NASHVILLE – Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans late game heroics narrowly defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 24-20 on Sunday.
Dropping the Bengals to 3-6, improving the Titans record to 6-3 and giving the team its best record through nine games since 2008. The Jaguars defeated the Chargers in a comeback overtime win to keep pace with the Titans atop the division at 6-3. As the Titans look forward to playing in prime time on Thursday Night Football in Pittsburgh this week, here’s five takeaways from the Titans Week 10 victory.
- The defense continues to improve.
The Titans held the Bengals to just 53 yards rushing on the day. The front seven controlled the battle of the trenches all day, and despite only registering one sack on Andy Dalton, the defense forced two big fumbles, both recovered by Derrick Morgan. Andy Dalton had solid numbers with 265 yards with two touchdowns, but both touchdowns were given up on huge plays (going for 70 yards to A.J. Green and 37 yards to Brandon LaFell) that were just breakdowns by the defense. Take away those two massive plays and the defense holds Dalton to under 160 yards passing. The defense has to find a way to take away the big play threat, or it could be a big problem facing the Steelers in Week 11.
- The Titans are loaded with running threats.
Everything seemed to click with the running game for the Titans. Finishing the game with 180 total rushing yards. No single rusher stood out, but by committee the Titans were giving the Bengals fits on the ground. Derrick Henry led the way with 52 yards, followed by Marcus Mariota with 51 and DeMarco Murray with 42 and two short rushing touchdowns. These three have led the way for the Titans all season, but the surprise addition to the backfield was play making corner back Adoree’ Jackson. Jackson had 30 yards on three attempts in the game, and used twice as a decoy, including once on a 28 yard Mariota run. Knowing he can be dangerous with the ball in his hands, the Titans have been trying the rookie in the offense some the past couple weeks, and have found success thus far. It will be exciting to see how the Titans continue to use Jackson’s game breaking speed and ability in the coming weeks.
- Brett Kern is playing phenomenally.
Through nine games this season, the Titans punter is leading the league in both average yards (52.2) and average net yards (46). These are career highs in both stat categories. On Sunday, Kern punted the ball six times with an average of 56.5 yards per punt, including a season high 74 yard punt that nearly pinned the Bengals back at the one yard line before falling off a Titans player and into the end zone for a touch back. Kern was so good against the Bengals that the NFL decided to select him for a “random” drug test on Monday. The man has been playing lights out all season, which is paying huge dividends to the defense. Kern will look to continue his impressive season in Pittsburgh Thursday night. If Kern continues to put up these impressive numbers, he may have a shot at earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl, and would be the first Titans punter to make the Pro Bowl since Craig Hentrich in 2003.
4. The offense can’t keep squandering opportunities.
The Titans have to stop coming up short offensively. Two critical plays that could have been a 14 point swing in the Titans direction were missed. This first was Rishard Matthew’s dropped touchdown. The Titans were rolling on offense when Matthews let a pass slip through his fingers for a drop that would have been a “walk in” touchdown. The drive stalled out and got pushed back with a bad penalty and led to a Ryan Succup missed field goal that ended his streak of consecutive makes inside of 50 yards at 56.
The second missed opportunity came on a Corey Davis 20 yard catch and run that he fumbled at the goal line. Although initially ruled a touchdown, it was changed upon review and ruled a touch back because the ball came out before Davis was able to cross the goal line with it. Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick admitted after the game that the Bengals coaching staff informed the team that Davis holds the ball loosely when he runs and that the Bengals were trying to exploit the weakness. This miscue not only turned the ball over and cost the rookie his first NFL touchdown, but it allowed the Bengals to stay in the game. The Titans are lucky to have survived with a win for the fourth straight game, but if these missed opportunities and miscues continue it’s going to be more and more difficult to keep finding ways to win.
- The passing game has to find consistency.
The Titans are 27th in the league in passing offense. It’s obvious that has been a weakness for Mariota and this team. Mariota likes to go to Rishard Matthews early and often and tends to rely on Delanie Walker to make big plays late in games. It’s clear the chemistry with them is there. On Sunday, Mariota looked poised on the game winning drive. After a hit that Mariota came up injured on, he stayed in the game and found DeMarco Murray in the flats for Marray’s third touchdown of the day.
However, the offense must be more consistent. Throughout the much of the second half, the offense looked stagnant and complacent. (Another reason why Brett Kern has been awesome all year.) One of Derrick Morgan’s fumble recoveries was wasted by a Mariota interception, a play later that just looked like a miscommunication between him and Corey Davis. If the offense wants to take the next step and not let opponents linger around in games, Mariota is going to have to develop more chemistry with Davis and his other receivers.