It’s a quasi-Battle of the Bluegrass today, as Kentucky’s two geographically closest NFL teams collide in several hours. The 5-1 Tennessee Titans have made their way up to Cincinnati to face the 1-5-1 Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium. Derrick Henry and company are coming off their first loss of the season after missing a game-tying field goal at the horn versus the Steelers, while Joe Burrow and the Bengals are limping towards their Week 9 bye week.
Before we get too deep into the matchup, let’s break down what’s been a busy week of Bengals news.
The Carlos Dunlap saga is over
On Wednesday, the Bengals officially dealt DE Carlos Dunlap to the Seattle Seahawks for a 7th round pick and offensive lineman B.J. Finney. It was a rather sour end to an awfully sweet tenure for Dunlap, who gave Cincinnati a decade of excellent play and came within one sack of the franchise record. While reckless at times, his escape strategy was a calculated one. If he didn’t make his problems public and force his way off the team, he may have rotted at the bottom of the depth chart for the rest of the season. A change of scenery ought to serve Carlos well, and Seattle is a great landing spot. The 5-1 team is in a competitive NFC West division and desperately needs pass-rushing help. It wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see Dunlap get back to himself soon.
Offensive line help is on the way
In return for Dunlap, Cincinnati not only got some draft capital but also landed veteran guard/center B.J. Finney. He was with the Steelers from 2016 until last year when he joined Seattle. He’s a solid pass blocker, a commodity that has been as rare as hen’s teeth on this Bengals team. If you’re wanting some more insight on Finney, check out this piece from The Athletic’s Jay Morrison.
Due to the league’s COVID policies, Finney won’t be available to protect Burrow from Tennessee. Look for him to make his Cincy debut in Week 10 after the team’s bye.
In that game versus the Steelers, Finney will be joined by Quinton Spain, a LG who was recently cut by the Bills and has since signed with the Bengals. Spain is a six-year veteran who has a ton of starting experience. As Morrison explains, he started every game in Buffalo last season before being benched for the team’s 2019 second-round pick Cody Ford.
Spain has been elevated to the active roster, but only ought to serve as injury insurance in Week 8. Like Finney, expect to see him in action after the bye.
Joe Mixon is out again this week. The offensive line will be without three starters as Trey Hopkins, Bobby Hart, and Jonah Williams have been ruled out. So here’s your starting offensive line:
So, according to Zac Taylor, sounds like your #Bengals OL on Sunday should go like this to start:
LT: Hakeem Adeniji
LG: Michael Jordan
C: Billy Price
RG: Alex Redmond
RT: Fred Johnson
Quinton Spain (PS call up)
Shaq Calhoun (PS call up)
— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) October 30, 2020
Words of the Week
Giovanni Bernard filled in nicely for Mixon last week, and he will again today. Listen to Joe Burrow talk about his admiration for the veteran back:
“You know Gio doesn’t get a lot of shine because of the role he plays, but in my opinion might be the most critical role on the team. He’s a great leader.” – Joe Burrow https://t.co/ASI1TmQiXq pic.twitter.com/S5yg3qIcPy
— Lindsay Patterson (@LndsPatterson) October 28, 2020
That seems like a proper lead-in to today’s matchup, which will feature a big workload for the mustached eight-year veteran.
Bengals/Titans talk coming just as soon as I lay all the cards on the table…
It’s not a secret that i have requested a trade. Trade me if this how y’all feel. I’m healthy and eager to play. I know I can be productive. It’s hard to love something when your not actually participating in it. Believe me, its not football that i don’t like. https://t.co/IlUg270jbI
— Hank Moody (@WatchJRoss) October 30, 2020
P.S. Ross’s tweet came in response to a tweet that indicated a source inside the Bengals organization said they weren’t sure Ross even liked football. The tweet from FOX 19’s Jeremy Rauch has since been deleted.
The tweet was deleted for a reason. Doesn’t change John Ross’s response to the tweet and desires for a trade.
