NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Week 3 marks the first of two consecutive road games for the Titans against two reigning playoff teams. First up is the Cincinnati Bengals (2-0), one of seven remaining unbeaten teams in the NFL to start the 2014 season.
The Bengals are riding a 10-game home winning streak in the regular season, and have put together three consecutive playoff campaigns.
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and former Titans cornerback Adam Jones held conference calls with Titans media Wednesday. Here is what you need to know about the Titans' next opponent.
A Decade-Plus of Marvin Lewis
In a league that can appear to be a revolving door with head coaches, Marvin Lewis is the mark of stability as he enters his 12th season in Cincinnati. That's a rarity in the NFL these days with 18 of the 32 current head coaches having been hired in 2012 or later.
Lewis owns a 92-85 overall record with three division championships, five playoff appearances and one Associated Press NFL Coach of the Year award.
The one accomplishment that continues to evade Lewis is a playoff win. The Bengals are 0-5 all-time in the playoffs under Lewis, including losses in the Wild Card round in each of the past three seasons.
Those are numbers that weigh heavy on Lewis when discussing his tenure in Cincinnati.
"I came here to do a job," Lewis stated. "I came here to win a world championship and haven't gotten us there. That's what my task is at hand. We've built the team with certain kind of players and so forth."
Jones, Tennessee's first-round pick from 2005, had plenty of good things to say about his head coach, especially in terms of his role as a mentor.
"Me and Marvin are more like a father-son relationship," said Jones of his head coach. "He's been great to me. He's a standup guy, he treats everybody the same. At the end of the day, we're all playing for jobs, and he makes sure everybody knows that. He teaches us to be smart. I think he's done a great job of getting the guys that's in here together. We've got a pretty tight locker room and believe in each other."
At 13 points per game, the Cincinnati's defense ranks third in points allowed per game through two weeks. After former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer departed in the offseason to become the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, replacement Paul Guenther has made a smooth transition after being a Bengals assistant since 2005.
In Week 1, it took Joe Flacco 62 passing attempts to get to his 345 passing yards. This past week the Bengals intercepted Atlanta's Matt Ryan three times, while holding the Falcons QB to just 231 yards. That's on the heels of Ryan's Week 1 showing when he threw for 448 yards and three touchdowns against the Saints.
The Bengals are currently tied for second in turnover differential at 5, having forced five takeaways, while their offense has yet to turn the ball over.
"[It's about] tackling and dictating where the ball is going," Jones said. "Tackling is the main thing and understanding what Paulie G [Paul Guenther] is calling. I think he's done a great job of breaking everything down to explain to everybody, knowing everybody's division, and I think as long as we keep doing that and not have dumb penalties and make sure we're tackling, we'll be alright."
Jones went on to say that Guenther asks them to be "smart bullies" on the field.
Potent Rushing Attack
Like the defense, the Cincinnati's offense features a new coordinator as well. Hue Jackson brings the same stability and comfort that came with hiring Guenther on the defensive side. Jackson has been a Bengals assistant since 2012 and vowed to create a power running game as o-coordinator.
The Bengals have created a stout one-two punch at running back through the last two NFL Drafts. Giovanni Bernard, the team's starter, was taken in the second round in 2013 out of North Carolina. The 5-foot 9-inch back excels in the open field when catching the ball out of the backfield. Bernard already has 11 receptions through two games after catching 56 passes in his rookie season.
Rookie Jeremy Hill is the team's second back, but will be a big part of the Bengals game plan on Sunday. Cincinnati used a second round pick on Hill this year coming out of LSU. At 6-foot-1, 233 pounds, Hill is the stronger back between the tackles. The rookie carried the ball 14 times last week for 74 yards, including his first career NFL touchdown.
Lewis wouldn't say this was the best running attack he's coached in Cincinnati, but he's happy with what they've got in Bernard and Hill.
"We had Corey Dillon and Rudi Johnson my first year in 2003. I've been fortunate with some guys, but I think these two young guys, and they're young, they provide a special spark," Lewis explained. "Giovani Bernard is a special runner. He makes people miss. He's strong to run in between the tackles. Jeremy (Hill) has really special feet. They're both great kids, and it's fun to watch them each and every day, how they work."
The Titans have stressed the importance of being more solid in their gap assignments in order to have a better showing than they did against Cowboys running back Demarco Murray last Sunday.
A.J. Green or no A.J. Green?
That is the question. The Bengals star receiver is dealing with a toe injury. Green told Cincinnati media Wednesday that the injury initially occurred in the first quarter of Week 1 against Baltimore and was then aggravated the following week against the Falcons. Green was forced to leave last week's game in the second quarter.
Lewis told Titans media that he expected Green to be active come Sunday, but it appears the star receiver's status is still up in the air.
Green has made the Pro Bowl three years running since entering the league as the fourth overall pick in 2011. In those three campaigns, Green has topped the 1,000-yard milestone in each season, while hauling in 29 touchdown receptions.
The Bengals have a talented offense, but there is no way to replace a receiver of Green's caliber if he is unable to go against the Titans.