At 3-5 the Bengals cannot afford another loss, especially against an AFC team they could find themselves locked in a tiebreaker with if they are able to turn things around and
make a run at the playoffs the way they did in 2012
Some things to watch for Sunday against the 5-3 Titans:
Getting Green going
Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green finds himself in the worst stretch of his career, the frustration from which may or may not have fueled his first-half fight and ejection last week.
Green has seven catches for 74 yards in the last three games. Prior to this stretch, he had never had fewer than 10 catches in any three-game period, or fewer than 128 yards.
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“This is a bad three games, but things happen,” Green said. “Every year is not going to be a perfect year, like last year when I was off to a record start. It’s not going to be like that every year. I can’t get frustrated.”
“We’re not going to press on trying to get me the ball every time,” Green added. “Whenever my opportunities come, I try to make the play. We’re not going to change up what we’re doing just to get me the ball when it’s not good for the team. We’re not going to force anything.”
Quarterback Andy Dalton insisted he hasn’t forgotten about Green. The looks just haven’t been there with defenses throwing even more attention Green’s way than usual.
“When we go and look at what we need to do better, I feel like we need to spread the ball around,” Dalton said. “We need to get our guys involved, and A.J. is a big part of that. It’s not like we don’t want to throw it to him.”
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Re-establish the run
One of the biggest things the Bengals can do to free up Green is establish some semblance of a running game.
Last week’s performance in Jacksonville — 29 rushing yards on 17 carries — sunk the Bengals to the bottom of the league in total offense and rush offense.
“I thought we had a physical week of practice, as physical of a week of practice as you can have in season in the NFL,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said of the sessions leading up to the Jacksonville loss. “I thought they played really hard. And as far as playing physical and running the ball hard, we were there. But it’s not just effort. You also have to do it right. For me and the coaches, I’m just trying to think of solutions.”
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In addition to averaging a league-worst 72.3 yards per game, the Bengals are averaging 3.07 yards per carry, which also ranks last.
With 528 rushing yards through eight games, the team is on pace for 1,056, which would not only be the lowest in franchise history in a non-strike shortened season, it would be 464 yards fewer than the previous low of 1,520 in 2008.
Since rushing for 110 yards in the overtime loss at Green Bay, the Bengals have averaged 61.8 yards in the last five games and 2.76 ypc.
With Jeremy Hill out with an ankle injury and placed on injured reserve Saturday, rookie Joe Mixon will have a chance to get into the flow of the game beginning with the first series, as he did last week when he played a season-high 71.8 percent of the snaps.
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The end of Jake Fisher’s season also could mean the end of the tackle rotation for the Bengals.
The team signed veteran Eric Winston for depth, but it’s unclear how much he can play this weekend after being away from the game for 10 weeks. And even when he is back in football shape, the Bengals could elect to have Cedric Ogbuehi handle all the snaps at left tackle and Andre Smith handle the load on the right side.
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Sunday’s loss in Jacksonville marked the first time since Week 2 that Ogbuehi played 100 percent of the snaps.
“Any time you get to play more, every snap you get better,” Ogbuehi said. “We’ll see this game.”
Smith played a season-high 74 percent of the snaps against the Jaguars. For the season, he has played 43.5 percent (201 of 462).
When the Bengals have struggled to move the ball into scoring opportunities, they have done a good job with their limited opportunities.
The Bengals have scored touchdowns on all eight of their red zone chances on the road this season. (1 for 1 at Jacksonville, 2 for 2 at Pittsburgh, 3 for 3 at Cleveland and 2 for 2 at Green Bay).
The offense needs to keep that going against the Titans, whose defense ranks 27th in red-zone touchdown percentage, allowing the opponent to reach the end zone 60.7 percent of the time (17 of 28).
The Bengals defense lead the league in preventing red-zone touchdowns at 32.1 percent (9 of 28).
Turning the turnover tide
Last week’s game at Jacksonville marked the first time the Bengals didn’t have a turnover. It also was the first time since the 2016 season finale they finished with a positive turnover margin at plus-1 thanks to the Chris Smith-forced fumble that Shawn Williams recovered on the opening drive of the game to snap the longest fumble recovery drought in NFL history at 18 games.
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But Williams also dropped an easy interception one play before the Jaguars kicked a field goal. Even though the Bengals lost the game, the fact that the defense put itself in position for one takeaway and another near one is something it can build on. Especially this week against a Titans offense that has 12 giveaways (nine interceptions, three fumbles) this season, including at least one in five consecutive games.
Since the Andy Dalton-A.J. Green era began in 2011, the Bengals are 35-9 when they win the turnover battle.
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Hill finished as Bengal?: It appears Hill has played his last game with the Bengals after the team placed him on season-ending IR.
Hill, in the final year of his contract, suffered an ankle injury during the walk-through last Saturday and was inactive for the 23-7 loss at Jacksonville.
He did not practice this week, and with Giovani Bernard signed through 2019 and Mixon through 2020, it’s hard to envision a scenarior where the Bengals would re-sign Hill.
Also Saturday, the team waived kicker Marshall Koehn, who filled in for the injured Randy Bullock last week. Bullock practiced this week, and the release of Koehn signals there are no linger issues with the injury.
To fill their spots on the 53-man roster, the Bengals promoted rookie safety Brandon Wilson and rookie defensive tackle Josh Tupou.
Both players are expected to be active Sunday, with defensive tackle Pat Sims out with a calf injury and safety Shawn Williams listed as doubtful with a hamstring.
Wilson is a sixth-round pick out of Houston, while Tupou signed as an undrafted free agent out of Colorado.