The Bengals take on the Tennessee Titans in a Week 4 matchup at Nissan Stadium in Nashville on Sunday. The game airs at 1 p.m. on FOX. Here are five things to watch:
1. Defense takes on Derrick Henry
In a matchup between what have historically been respective strengths for each team, the Bengals’ run defense meeting Titans Pro-Bowl running back Derrick Henry once again will play a pivotal role in Sunday’s outcome.
The Bengals have challenged Henry about as well as any team in their last two matchups, holding him to 62 rushing yards in the Divisional Playoff two seasons ago and 38 in Week 12 last year. But even with that past success, along with Henry starting slow out of the gates in 2023 with 54.3 rushing yards per game, the Cincinnati coaching staff knows it will take another stout defensive effort to keep one of the league’s premier runners bottled up.
“If you allow him to break through the line of scrimmage, it’s a real problem,” head coach Zac Taylor said. “Once he gets moving, it’s like a freight train.”
The Titans enter this week ranking in the bottom five in the NFL in scoring and total offense. Moving up those charts will most likely come as a result of Henry having a breakout performance, given his high usage rate (tied for third leaguewide with 51 carries) and role in Tennessee’s offensive game plan. The Bengals, meanwhile, are looking to build off a solid performance against the run in Week 3 versus the Rams, holding Los Angeles to 71 rushing yards.
2. Feeding the wide receivers
Ja’Marr Chase erupted in Week 3 against the Los Angeles Rams for 141 on a career-high 12 grabs. It marked his highest receiving yardage total since an NFL rookie-record 266 against Kansas City in Week 17 of the 2021 season. The Bengals lined up Chase all over the field against Los Angeles, allowing him to showcase his versatility throughout the night.
“We’re trying to find as many ways as we can to get him the ball,” said head coach Zac Taylor after the game. “That’s not new.”
Chase missed the Titans contest in Week 12 of last season due to a hip injury. Tee Higgins stepped up with seven catches for 114 yards. The Oak Ridge, Tenn., native came up with the game-winning score early in the fourth quarter, a 27-yard touchdown pass from Joe Burrow that he outmuscled a Titans defensive back to pluck out of the air.
Tennessee boasts a capable secondary that includes cornerbacks Sean Murphy-Bunting and Kristian Fulton, along with two-time Pro-Bowl safety Kevin Byard. Murphy-Bunting, who joined the Titans as a free agent this offseason after spending his first four years with Tampa Bay, has a team-leading three passes defensed and two forced fumbles in the first three weeks.
3. Bengals’ third-down defense
Among the most notable numbers from a dominant performance by the Cincinnati defense last week was its third-down success. The Bengals held the Rams to just one of 11 on third-down attempts (nine percent), with the lone conversion being a touchdown with 1:03 left in the fourth quarter. It was the team’s best defensive output on the money down since Week 5 of the 2013 season, when New England mustered one of 12 third downs (8.3 percent).
Sunday pits the Bengals against a Titans offense that has converted 27 percent of its third downs, ranking 30th in the league in that category through three games. In Week 3 at Cleveland, Tennessee moved the chains on two of its 12 third-down attempts while giving up three third-down sacks. If Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo can dial up pressures as he did on Monday night, it would give Cincinnati an advantage in a critical area.
4. Pass rush encore
Five different Bengals defenders contributed a sack last week vs. the Rams, including two from DE Trey Hendrickson, who now has 38.5 since the start of the 2020 season (fourth most in the league). The last time the Bengals had five players record at least a half sack in a single game was in Week 8 of 2018 against Tampa Bay, and the six total sacks on Monday marked Cincinnati’s most in a game since Week 17 of 2019 versus Cleveland.
Taylor referred to the pass rushing performance in Week 3 as “relentless,” and the defense now turns its attention to a Tennessee offense that has allowed the second most sacks in the NFL (13). Another big showing from the Bengals’ defensive front may be the driving force in evening up the record at 2-2.
5. Protection a priority
The Bengals’ opposite front faces a challenge this week in protecting Joe Burrow from a highly capable Titans D-line. Despite limited sack production, Tennessee has been effective in getting to the quarterback this season, producing 22 QB pressures. Edge rusher Denico Autry leads the way with 3.5 sacks, including at least one in each game, while Jeffery Simmons (two sacks, three tackles for loss) and Harold Landry III (one sack, two QB hits) also require attention.
When they met last season, the Bengals only conceded one sack to the Titans. Heading into Week 4, Cincinnati has allowed a sack on just 4.10 percent of pass attempts — the seventh-best rate in the NFL — with two sacks given up last week on 49 pass attempts. Cincinnati’s O-line will aim to keep that trend going and keep the backfield as clean as possible for Burrow and the offense to go to work.