The Cincinnati Bengals wanted a win on the road against the Tennessee Titans desperately. A season on the line, the game was an up and down affair - including a scoreless third quarter - until both teams went into a final-minutes shootout. A Bengals defense that had kept the Titans close folded when their backs were against the wall and Cincinnati fell, 24-20. Dropping to 3-6 on the season, the Bengals are now forced to try to pick up the pieces yet again to game-plan for the Denver Broncos.
Mixon and LaFell have good showing
A day after the Bengals moved starting running back Jeremy Hill onto the injured-reserved list due to a 'tweaked' ankle (and likely ended his career in Cincy due to free agency in 2018), rookie rusher Joe Mixon was asked to step into the workhorse role and he and receiver Brandon LaFell both had good performances against the Titans.
Mixon averaged 4.1 yards per carry in an improved Bengals rushing attack, finishing with nine carries for 37 yards and a touchdown. Mixon added one reception for short yardage on the day.
LaFell, who has seen a season of unpredictable play, completed a 37-yard highlight reel grab and finished the game with six catches for 95 yards (15.8 yards per catch average) and a touchdown. The Bengals have needed guys to step up outside of A.J. Green in the passing game and LaFell offered his best performance of the 2017 season on Sunday.
Dalton ➡ LaFell.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) November 12, 2017
Defense has carried offense too long
It's a simple case of attrition. The Bengals have relied on their defense to bail out their offense too many times this season, and against the Titans - they broke. Carl Lawson and Geno Atkins continue to be impressive. Against Marcus Mariota, Atkins got an early sack (his sixth on the season) and the kid many in Cincinnati feel was the steal of the 2017 NFL Draft applied heavy pressure and earned another sack. On the final Titans drive, Lawson drove Taylor Lewan into Mariota's lap, forcing an incompletion.
The Bengals put plenty of heat on the Titans up front, but the breakdown was in stopping the run and preventing plays down the field while Tennessee tried to capitalize on penalties on blown assignments. They did get a nice play from Darqueze Dennard who came up with a clutch interception to set up a Bengals score. But as the game went deeper, it became clear that this team has put too much pressure on their defense to carry the weight. The result is that when the defense finally broke, they couldn't get a win in a very close game that could have been theirs.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) November 12, 2017
Liabilities killing success for Cincinnati
The Bengals have a list of liabilities that are absolutely killing any chance of success in 2017. One of the biggest liabilities continues to be one player that has a history of hurting his team as much or more than he does any opponent: Vontaze Burfict.
Big extension during the offseason or not, Burfict is a repeat offender that has the potential to be an outstanding player if he could just be a good teammate and obey the rules of the game. On Sunday, Burfict made a play along the sideline that, of course, Titans fans didn't like.
This is the first unsportsmanlike conduct/unnecessary roughness penalty on Vontaze Burfict. pic.twitter.com/8Do8I083f2
— Josh Kirkendall (@Josh_Kirkendall) November 12, 2017
It was what happened afterward that got him ejected from the game when he made contact with the official trying to get players off the turf and back into the game, as seen here:
— Jeremy Rauch (@FOX19Jeremy) November 12, 2017
It may seem like a ticky-tacky call by the official, but the rules are the rules - and Burfict has a history and wears a big target on that chip on his shoulder. He'll see a fine and may even see a suspension coming from the NFL front office - something his teammates don't need.
Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones have also proven to be liabilities to this team. After being heavily invested into, both have yet to log a single interception through 10 games of play during the 2017 NFL regular season. In fact, both have been repeatedly beaten in open coverage and Kirkpatrick got burnt twice by Tennessee; he allowed Corey Davis to convert a big down and later in the same drive, Rishard Matthews sneaked by him.
The biggest liability may just be coaching, however. The days are numbered for Marvin Lewis if you believe Cincinnati fans, and before he reaches the door Paul Guenther may have already been shoved out. Guenther can't seem to get his defense off the field on third downs or corral mobile quarterbacks. Tackling is sub-par. And the Bengals defense, who earned six of the 11 total penalties against their team as a whole, folded under heavy pressure and allowed the game-winning touchdown pass to DeMarco Murray.
Cincinnati will face a Broncos team that will be coming off of a meeting with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on Sunday, November 19th. It may very well be a battle of defenses between the Bengals and Broncos as both offenses continue to struggle to find a balance.