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Five things to watch: Bengals at Titans

HB Samaje Perine, QB Joe Burrow
HB Samaje Perine, QB Joe Burrow

The Bengals travel to Tennessee looking to win their third straight on Sunday. The game airs at 1 p.m. on CBS. Here are five things to watch:

1. Stopping Derrick Henry

Cincinnati faced the challenge of bottling up star running back Derrick Henry in last season's AFC Divisional matchup at Nissan Stadium. Though the Titans Pro Bowler was making his first appearance since Halloween, he still managed 937 rushing yards in just eight regular-season games in 2021, and a trip to the AFC Championship was contingent on how the Bengals would handle his return. Lou Anarumo's unit was up to the task, limiting Henry to 62 yards on 20 attempts (3.1 per carry), while making numerous key tackles that either kept points off the board or flipped possession.

The Bengals once again head to Nashville looking to keep Henry from taking over game, which he has done consistently this season. He enters Sunday's slate of games as the only player in the NFL with over 1,000 rushing yards, and his league-leading 230 carries indicate just how heavily he is relied on in the Tennessee offense. But while the Titans are 6-1 when Henry rushes for over 85 yards, they are 1-2 when he is held under that total, including a pair of losses to open the season in which he was limited to below four yards per carry.

2. Top-two red zone offenses

Sunday features a battle between two offenses that rank first and second in the NFL in red zone efficiency. Cincinnati has scored a touchdown on 24 of its 32 possessions inside the opponents' 20-yard line, a league-leading 75 percent, while Tennessee is not far behind at 74.1 percent (20 of 27 possessions). The team that can capitalize on its red zone opportunities, particularly against two defenses that are prone to holding opponents to field goals, will land a needed advantage in Week 12.

The Bengals have found the end zone on 15 of their last 16 red zone possessions, with the one outlier coming at the end of a Week 7 win over Atlanta when the offense went into victory formation.

3. Burrow looks for more success vs. Titans

Two of quarterback Joe Burrow's signature wins in his young career have come against Tennessee. As a rookie in 2020, he led Cincinnati to a 31-20 win over the Titans, who were 5-1 at the time and went on to claim the AFC South. Burrow completed 26 of 37 passes in that matchup for 249 yards and two touchdowns while committing no turnovers.

In last season's AFC Divisional, Burrow helped the Bengals defeat the No. 1-seeded Titans on the road by completing 75.7 percent of his passes (28 of 37) for 348 yards — the second-most passing yards in a postseason game in team history. No completion was more important than a 19-yard hookup with wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase that got the Bengals in field goal range with 15 seconds remaining. Three plays later, Evan McPherson booted a 52-yarder through the uprights to send Cincinnati to the AFC Championship.

4. Efficient offense = wins

The Bengals this season boast one of the NFL's most explosive offenses, ranking third in points (26.5 per game), fourth in passing yards (271.3) and seventh in total yards (366.4). The unit has been particularly effective in the past three wins, eclipsing 400 net yards in each performance. But while the recent numbers are impressive, Cincinnati's offense makes its greatest impact towards winning when it takes care of the ball. The Bengals this season are 4-1 when the offense does not commit a turnover, and 2-3 when it does. Though Burrow and company were able to overcome two interceptions at Pittsburgh in Week 11, it will be difficult to get away with that against a Titans team that controls the clock with long, sustained drives.

5. Bengals run game without Mixon

Head coach Zac Taylor confirmed on Friday that halfback Joe Mixon will be out against the Titans due to a concussion suffered last week at Pittsburgh. Though Samaje Perine provides one of the best backup options in the league, Cincinnati will be without a game-changing talent when it faces the NFL's second ranked run defense in Tennessee. The Titans are yielding just 82.2 rushing yards per game, and have not let a team go over 100 since Week 2. The Bengals may aim to find a rhythm on the ground using a by-committee approach, with Perine, Chris Evans and potentially Trayveon Williams getting touches.

When speaking about the depth pieces across the offense this week, Taylor said, "They know that we depend on them, so if a ball comes your way, if a carry comes your way, if a protection comes your way, we need you to step up. The standard is really high right now, and those guys are living up to it."

For Cincinnati to leave Nissan Stadium with a win, it will need each of its running backs to continue maintaining that standard.

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