WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL
Dalton, a second-round pick in April’s draft, has completed 76-of-118 passes (64.4 percent) for 760 yards with seven touchdowns, three interceptions and a 91.8 passer rating on the road, and is the first Bengals rookie quarterback to win four straight starts. The Bengals are 11-1 when Benson has 25 or more carries in a game, but Bernard Scott filled in for the suspended back last week had a season-best 76 yards against Seattle. Green, the fourth overall choice in this past draft, aims for a fifth consecutive game with a touchdown catch on the road. He has two touchdowns of 40-plus yards this season and leads NFL rookies in receptions (33), receiving yards (516) and touchdown grabs (5). Tight end Jermaine Gresham has a touchdown reception in two of his past three games, but could miss a second straight week due to a hamstring injury. On special teams, reserve wideout Brandon Tate had a 56-yard punt return for a touchdown last week.
Defensively for Tennessee, cornerback Jason McCourty recorded a touchdown on a blocked punt last week and leads the team with 59 tackles. Safety Michael Griffin had an interception in the Titans’ 2008 meeting with the Bengals, while linebacker Barrett Ruud registered his first interception of the season last week and rookie tackle Karl Klug — a fifth-round pick — is tied for third among AFC first-year players with three sacks.
Statistically, Cincinnati is 12th in scoring (24.4 ppg), 22nd in total yards (315.9 ypg), 21st in passing yards (212.4 ypg) and 21st in rushing yards (103.4 ypg). The Titans are 11th in scoring defense (20.7 ppg), 18th in total yards allowed (363.9 ypg), 17th in pass defense (234.6 ypg) and 27th against the run (129.3 ypg).
WHEN THE TITANS HAVE THE BALL
The Titans are 4-1 when quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has a 90-plus passer rating, and the veteran needs three touchdown passes to reach 190 for his career. Hasselbeck has six touchdown passes in his past two games against the Bengals as well. Johnson rushed for 109 yards in his only career game against the Bengals back in 2008 and needs 100 rushing yards to reach 5,000 for his career. Ringer totaled 102 yards from scrimmage (60 rush, 42 receiving) last week, while wide receiver Nate Washington had both a rushing and receiving touchdown against the Colts and kicker Rob Bironas added field goals from 50 and 51 yards out. Tight end Jared Cook is averaging 18 yards per catch in 2011 (15 receptions, 270 yards).
Cincinnati’s defense is allowing 85.4 rushing yards per game in 2011, second- best in the NFL behind San Francisco’s 73.4. The unit has also recorded eight fumble recoveries this season, second-most in the NFL behind Baltimore?s nine. End Frostee Rucker has two sacks in his past three games, while safety Reggie Nelson had a 75-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Seahawks. Linebacker Thomas Howard, who is questionable for Sunday’s tilt with a hamstring problem, has 37 tackles.
By the numbers, Tennessee is 19th in scoring offense (19.9 ppg), 25th in total yards (307.7 ypg), 14th in passing yards (238.9 ypg) but dead last in rushing yards (68.9). Defensively, the Bengals are fourth in points allowed (17.6 ppg) and total yards surrendered (297.4 ypg), ninth in pass defense (212.0 ypg) and the aforementioned second overall against the run.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Without a consistent running game, the Titans must turn to veteran quarterback Hasselbeck, who threw for 224 yards against Indianapolis in spite of the offense having four three-and-outs.
Tennessee is 3-1 in four home games, while the Bengals are a matching 3-1 on the road. The Titans’ home dominance is a revelation after they were just 3-5 in Nashville last season, while need to use that edge to their advantage on Sunday.
With Benson back, the Bengals have a decided statistical edge in the running game, as they’ll be facing a Tennessee unit that’s just 27th in the league in allowing 129.3 yards per week.
Prediction – Last week the Titans got some help from their D and special teams to pound on the helpless Colts. Now they host a surprising Bengals team that looks like they are 1-2 years ahead of where many felt they would be. Andy Dalton needs to play mistake-free, and Ced Benson needs to give the run game a boost upon his return. Tennessee needs Chris Johnson to finally show up, as he’s been a no-show all year. Tough game to call, but here’s thinking the Titans get it done. Tennessee 17 Cincinnati 14