CINCINNATI — The Bengals are desperate for a win entering Sunday's matchup against the Titans. They've lost back-to-back games by a total of seven points.
Tennessee got off to a 5-0 start before last week's 27-24 loss to the Steelers.
Cincinnati is 1-5-1. They've lost three straight games. Here are three keys to victory and a prediction for Sunday's game.
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow has had the best two week stretch of his young NFL career. He's thrown for 719 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions over that span. He's completing 69% of his passes and averaging 8.36 yards-per-attempt. He's also ran for 36 yards and two more scores.
If the Bengals are going to have a chance on Sunday, then Burrow's hot streak has to continue.
That could be easier said than done. The 23-year-old will be without three starting offensive linemen. Left tackle Jonah Williams (stinger) and center Trey Hopkins (concussion) didn't play in the second half of last week's matchup against the Browns.
Billy Price and Fred Johnson played well off the bench. They gave Burrow time to throw the ball to his trio of dynamic wide receivers.
Starting right tackle Bobby Hart went down late in the game. That means sixth-round draft pick Hakeem Adeniji will make the first start of his NFL career against the Titans.
The Titans' pass rush is one of the worst in the NFL. They only have seven sacks this season, which is 31st in the league.
They do have capable players. Jadeveon Clowney has underachieved so far this season. He has to be looking forward to going up against Adeniji and Johnson. Harold Landry is another guy that can get after the quarterback.
If the Bengals are going to have a chance on Sunday, they're going to need to score early and often. That means the offensive line has to be competent.
Zac Taylor has to continue to get the ball out of Burrow's hands quickly. If he can do that and the rookie quarterback can get into a rhythm early, the Bengals will score points against the Titans.
No one should expect the Bengals' defense to actually stop Ryan Tannehill, Derrick Henry and the Titans.
This unit has given up nine touchdown passes and 828 yards from scrimmage in the past two games. They've been carved up by Baker Mayfield and Philip Rivers.
Tannehill is playing at a much higher level than those two, which could make for another long day at the office for the Bengals' defense.
Tannehill has a great tight end in Jonnu Smith, an excellent wide receiver in A.J. Brown and guys like Corey Davis and Adam Humphries that are capable of making big plays.
They aren't going to limit the Titans unless they can force some turnovers. Force a fumble or tip a pass. They have to find a way to disrupt the Tennessee offense.
Pressuring Tannehill would be their best shot at forcing a few turnovers. Expect the Bengals to try to generate some pressure, even if they have to blitz regularly.
Running the Ball
Joe Mixon is out again with a foot injury. Veteran running back Giovani Bernard played well in Mixon's absence against the Browns, but the Bengals' rushing attack was non-existent.
That has to change if they're going to beat the Titans. The Bengals' backs ran for 40 total yards in Week 7. Giovani Bernard averaged 2.8 yards-per-carry.
The offense was moving the ball up and down the field against Cleveland. Expecting a make-shift offensive line to succeed block effectively for 45-50 drop backs is unrealistic.
If the Bengals can somehow manage four yards-per-carry or more, then it will take some pressure off of the offensive line and give the defense more time on the sideline.
Prediction: The Bengals should be able to score in this game. Even with their issues up front, their offense is designed to work with below average offensive line play. Tee Higgins, A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd are a dangerous trio. Look from them to continue to put up big numbers against the Titans.
Unfortunately for Cincinnati, it's hard to see a scenario where the defense stops the Titans' offense. They can beat you through the air or on the ground. They have elite players at receiver and tight end. They have an athletic quarterback that is playing at a high level.
This is going to feel a lot like the Bengals' loss to the Browns in Week 2. The Titans will control the game, but Burrow and the offense will do just enough to hang around.
Final Score: Titans 36, Bengals 31
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