When the Cincinnati Bengals meet the Tennessee Titans today in Nashville, it will all come down to who owns the line of scrimmage. To this point in the season, that has been the secret for the Bengals' success. For all the well-deserved accolades given to Andy Dalton and AJ Green, the Bengals linemen on both sides of the ball have been making it happen.
Running back Chris Johnson's struggles to get on track have been widely publicized. Speculation has been widespread as to the reasons why Johnson is struggling. Here are two theories: first, Johnson is beaten up. While over 1000 carries might not seem that much, on Johnson's 5'11" 190 pound frame, the hits add up. Tennessee has always been among the league leaders in carries and has always used a featured back. For a comparison, Cincinnati fans need look no further than Rudi Johnson, the one time Bengals stud back. After the 5'10" Johnson topped 1000 carries, his production dropped off precipitously.
The other factor, which ironically affected Johnson's decline as well, is the retirement of perennial All-Pro center Kevin Mawae. Other than Mawae, the Titans offensive line remains exactly as it was in 2008 and 2009 when Johnson topped 2000 yards and was averaging five yards a carry. Much like when Cincinnati lost Rich Braham, the Titans are struggling to replace that signal caller on the offensive line. Eugene Amano, a seventh round pick in 2004 by Tennessee, just isn't getting it done.
That's why this week Domata Peko and Geno Atkins are going to be in the Tennessee backfield an awful lot, disrupting the Titans offense. The Titans tackles, Michael Roos and David Stewart, are veterans and should do a decent job against Carlos Dunlap and the rotation of Bengals pass rushers. Where Amano struggles, however, is calling out the right blocking schemes against different alignments and picking up blitz packages.
On defense, the Titans line is a shell of its former self. There are no Albert Haynesworths or Kyle Van den Boshs on that line that get after the passer and stuff the run. Meanwhile, the Bengals offensive line is gathering steam. Andre Smith is finally beginning to play up to his potential and with Bobbie Williams back, the middle of the line has been strengthened. Tennessee ranks 27th in the NFL and has been gashed over the past three weeks on the ground. Look for the Bengal offensive linemen to fire off the ball and for the Bengals to control the game on the ground. If you've got Cedric Benson in your fantasy league, this would be a good week to play him.
Andy Dalton and AJ Green won't have to do much for Cincinnati to win this game. Look for them to push the Titans around on both sides of the ball and come out of Tennessee 6-2 heading into a now sold out home date against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bengals 24, Titans 13.
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