Bengals riding Octoberfeat into November

The 1981 Bengals rode the "November to Remember" to the AFC title and 30 years later they are trying to cash their "Octoberfeat" into another memorable November.

After watching the Bengals finish off their first perfect October in 35 years last Sunday in Seattle, the Bengals.com media forum is giving them the nod to dust off some more history Sunday in Tennessee (4:05 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) in their bid to post the club's first five-game winning streak in 23 years.

It's another tight call, just like this entire season has been as head coach Marvin Lewis heads into what has been his most successful month at 18-12-1 over the past eight seasons.  

Paul Kuharsky, the former NFL reporter for The Tennessean now the AFC South blogger for ESPN.com, won't be surprised if it goes either way and Jim Wyatt, the paper's current Titans beat mean, gives the home team the edge with the game's most experienced quarterback.

But John Thornton, the former defensive lineman who played for the Bengals and Titans, picks the Bengals because the matchup favors their style of play. He says the first Bengals-Titans game since 1998 played without Thornton on either side comes down to keeping Titans running back Chris Johnson in check for another week.

(No word if Thornton is going to flip the coin at LP Field on Sunday, but he said he would roll out his old Titans No. 78 if he did and his Bengals No. 97 if it was at Paul Brown Stadium.)

And Pro Football Hall of Fame scribe Len Pasquarelli of the Sports Xchange sides with Cincinnati's defense on the road against a Tennessee team grasping for its rushing identity.

Let's go around the room by yielding the floor to the man who is in Canton:

PASQUARELLI

Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is an underrated guy and a better player than people think, but they just don't have anybody that scares you on offense if the running game is going to continue to struggle. Chris Johnson isn't living up to the money and that really hurts them.

And the Bengals are playing terrific defense and the best kind. Good team defense. If you were going to name one great player I'm not sure you can do it and all the credit goes to defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.

I think the Titans are going through a transition with head coach Jeff Fisher and defensive line coach Jim Washburn now gone. They still play good defense and still play pretty physical, but they've got some new people.

The Bengals can make some plays. I think they'll make more plays than Tennessee. I saw what the Seattle guy said (Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman saying Bengals rookie receiver A.J. Green is overrated) and I have to disagree. I've seen a lot of Georgia games over the years and this guy is the real deal. I thought he was the most NFL-ready player coming out of this draft and I've seen nothing to change my mind.

THE EDGE: Bengals, 21-13. They play good fundamental defense and that's going to be tough on the Titans. I sense the Bengals are playing with a lot of enthusiasm and youth and that helps you on the road.

THORNTON

I think the Bengals need to play better on the offensive line and at receiver than they did in Seattle, but if their defense plays the run like it has been playing it then they win the game.

The Titans are challenged offensively without wide receiver Kenny Britt and Chris Johnson struggling. If Johnson has a good game, then it's a completely different situation. If he breaks out with a couple of big runs then he's going to energize his team and that crowd. And that allows Hasselbeck to go play-action and throw it on you down the field and then it's a long day.

I think Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray is very good. Very smart guy with the Xs and Os and real personable. When I was there the cornerback closest to our sidelines always got the interception because Jerry was telling him exactly what was going to happen.

They're a little different on defense now. Jerry is going back to his days in Buffalo when he had Pat Williams and Sam Adams at tackle. Big guys. They've got a little more size instead of those guys that the Titans had that were a little bit smaller but were really fast and aggressive.

I don't know what Tennessee team is going to show up. They played great beating Baltimore (26-13) and rolling over Cleveland (31-13), but they really looked bad in losses to Pittsburgh (38-17) and Houston (41-7).

Yeah, it seemed like that's what we were saying about the Bengals the last couple of years. Which team is going to show? But the Bengals have played pretty consistently this year. Tight games, they're not going to make many mistakes, and they're going to play good defense.

