News & Analysis

NFL Week 8 PFF ReFocused: Cincinnati Bengals 31, Tennessee Titans 20

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) runs off the field after the NFL game on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, in Cincinnati. Cincinnati Bengals defeated Tennessee Titans 31-20. Cincinnati Bengals At Tennessee Titans

A couple of weeks ago, the 5-0 Tennessee Titans were viewed as one of the top teams in the NFL. And while it wasn’t a huge surprise to see them get edged out by the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, losing to Joe Burrow’s Cincinnati Bengals in Week 8? Few saw that one coming,  especially by a couple of scores.

Editor's note: All of PFF's grades and advanced stats from this game will be finalized and made available to ELITE subscribers within 24 hours of the final whistle.

STORY OF THE GAME

Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill was a bit volatile in the first three quarters of action. He threw an ugly red-zone interception to start the game and let slip more quarterback-fault incompletions in that span than in any other game of 2020.

Tannehill did manage to toss three big-time throws, but only two ended up being caught, and neither of those helped the Titans put points up on the board. While Tannehill and the Titans did put together a couple of touchdown drives in the fourth quarter when down by double digits, the passing offense still ended up with their second-least-efficient game of the 2020 season in terms of expected points added (EPA) per pass play. 

Derrick Henry led the rushing attack to their most efficient outing of the season — Tennessee generated positive EPA (i.e., had a successful play) on 77% of their runs, over 20 percentage points better than any other game of the season for them. But guess what? It didn’t matter because the game is won through the air, and that’s how Burrow led the Bengals to victory.

Tannehill and the Titans had one of their worst passing days of the season, while the 2020 No. 1 overall pick and the Bengals had their best passing day of the season, generating 0.54 EPA per pass play.

Burrow hit the few throws he attempted to the intermediate level and connected on a couple of deep big-time throws. Both of those deep completions from Burrow came on key downs — one was on a third down on their opening drive, and the other came on a fourth down on their final drive of the first half that led to a 10-point lead at the intermission. 

Given that they were missing four starting offensive linemen, there was some concern that the unit of replacements would somehow manage to be worse than the starting unit had been, but Burrow wasn’t sacked or hit at all for the first time this season. In the previous seven games, Burrow had gotten sacked or hit at a minimum of three times. And when Burrow was under pressure, he was calm, cool, and collected with no turnover-worthy plays, a big-time throw and an incredible play in which he managed to escape a sack when it seemed inevitable.

ROOKIE WATCH

Wide receiver Tee Higgins continued his recent emergence in Week 8 against Tennessee. He did drop one of his targets, but he still had a productive game by generating a respectable 2.79 yards per route run. The 6-foot-4 receiver hadn’t made a huge dent on contested opportunities in his rookie campaign entering the week, but he came down with both of his contested targets against the Titans, and both resulted in an explosive play of 15 or more yards.

Hakeem Adeniji, a sixth-round pick filling in for Jonah Williams at left tackle, was responsible for more total pressures than any Bengals offensive lineman in Week 8. Adeniji gave up three hurries on 38 pass-block snaps, which, granted, could have been worse, but it wasn’t anything great or on the level of Williams.

Former Notre Dame edge rusher Khalid Kareem saw more snaps in Week 8 than he had in any of his first seven games as a Bengal (43 in total), and it didn’t go all that great. The fifth-round rookie won just 4% of his pass-rush reps and had a neutral zone infraction on a third down, which handed the Titans a fresh set of downs.

Cornerback Chris Jackson was the only Titans rookie to see any significant playing time and had the best game of his short career in coverage. He posted sub-60.0 coverage grades in his other four games on the field and entered the week at a season coverage grade of 29.9. The seventh-round pick didn’t make any astounding plays in coverage, but he wasn’t a complete liability, as he had been. Jackson allowed just two catches for 25 yards on 25 coverage snaps.

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