The Titans will travel to Cincinnati this weekend — for their first road game since Week 3 at Minnesota — to take on a surprisingly dangerous young Bengals team. While they’ve only won one match this season, Cincinnati has been tied or leading in the fourth quarter in five contests.
Rookie quarterback Joe Burrow leads the entire NFL in pass attempts after seven games. Teams have found quite a bit of success passing against the Titans this year, as Tennessee allows the 7th-most yards per game through the air as well as the 10th-most yards per game on the ground.
The Titans defense has not managed to disrupt opposing quarterbacks on a regular basis. They are one of four teams with seven sacks or less, and they are 26th in pressure percentage, affecting opposing passers on just 19.5% of dropbacks.
Still, there are reasons to think this could be a “get right” game of sorts for the Titans’ defensive front.
For one, the Bengals offensive line will likely be down three starters in left tackle Jonah Williams (stinger), right tackle Bobby Hart (knee), and center Trey Hopkins (concussion). Adding guards B.J. Finney via trade and Quinton Spain in free agency this week doesn’t give either player enough time to effectively get up to speed before Cincinnati squares off against the Titans.
Even without the injuries, this is a unit that has struggled mightily this season.
According to Football Outsiders’ offensive line ratings, the Bengals are 31st in adjusted line yards — a run blocking metric that grades the offensive line’s ability to open rushing lanes. They’ve been stuffed for no gain or worse on a higher percentage of runs than all but three teams.
When it comes to pass-blocking, Football Outsiders rates the Bengals as the 3rd-worst unit with the 4th-worst adjusted sack percentage. The Bengals are leading the NFL in sacks allowed (tied with Philadelphia) at 28 given up.
The main reason for this high number is the passing volume — Cincinnati is actually 15th-best in terms of pressure percentage allowed, but their 72 pressures given up is 5th-most in the NFL. Burrow drops back to pass so many times that even the lower pressure percentage turns into a high number of sacks.
In two separate outings already, Burrow has been sacked as many or more times in a single game than the Titans defense has accumulated all season. He went down 8 times against Philadelphia in Week 3 and another 7 times against Baltimore in Week 5.
Will either or both of Jadeveon Clowney and Vic Beasley register their first sack in a Titans uniform? Harold Landry only has 1.5 sacks himself; could he add to that total this weekend?
Another area the Titans defense has struggled (“struggled” might be putting it lightly) is on 3rd downs. With a 61% conversion rate allowed, no team in the NFL is worse.
Again, this game could present an opportunity: the Bengals are just 25th in the league converting 38.78% of third downs.
When it comes to the pass rush and third down success rate, something will have to give. Either the Bengals will show massive improvements in pass protection, or the dam will finally break for the Titans’ edge rushers. Tennessee’s defense will either continue to be a sieve on third downs, or they’ll take advantage of a rookie quarterback and weak offensive line to finally get off the field.
We’ll see which side caves in this game of statistics-chicken on Sunday…