Tennessee is loud, but it's not as loud as Seattle and Andy Dalton didn't seem to have any trouble with that crowd. I don't think he'll get shook up. Running back Cedric Benson is going to be back, so you know they're going to want to run the ball.

THE EDGE: Bengals, 21-13. Only if they keep Chris Johnson in a slump. They prevent him from controlling the game and they should be OK. The Bengals play the kind of ball-control, work the clock style they'll need in this game. But the Titans are a sneaky good team.

WYATT

I'm picking the Titans to win a close one. It's going to be low scoring, though.

Hasselbeck has played well. They've been able to throw it even though they can't get the running game going and I keep expecting Johnson to pop out of it in any game. But Hasselbeck has been great for them, not only on the field but off the field.

It's great for us because he's so good with the media, but usually when a new quarterback comes to a team he's hesitant about speaking up and he seems to have helped them there. It was always kind of awkward with Kerry Colllins and Vince Young. Nobody really quite knew how long either of them was going to be around, but he's come in and been (assertive).

There are people around here calling for them to use Javon Ringer more instead of Chris Johnson. I think you'll see the same thing Sunday. If Johnson starts off slow, they'll give Ringer some carries. I don't think they'll bench Johnson, but they're going to see how things are going. Ringer is a good back. He's quick, he runs hard, and he does a good job on screens.

They don't have Britt, but they've got a couple of receivers that may not run 4.25, but can play. Nate Washington is a veteran that can make plays downfield and Damian Williams (third-round pick in 2010) is looking more and more comfortable.

THE EDGE: Titans, 20-16. They're at home, they won't give up many points and Hasselbeck can make a couple of plays.

KUHARSKY

The inability of Chris Johnson to get going is an embarrassment for a franchise that has two Hall of Fame offensive linemen (head coach Mike Munchak and offensive line coach Bruce Matthews) on their staff and it's bringing criticism.

When they came into the season their three main weapons were Johnson, Britt and tight end Jared Cook. Britt is gone for the year, Johnson can't get going, and they won't throw it to Cook. He's coming off a game he had just two catches so they're trying to find themselves. I read somewhere where the Bengals have trouble covering the tight end so if that's the case I would think they would try to get it to him because he's their most intimidating receiver downfield.

They're actually playing pretty well on defense but it sounds like Munchak is worried about the Bengals size. They've got defensive ends that just aren't all that big. Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth has got 85 pounds on guys so I don't think it's going to be too hard to figure out what they're going to try and do.

I think the Titans are going to try and figure out the Johnson thing. I don't think they'll bench him, but I also don't think they're going to lose a game because they're going to be stubborn.

THE EDGE: None. It doesn't surprise me either way it goes.

THE BOTTOM LINE: An old AFC Central game to tune up for the next month of AFC North games. It is coming down to both lines again.

The Bengals front seven has to control the game if they want to get out unscathed. Hasselbeck is the best quarterback they've faced yet and the worst kind for a defense. Savvy is almost always much more dangerous than arm strength. He gets it out quickly, so the young Bengals athletes have to get their hands up on those intermediate passes.

The big stat? When Hasselbeck has passer rating of 95-plus, his teams are 41-7 and he's 4-0 this season already.

The Bengals run fits were textbook in Seattle last week and it will have to happen again with Johnson in the wings. Zimmer and company are extremely worried about Johnson breaking out against them and he's shown them a few times this week the draw play he broke for 51 yards against them in his second game in the league in the 2008 game at Paul Brown Stadium.

But then, stopping the run is what this defense does best and is No. 2 in the league at doing it. It hasn't been what Tennessee has done best, although Whitworth said the Titans allowing 4.3 yards per rush is a skewed stat because of a couple of long runs.

But the Bengals would like to make Dalton more comfortable in the pocket and not have him move out of there as much as he was forced out of there last week.

This one is going to be decided on two stat lines: The yards per rush by each offense, and the passes defensed on the Bengals sheet. If the line has a handful of those, it has done its job on Hasselbeck.   

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