— Jeremy Rauch (@FOX19Jeremy) October 30, 2020
Four things to know
1. If you like offense, this is your game. Both defenses today rank in the bottom 10 of numerous defensive categories. Tennessee is slightly lower in passing yards allowed, giving up 272 a game to Cincinnati’s 261. The Bengals are worse in rushing defense, surrendering 133 yards a game to the Titans’ 130. Thus, both team’s offenses have had to make up for their defenses inefficiencies. The biggest difference is Tennessee’s ability to finish out close games, which leads us to our next point…
2. Both Tennessee and Cincinnati have played in tons of close games this season. One stat we have heard over and over during Zac Taylor’s tenure as the Bengals head coach is his 1-12-1 record in one-score games. It’s a maddening problem that won’t go away, as Cincinnati is 1-4 in games decided by one possession this season, including one in which they led by 21 points and another in which they scored a go-ahead TD with a minute left. For the Titans, it’s the complete opposite. They’ve been the kings of pulling out one-score games, going 8-2 in such instances since Ryan Tannehill took over as QB last season. This season, they’re 4-1 in one-possession games.
3. Zac Taylor has a close relationship with Ryan Tannehill. Cincinnati’s coach and Tennessee’s QB go all the way back to college station in 2008, when Taylor served the Texas A&M Aggies as a graduate assistant while Tannehill was a backup QB. Soon thereafter, Tannehill became the starter and Taylor was promoted to tight ends coach. Then, years later both joined the Miami Dolphins; Tannehill as a first-round draft pick and Taylor as an assistant quarterback coach. By 2013, Taylor shed the assistant label and became the main QB coach. Obviously, he and Tannehill got to know each other quite well during their shared time in South Beach, which will make for a unique reunion this afternoon. Read more about their relationship in this article by ESPN’s Ben Baby.
4. I will be in attendance today. Paul Brown Stadium is allowing fans through the gates today, and I’m going with a couple of buddies. By my count, the Bengals have a 5-2 record in games I have attended. And I’ve seen some good ones. I remember watching Cincinnati stifle Tom Brady and the Patriots in a rainy slugfest back in 2013. Then there was A.J. Green’s three TD game versus the Ravens. I was also present when they mounted a ferocious 4th quarter comeback versus the Ryan Tannehill led Dolphins in 2018. As far as glimmers of hope go, that’s about the best I can give you this morning.
Three players to watch
1. Tee Higgins, Bengals WR
The 33rd overall pick has been awesome for the Bengals this season. Higgins and Burrow have clear chemistry and the team’s hefty passing volume has led to some impressive numbers for the Clemson product. He’s hauled in 410 receiving yards this season, which puts him on pace to join some spectacular company. Check this out from Paul Denher Jr.’s “This Week in Bengals” article on the Athletic:
Tee Higgins is on pace for 937 receiving yards this season. If he can stay healthy and keep up this pace — which is actually low considering how much more productive he has been the past few games — he will join some pretty special company.
Fourteen receivers over the past 10 years have topped 900 yards as a rookie.
• Odell Beckham Jr.
• Keenan Allen
• A.J. Brown
• A.J. Green
• Julio Jones
• JuJu Smith-Schuster
• Michael Thomas
• Amari Cooper
• Mike Williams
• Kelvin Benjamin
• D.K. Metcalf
• Sammy Watkins
• Mike Evans
• Terry McLaurin
The arrow is pointing up for this young offense, and the Burrow/Higgins tandem will be an enjoyable one for many years to come.
2. Jadeveon Clowney, Titans OLB
It was a massive sweepstake this offseason, one that nearly bled into the regular season: Who would end up securing the talents of the pass rusher responsible for perhaps the hardest hit in football history? The Titans ended up winning, signing Clowney to a one-year, $15 million deal. But so far, the former #1 overall pick has been a disappointment. Some of his stats for the season include: ten tackles, zero sacks, three hurries, six QB hits.
