1. What percent would you estimate Joe Burrow is playing at right now? How did you think he looked on Monday Night?
Wow. Great question because it’s truly hard to say. At the end of the game against Baltimore in Week 2, he re-aggravated it and was seen walking gingerly after the game. Then, this week on “The Pat McAfee Show”, Aaron Rodgers told the masses that folks outside of the organization and outside of Burrow’s “inner circle” didn’t know just how much pain he’s been in with this thing.
It was touch-and-go all last week, with Burrow going both limited and full in the practices. He gutted it out and helped lead the team to a win, at probably about 85%, if I were giving it a guess. There were signs of the Bengals hitting a rhythm in the passing game, but rust and noticeable (albeit somewhat minor) limitations were visible.
The situation is better this week, as Burrow publicly proclaimed that he didn’t suffer any injury setbacks this time around shortly after the win of the Rams and he’s been a full participant in practices all week. That still doesn’t mean I think he’s 100% this week though, as this injury lingers—evidenced by this bugging him for about eight weeks now.
I think the rhythm will continue to grow, even this week with the Titans’ formidable front, because of these guys knocking off the summertime rust from Burrow’s absence and the lack of preseason snaps. Where I see it being an issue, at least short-term, is in Burrow’s scrambling and escapability. While he’s not known as a big time runner, he does it effectively enough and has been a wizard at dancing out of pressure and would-be sacks.
The planting and cutting aspects could provide trouble for him in the weeks ahead, limiting his ability to escape pressure. The offensive line has been playing much better this year, as opposed to the previous two seasons, but this week provides a tough test on both of these fronts with the Titans’ great defensive line.
2. The Titans’ offensive line is bad. Do the Bengals have the guys up front to expose them like the Browns did last week?
The Bengals’ defensive line doesn’t sport a Myles Garrett, but they’ve got some good players, for sure. Trey Hendrickson has gotten off to a great start to the season, notching three sacks and 14 pressures thus far this season. He has logged a solid 82.9 overall PFF score so far this season, so he’s been a problem for the opposition.
Sam Hubbard came to life a bit last week after a slow start, notching his first sack of the season, but he sets the edge well and is one of the better all-around defensive ends in the league. Nose tackle D.J. Reader is quietly one of the best run-stoppers in the game, who can also give the occasional interior pass-rush spark and B.J. Hill is a pretty decent three-technique.
It’s not an absolute juggernaut of a unit, but it’s pretty solid from top-to-bottom, starters-wise. The questions are in rotational depth players and their effectiveness. Joseph Ossai is the most talented reserve player, but injuries keep derailing his development. He was set to have a prominent role this year, but he suffered a high ankle sprain in the preseason, causing him to sit the first two games. This one against the Titans may show him finally getting a decent volume after not taking many last week.
Zachary Carter has had occasional flashes as Hill’s backup and Cam Sample is a decent reserve pass-rusher. But, if this team is to beat quality opponents like the Titans this week and make another deep playoff run, they’ll need the rotational guys to be more reliable.
3. How has the Bengals offensive line been playing this season?
Better. The acquisition for Orlando Brown, Jr. at left tackle has proven to be a solid one, while the corresponding move of Jonah Williams to the right side has finally solidified a years-long problem area for the Bengals.
Center Ted Karras is solid and a team leader, while last year’s big free agent get, Alex Cappa, has been pretty steady. Second-year left guard Cordell Volson has had some struggles, particularly with a 0.0 PFF pass block grade last week, but he was going up against Aaron Donald, after all.
Still, that’s an area the Titans can potentially exploit with a combination of Denico Autry and Teair Tart (if they play) and Jeffery Simmons, depending on how and when they want to mix up looks. In the 2021 Divisional Round matchup where Tennessee had an INSANE nine sacks on Burrow, that patchwork line couldn’t identify a stunt or twist to save the unit.
That’s changed pretty drastically, as the team currently has new starters at every single offensive line position since then (if you account for Williams’ switch from left to right tackle), so kudos to the brain trust to make such dramatically-needed moves. Last year, with multiple new starters (including many aforementioned names) the unit gave up 15 sacks through the first three games, as opposed to just five this year.
Cincinnati’s offensive line isn’t a perfect unit by any stretch, but they’re better and haven’t been the major Achilles Heel we’ve seen them be in recent years.
4. Give us a player on the Bengals we haven’t heard of that will make an impact on this game.
He was a first-round pick just last year and was a standout at Michigan, but I feel like not a ton of people are talking about safety Dax Hill. A lot of people were afraid of the impact of losing Jessie Bates III on defense (rightfully so), but Hill has stepped in pretty nicely, making a number of plays.
To boot, he has been effective in the slot, in the box and as a free safety this year, logging an interception, a sack, four tackles for loss and two passes defended. He’s young and has nuances to learn, but he’s very athletic, a willing tackler and incredibly versatile.
On offense, it might be Trenton Irwin, for better or worse. Rookie receiver/returner Charlie Jones has been exciting, particularly on punt returns, but he hasn’t practiced Wednesday or Thursday this week with a thumb issue. That would press Irwin into multiple duties as the punt returner and backup slot receiver to Tyler Boyd. He answered the bell with a couple of good games against the Browns and Patriots last year, but he’ll be a wild card in this one, if Jones can’t go.
5. The Titans opened as favorites but the DraftKings line currently sits at Titans +2. Where are you putting your money on this one?
Most people remember the last two games between Tennessee and Cincinnati when talking about the teams because of the importance and close nature of both contests. The 2021 Divisional and last year’s playoff-laden regular season clash in late November combined for just a touchdown point differential—both in favor of the Bengals.
But, some may not remember that Burrow is actually 3-0 against the Titans, with a convincing home win in his rookie year, where many of us on the Cincinnati side found that to be a tide-turning game before Burrow blew out his knee. Throw in Tennessee’s struggles last week and you can see why the line is favoring Cincinnati this week.
And, while there’s been recent Bengals dominance, I’m not ready to just puff out my chest and quickly say “Bengals win this week”. Tennessee is tough and Mike Vrabel comes from the Belichick school of bouncing back from bad losses and/or coming out strong after a bye. This one is in Tennessee (again), and the Titans no doubt remember the last two heartbreakers, including Karras’ not-so-polite exit out of Nashville last time around.
The Titans are getting the Bengals at an opportune time as well, with Burrow’s injury and their attempting to find their way on offense. The Titans’ front is scary, now with Arden Key in tow. Still, I think Cincinnati continues to right the ship, even if it’s with baby steps, and crawls out of Nashville with a not-so-pretty victory, akin to the 19-16 and 20-16 results we’ve seen the last two times. I’ll go 24-20 Bengals.
You can head over to Cincy Jungle to see his questions for me and my answers.