is up against it so don't be surprised if they help the young tackles with extra blockers on the outside. Adeniji's four snaps against Cleveland were his first taste of NFL experience. Johnson has the third-worst blown block rate (5.2%) in the NFL (min. 170 snaps). If Jim Turner and Zac Taylor can get creative with their protections and work the screen game like last week, then the backups should be able to hold their own against the Titans. 

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