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Cincinnati Bengals vs. Tennessee Titans Preview

Titans’ offense vs. Bengals’ defense: Let’s start with the obvious here – the Bengals have the second-ranked run defense in the league in terms of yards per league, and the Titans have a running back only two years removed from record-setting 2009 campaign that has been the most forgettable "superstar" in the league. The running game has not been the Titans’ strength, but they cannot abandon it completely. The Titans have to give Javon Ringer at least half of the team’s carries like they did last week to force the Bengals to respect the threat of play-action. If the Titans abandon the run game and become too pass-heavy, it will work to the Bengals’ advantage because their defensive ends have the speed to wreak havoc in the backfield if they can rush the passer every down without fearing being burned by a run play or the threat of a play-action pass being a run.

The Titans don’t have any reliable deep threats, and the Bengals play solid deep coverage, so the key weapon in the passing game is going to be tight end Jared Cook. The Bengals’ linebackers stay too close to the line of scrimmage in zone coverage and let receivers open before the next-closest defender is able to cover them. If Cook can split the seams and get in between the linebackers’ and safeties’ zones, Hasselbeck can thread the ball in there and consistently pick up consistent chunks of yards.

Bengals’ offense vs. Titans’ defense: The Bengals’ offense revolves around rookie quarterback Andy Dalton. He is the perfect fit for the Bengals’ offensive system, and he doesn’t have any glaring holes in his game. His biggest weakness is arm strength. Although Dalton has the strength to rifle the ball inside on short and medium routes, he has trouble putting it over the top. For example, in the second quarter last week, Dalton threw the ball less than 50 yards over the top to a wide-open A.J. Green, but Green had to slow down to get to the ball, allowing Seahawks safety Earl Thomas to catch back up to him. The play resulted in a Bengals touchdown because a playmaker like Green can easily outmuscle Thomas for a ball.

Dalton’s lack of arm strength is hardly a big concern for the Bengals, but it allows Cortland Finnegan to cover Green one-on-one and not worry about being burned. Dalton is deadly accurate at putting the ball where only his receiver can get to it on inside routes, so the Titans’ best hope of slowing the passing game is to reroute the receivers and force them to the sidelines where they have less of a chance to make a play after the catch.

The Bengals’ run game has been efficient this year behind Cedric Benson, but the best shot of slowing it comes from attacking the left A and B gaps because left guard is the weakest position on the Bengals’ offensive line. Multiple blitzes into those gaps throughout the game will force the Bengals to run right, and the Titans can plan accordingly.

Special teams: Chances are one of the two teams in the game will break a long return, and it could be a game-changer. For the Bengals, Adam Jones is a dynamic and explosive returner. He’s not vital if his hamstring is still too hurt for him to be effective, but he will definitely prove effective if he is active in the return game. Titans returner Marc Mariani has a good instinct for seeing where the hole is and accelerating through it. With both teams possessing dangerous returners, the question is which team’s coverage unit is more likely to allow a big return. Statistically, the teams’ coverage units are similar. In the kickoff coverage game, the Titans allow an average of only 0.6 more yards per return than the Bengals. In punt coverage, the Bengals punt the ball an average of 2.6 more yards per punt than the Titans, and allow 1.2 less yards per return than the Titans do. Luck will determine which team gets a big break through the return game.

Final verdict: Bengals 27, Titans 24. It will be a close game with Titans coach Mike Munchak letting the offense rest on the shoulders of whoever heats up, whether it’s Hasselbeck or Ringer. At the end of the day, the Titans’ pass defense has been too inconsistent to predict it to be able to contain the surprisingly efficient Cincinnati passing attack.

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