Scouting the Opponent: Cincinnati Bengals

Scouting the Opponent is a weekly preview series looking ahead to the Titans upcoming matchup.

Like the Tennessee Titans (5-1), the Cincinnati Bengals (1-5-1) nearly came away with a heroic late game victory last weekend. With under five minutes to play, Joe Burrow marched his team down the field for the go-ahead touchdown, but alas, Cleveland would come back and score again in the final minute to deliver Cincinnati their fifth loss in seven games.

Each team will be looking to bounce back from last week’s defeat as the Titans travel fewer than 300 miles north to Cincinnati. The history with these two teams goes back to the 1970s’ AFC Central rivalry between the Bengals and the then-Houston Oilers.

Today, there’s not much hatred left between the two sides despite their relatively close proximity. The last meeting between these clubs was in 2017, before the Titans changed uniforms and the Bengals changed coaches, which the Titans won 24-20 on a last-second go-ahead touchdown catch by running back DeMarco Murray.

But enough of the history. Let’s analyze where these teams stand coming into Sunday’s matchup at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The Stats

According to stats, the Bengals are bad. They rank 20th or worse in every category that I list here weekly except for passing yards, where they’re 12th despite leading the league in pass attempts, and penalty yardage.

Titans/RankMetricBengals/Rank
5thTotal Yards/G20th
16thPassing Yards/G12th
5thRushing Yards/G26th
4thTotal Points/G23rd
25thTotal Yards Allowed/G24th
26thPass Yards Allowed/G25th
23rdRush Yards Allowed/G28th
17thPoints Allowed/G21st
1st (+9)Turnover DifferentialT-22nd (-2)
10th (46.6%)3rd D Conversions25th (38.8%)
19th (50.7)Penalty Yardage14th (48.6)
12thDVOA*30th
3rdOffense DVOA28th
17thDefense DVOA26th
13thRush DVOA – Offense24th
2ndPass DVOA – Offense24th
16thRush DVOA – Defense21st
19thPass DVOA – Defense26th
2020 Statistical Comparison

*DVOA is a Football Outsiders metric that stands for Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. DVOA accounts for a team’s opponents.

If you believe in DVOA, you should feel confident about the Titans chances in this match. I mentioned in an article yesterday that the Bengals have been tied or leading in the fourth quarter in five of seven games this year, but their inability to close out contests is wrapped in a myriad of issues.

Pass protection, run defense, coverage, turnovers and even the kicking game — a struggle Titans fans are all too familiar with — have all cost the Bengals chances to win at various points this season.

Key Matchups and Personnel

As we analyze the leadership group and key matchups for this game, it’s worth pointing out that head coach Zac Taylor hails from the same roots as Matt LaFleur. Taylor became Sean McVay’s quarterbacks coach in Los Angeles when LaFleur was hired in Tennessee. One year later, the Bengals hired Taylor to be their head coach.

  • Now in his second season, Taylor’s win percentage as a head coach — just .152 at 3-19-1 — would rank as the worst percentage in NFL history if he’d coached enough games to qualify. The team is 1-13-1 in one-score games under Taylor’s leadership. He was brought in initially to “pull a McVay” on Andy Dalton, hiding his deficiencies and returning him to the MVP level he had played at a few years prior. However, the plan quickly changed as Cincinnati continued to lose, and now Taylor has been entrusted to bring along the rookie Burrow. How much longer will he remain charged with that task?
  • Brian Callahan, son of longtime NFL offensive line coach and offensive coordinator (currently the Browns offensive line coach) Bill Callahan, was brought from the Raiders to join Taylor’s staff last year. While Callahan is technically the offensive coordinator, Taylor is the play caller on gamedays.
  • The defense is helmed by Lou Anarumo, who arrived with Taylor and Callahan in 2019 for his first official defensive coordinator stint in the NFL. Anarumo and Taylor coached together in Miami under Joe Philbin and, later that year, Dan Campbell. Anarumo served as interim DC after Philbin’s dismissal. He has yet to coordinate an impressive defense in Cincinnati, checking in at 30th in Defensive DVOA last season and 26th in that metric so far this year.

Some key matchups that could shape the outcome of this game include:

  • OLB Harold Landry vs LT Hakeem Adeniji: Bengals starting LT Jonah Williams has been ruled out, leaving sixth-round rookie Adeniji to start in his place. Adeniji is listed as a guard, not a tackle. His cons as a prospect included a poor anchor and slow feet. This could be an opportunity for Landry to work his outside speed rush against a very inexperienced guard lined up at the left tackle position.
  • OLB Jadeveon Clowney/OLB Vic Beasley vs RT Fred Johnson: Like Williams, Bengals starting RT Bobby Hart will also miss Sunday’s game. Second-year UDFA Johnson will be responsible for holding Clowney and Beasley at bay on the right side. Johnson lined up at guard in Weeks 1 and 2 after a career as a right guard at the University of Florida. He stepped in for 44 snaps at LT when Williams left the game, and then slid over to RT for the final 4 snaps when Hart was also injured. He’ll stay on the right side for this contest. Against Clowney’s bull rush and Beasley’s speed-bend, Johnson could be in for a rough game.
  • DT Jeffery Simmons / DT DaQuan Jones vs C Billy Price: A third starting OL, center Trey Hopkins, will also miss this game for Cincinnati. Billy Price, a former first-round pick out of Ohio State, has been nothing but a disappointment since entering the NFL, so much so that he was benched for Hopkins ahead of last season. Now he’ll try to move powerful bodies on the Titans front, including the underrated Jones and the Mover of Men Simmons.

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