NASHVILLE – The Titans lost 20-16 to the Bengals on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things that stood out for the Titans…
Run Game Issues
At different times in Sunday's game, there were chants of "Henry, Henry, Henry." But on this day, Titans running back Derrick Henry had little or no room to run. The running game was pretty much non-existent. "We couldn't block them," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said after the game. "We couldn't move them. We tried some different schemes – give them credit. We have to find ways to run the football." Henry managed just 38 yards on 17 carries, an average of just 2.2 yards per carry. Henry's longest run of the day was just nine yards. On many plays, Bengals greeted him in the backfield. "They executed and we didn't," Henry said. "They came in and executed, and we didn't do our job in the run game. … We just couldn't get anything going."
Red Zone Problems
The Titans entered the contest ranked second in the NFL in red zone TD percentage (74.1%). But the Titans weren't very good when it mattered most on Sunday, as they went 0-for-3, scoring their only touchdown of the game on a fumble recovery in the end zone after a long catch and run by Henry. When the Titans reached the Bengals 15 in the second quarter, they settled for a short field goal. At the end of the first half, when they reached the Cincinnati 17, they settled for another field goal that was missed. The Titans settled for two field goals in the second half, and in the end, their lack of productivity here came back to haunt them. I didn't like quarterback Ryan Tannehill's 10-yard throw to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine on third-and-15 with 6:11 left, and the overall execution in the red zone at the end of the first half was disappointing as well. "We have to be cleaner in the red zone," Tannehill said. "It's something we pride ourselves on, we and put a lot of importance and focus on. And today we didn't execute well enough."
After cutting the lead to 20-16 late, the Titans defense needed a stop. But the defense didn't get it, and that was an issue all game. The Bengals racked up 21 first downs and managed to score in critical situations on Sunday. Why? Well, defenders had different views. "We didn't do a good job at all stopping the run – I think that is where it started," Titans safety Kevin Byard said. "We talk about being physical, playing our brand of football. That's not us at all. We really didn't affect the quarterback much at all, didn't get turnovers. It's not the way we want to play football at all." It's all true. After sacking Bengals QB Joe Burrow nine times in a playoff game a year ago, the Titans sacked him just once on Sunday. Burrow ran for 32 yards – on top of running back Samaja Perine's 58 yards – and it helped doom the Titans. Bengals receiver Tee Higgins caught seven passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. "We missed hella tackles,'' defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons said. "And when it came down to making plays, we didn't make them." On Sunday, the Titans produced their eighth consecutive game in which they did not allow their opponent to score more than 20 points. It is the longest active streak in the NFL and is the franchise's longest such streak within a season since 1993 (11 games). But on this day, it wasn't good enough.
Late Game Penalty
Vrabel made it clear the Titans didn't lose the game because of the penalty at the end. But the call – unnecessary roughness on defensive lineman Kevin Strong on a Bengals field goal attempt late – did kill any chances of a late-game rally for the Titans. "They didn't give me any interpretation," Vrabel said of the call. "Obviously what that is is they felt like we hit the snapper in the head or neck area. … We were trying to block the kick. I don't know if we hit 'em in the head or not, but they felt like we did." Strong said in the locker room after the game he needs to do better. Instead of the Bengals taking a 23-16 lead with 1:53 left, and the Titans having a chance for a late drive, the Bengals got a first down on the penalty and ran out the clock. "I thought I did my job, but they said I hit the snapper in the head," Strong said. "I was just trying to disrupt the interior and get as much penetration as I could and hopefully block the kick. I have to be better."
Titans rookie Treylon Burks followed up his best game as a pro with another solid performance. Burks caught four passes for 70 yards, including an acrobatic 51-yard grab when he went up high to catch a pass downfield with Bengals defensive back Cam Taylor-Britt on his hip. Burks also came up big on third down, and he was in the right place at the right time after Henry fumbled as he approached the end zone after his 69-yard catch and run on a screen pass. "Coach Vrabel harps on effort and finish – finish longer than the guy with the ball, and that's what we all do," Burks said. "It just so happened I was in the right place at the right time. … I just did my best to make plays for the team"
Reflecting on Sunday's game, I can't help but think the Titans missed a big opportunity on Sunday against a Bengals team that was without two of its best players on offense – receiver Ja'Marr Chase and running back Joe Mixon. I certainly didn't leave Nissan Stadium thinking the Bengals are world beaters by any stretch. I did leave thinking if this Titans team is going to advance in the postseason, they're going to have to be a lot better – and more consistent. Against the Packers, the Titans showed signs of being pretty good on offense. But on Sunday they squandered opportunities on offense while lacking an edge on defense all day. The Titans have been good enough to win some of these close games this season, but on Sunday their inconsistencies came back to bite them. These Titans need to be better. "At the end of the day, they outcoached us and they outplayed us," Simmons said. "Every loss should motivate us. … Today we weren't good enough."
The Tennessee Titans take on the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 12 at Nissan Stadium.
The Tennessee Titans prepare to take on the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 12 at Nissan Stadium.
The Tennessee Titans arrive at Nissan Stadium for their Week 12 Game against the Cincinnati Bengals.