However, if there were ever a get-right game for a pass rusher, it’s this one versus Cincinnati.
#Titans Jadeveon Clowney waited all the way until the end of the off-season to finally sign with a team because he was trying to get as much money as possible.
He has 0 sacks this year
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) October 31, 2020
3. Isaiah Wilson, Titans OT
The Titans selected Wilson with the 29th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, yet the physically imposing Georgia product has yet to see the field. He’s hit a ton of roadblocks in his short career, several of his own volition. After two stints on the COVID/Reserve list and an arrest for a DUI, he’s fallen on the depth chart and has seen limited practice time. But with starting LT Taylor Lewann suffering a season-ending ACL tear, Wilson’s services are needed sooner than later. He went through his first full week of practices leading up to this game, and if he is active today, you can bet you’ll see him on the field. You can’t miss the 6’7″, 340-pound behemoth.
You may recognize him from this moment on draft night, when his mother made sure his girlfriend wasn’t interrupting his big moment.
ICYMI: ? Isaiah Wilson’s mom had to intervene when her son’s girlfriend failed to social distance after the Titans' drafted the tackle last night.pic.twitter.com/RPzn6jsFSV
— 5Dimes (@5DimesSB) April 24, 2020
Two names you’ll hear
1. Hakeem Adeniji, LT Bengals
The Bengals are down three starting offensive linemen in today’s game, which leaves some deep bench pieces to protect the future of the franchise in Joe Burrow. The man stepping up to protect his blindside in place of Jonah Williams is Adeniji, a four-year starter at Kansas who Cincy picked in the sixth round of the most recent draft. There’s been more praise heaped on the former Jayhawk than I have ever heard a late-round pick receive. For instance, offensive line coach Jim Turner proclaimed he had a second-round grade on Adeniji. Back in August, Bengals.com beat writer Geoff Hobson said Adeniji would be a starter one day. Jim Nagy, the man who organizes the Senior Bowl, which the Bengals’ staff coached this year, believed he could be the answer to Cincy’s offensive line woes.
— BengalsCaptain (@BengalsCaptain) October 30, 2020
There’s a certain mystique and excitement surrounding Adeniji’s debut that’s probably been unfairly fueled by all this praise. Sixth-round picks are sixth-round picks for a reason. I’m prepared for the worst but hoping for the best. We’ll just have to wait and see.
2. Corey Davis, WR Titans
It’s been a tumultuous career for Davis after the Titans picked him 5th overall in 2017, four spots before the Bengals took John Ross. After three seasons of inefficiency, the Western Michigan product has been explosive in 2020. He’s turned into a reliable target for Tannehill, scoring two TDs and mounting 241 receiving yards in the four games he’s played this year. During the team’s crazy COVID outbreak, Davis was one of the players sent to the COVID/Reserve list and missed two games. He made his return with a TD last week against Pittsburgh and will look to keep the momentum rolling in this favorable matchup versus Cincy.
One way the Bengals can win
The Bengals will have to win via a shootout today. Last week they didn’t punt the ball once, and today will need to be the same if they want to upset the five-point favorite Titans.
Tennessee is averaging over 30 points a game, so the Bengals offense (which averages 23) will have to finish more drives with touchdowns. I think that might be the biggest difference between these teams, besides the quality of coaching. Both teams move the ball well, but while the Bengals finish drives with field goals, the Titans finish drives with touchdowns. That’s the difference between one score losses and one score wins. That’s the difference between 1-5-1 and 5-1. That’s the difference between clinching playoff berths and clinching top ten draft spots.
But as we know, the NFL is a crazy league. Most games are close, and I expect this one to be the same. If it’s a shootout we’ll need, it’s a shootout we’ll get. Tannehill’s got himself a good trigger finger, but don’t think our guy Joey Burrow doesn’t have a fast draw.
Kickoff’s at 1 p.m. on CBS. Keep an eye out for me on TV!