The Cincinnati Bengals will host the Tennessee Titans this Sunday at 1 p.m. at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals come in sitting at a pretty 2-0 and achieved their second win last week without arguably their best player in AJ Green. The Titans are 1-1, the result of beating Kansas City 26-10 in week one and then falling to the Dallas Cowboys by the same score in week 2. The game will air on CBS. Here are the five keys to victory if the Bengals want to extend their home winning streak to 11 games in a row.
1. Solid offensive line play– Part of the reason Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has had a very successful start to his fourth NFL season is because his offensive line has done an outstanding job of protecting him. Dalton has looked sharp because he has had so much time in the pocket to make good decisions because his line is taking off all the pressure. If the Bengals want to continue their strong rushing attack of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, the offensive line has to keep up their spectacular play. The line could be downgraded a little bit this week with the loss of Kevin Zeitler. Zeitler injured himself in the second quarter last week in the win over Atlanta but Mike Pollack came in to replace him and did not miss a step. Depth is a big reason this line can have so much success this year.
2. Andy Dalton- Obviously quarterback performance is a huge reason why teams either win or lose any give week. However, Dalton has looked extremely sharp this season and seems vastly improved. I know it has only been two games, but Dalton is making better decisions, and he’s making them quicker. He’s also gotten the hang of reading the defense and changing the play at the line of scrimmage when he sees something he doesn’t like. Dalton has taken this offense to a good one to one that may be one of the most consistent in the league. Dalton does not look like the same guy who would force plays that weren’t there and make stupid mistakes, leading to turnovers. When your quarterback doesn’t turn the ball over much, that usually leads to a lot of wins.
3. Step up for injured players- It looks as if the Bengals are going to be without linebacker Vontaze Burfict against the Titans, as he has sustained two concussions in two games, one against Baltimore and one against Atlanta. AJ Green has his lingering toe injury and was listed as limited in practice on Thursday. Again, depth is a big part of why this Bengals team is successful. Linebacker Vincent Rey and receivers like Mohamed Sanu and rookie James Wright will have to step up in the absence of their leaders. Sanu proved on Sunday he is capable of that when he caught a 76-yard touchdown pass over the middle from Dalton. Rey has shown in previous seasons he is more than capable as a back up to a strong Cincinnati linebacker corps. Rey has filled in over the past few seasons for Maualuga whenever he has missed time and has played pretty impressively.
4. Continue Blitzing- A lot of critics were saying that the Bengals defense would see a significant drop off in production when defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer left to take the head coaching job in Minnesota. Cincinnati’s defense has done anything but, and last week against Atlanta gave Matt Ryan an incredibly tough time. Their pass rush was consistent about getting pressure on Ryan and was a big reason why the Falcon’s offense could not get anything going. If the Bengals can get to Titans quarterback Jake Locker the way they did to Ryan, then I don’t see how the Bengals could not walk away with a win.
5. Keep up with the run game- Clearly the Bengals found a formula last week that worked in the rushing attack. A little bit of Bernard here, and little bit of Hill there. Drafting Hill was one of the best draft moves the Bengals have made in recent years. The double-headed monster of Hill and Bernard in the backfield is a killer matchup problem for opposing defenses. Bernard showed against the Falcons that you can’t sleep on him as a receiver out of the backfield either, and was Dalton’s go to guy when he was under pressure and needed to dump off the football to avoid the sack.
It looks like the Bengals will be 3-0 around 4:00 come Sunday. Hue Jackson has done an outstanding job of understanding what makes this offense click and run efficiently. This Bengals team is finally getting the recognition it deserves as a well rounded team and I see them winning Sunday, 27-14.