By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) – The Cincinnati Bengals will try to post the longest home
winning streak in franchise history on Sunday afternoon as they play host to
the Tennessee Titans.
The Bengals are off to a 2-0 start, picking up a big Week 1 road win over
rival Baltimore to begin the season before besting the Atlanta Falcons last
Sunday in the home opener at Paul Brown Stadium. The 24-10 victory was
Cincinnati’s 10th in a row at home during the regular season, matching the
record set in 1988-89.
A first home loss since Dec. 9, 2012 versus Dallas was never really threatened
in Week 2 as Cincinnati led by seven points at the half and ripped off another
14 points in the third quarter. Andy Dalton threw for 252 yards, including a
76-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu.
Running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill combined for 164 rushing yards
and each scored a touchdown. Hill’s was the first of his career, while Bernard
added 79 yards receiving on five catches.
“We got exactly what we needed to have,” Dalton said. “I think the offense was
really balanced. Once we got the lead, we could focus on running the ball and
eating up the clock.”
The offense was balanced despite wide receiver A.J. Green exiting the game
early due to an aggravated toe strain, limited to only five snaps.
Green’s status for this game is doubtful, so the Bengals may have to try for
their first 3-0 start since 2006 without the star wideout.
The Titans have split their first two games of the season, following up a
solid win over Kansas City with a 26-10 setback to the Dallas Cowboys last
Tennessee was trying to start 2-0 for the first time since 2008, but trailed
16-0 at halftime as it was held to just two first downs in the first half and
did not convert on six third-down attempts.
Jake Locker connected on 18-of-34 passes for 234 yards, one touchdown and two
interceptions, while tight end Delanie Walker caught 10 passes for a career-
high 142 yards with a score.
“We have 14 games left,” said Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt. “There are
some things there — you look at the way we came back and cut it to six when
we did absolutely nothing offensively in the first half and our defense held
us in there. We have to learn from this game. That was my sense from our
players in the locker room afterwards.
The Titans have won 10 of their past 14 versus the Bengals, including six of
the last seven in Cincinnati, and lead the all-time series 39-32-1 in the
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Bengals have yet to allow a sack or suffer a turnover, but Dalton will be
tested again if Green can’t go. He also lost his second tight end this season
when Alex Smith landed on injured reserve due to a biceps injury.
Cincinnati had placed tight end Tyler Eifert on short-term IR after Week 1,
leaving Jermaine Gresham and H-back Ryan Hewitt as the lone healthy options
before the club re-signed Kevin Brock this week.
Wide receiver Marvin Jones has yet to play this year due to a foot injury and
the Bengals also lost guard Kevin Zeitler (calf) and linebacker Vontaze
Burfict (neck) to injury versus the Falcons. Zeitler was on crutches Monday,
making it unlikely he’ll be able to play, while Burfict has now been hurt in
each of the first two games, suffering a concussion in Week 1.
Key reserve Brandon Thompson also went down last week with a knee injury, so
the Bengals are probably looking forward to their Week 4 bye.
“A number of guys played more snaps than they thought they would,” said
head coach Marvin Lewis, “and they did a good job. It was a good adjustment
also by the coaches, but those guys are the ones who came in and played.”
Helping Dalton overcome the loss of Green and Jones has been the duo of
Bernard and Hill. Bernard has 279 yards from scrimmage through two weeks and
is averaging 108.6 yards from scrimmage in his past five at home.
“Having Jeremy enables us to have a little bit of a change of pace,” noted
Lewis. “We’ve got some offensive sets where they can both be on the field.
They’re both great receivers. They both continue to do a good job in
protection. To me, it allows Jeremy Hill to grow. He got to play a little bit
more yesterday. I think he doubled his snaps from the first week, so that was
Sanu is also a weapon all over the field as he completed a 50-yard pass versus
the Falcons, making him the first player since David Patten in 2001 with a 75-
yard TD catch and 50-yard completion in the same game. He has completed all
three pass attempts of his career for 148 yards and a score.
Dalton threw for three touchdowns in the previous meeting between these clubs
on Nov. 6, 2011 in Tennessee. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap had two sacks in
that game and has notched a sack in two straight overall.
The Titans have had their own success rushing the quarterback this year,
notching an AFC high-tying eight sacks through two games. Four of those came
versus the Cowboys and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey matched a career high
with two sacks in the contest.
The eight total sacks are the most by the Titans defense in the season’s first
two weeks since 2010.
However, Tennessee did allow Dallas to rush for 220 yards, with Cowboys
running back DeMarco Murray notching 167 of those and one touchdown.
That could lead to the Bengals riding Bernard and Hill hard this weekend,
especially with Green likely out.
“I won’t say it’s anything they did,” Titans nose tackle Sammie Hall said of
the Cowboys. “Although you can’t take anything away from Murray, it was us as
a defensive line. We, and myself personally, have to stay in our gaps. Gap
control and missed tackles. And I think that played a pretty big part.”
Tennessee will also try to get off to a better start this weekend, especially
under center. Locker ended up having a big day connecting with Walker, who
caught a 61-yard touchdown, but the early hole was too big to overcome.
The good news is that Locker has won three of his past four road starts,
including Week 1 in Kansas City as he threw a pair of touchdown passes while
posting a 111.4 passer rating.
He’ll try to mirror his second half from the Cowboys game and keep the run
game involved. Tennessee ran for 82 yards on just 13 carries versus Dallas.
“He completed more passes. That was a difference,” Whisenhunt said of Locker’s
two halves. “There were a lot of factors that were involved. The quarterback
gets the credit a lot of times, and he gets the blame a lot of times. There
were some protection issues in the first half that led to some problems. It
was a team effort. There were a lot of things that didn’t go the way we wanted
If the Bengals are going to have to play without Green, this is a good week to
do so. The Titans have yielded 143.5 rushing yards per game so far, so the
pressure will be off Cincinnati’s third-ranked pass attack this weekend.
The key for Cincinnati has been its plus-five turnover differential, and
another clean sheet by the offense this week would be huge, especially if
Dunlap, Geno Atkins and company can get to Locker.
The loss of Zeitler should mean Dalton will probably face more pressure than
the first two weeks, but establishing a successful run game should be the main
“They’re a good football team,” Whisenhunt said of the Bengals. “I know that
after having played against them a number of times. Going there to play them,
they’re 2-0, it’s going to be a tough challenge, no question.”
It’s a challenge probably too much to overcome for the Titans.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Bengals 27, Titans 13