Three keys: How the Cincinnati Bengals can beat the Tennessee Titans in divisional round

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After defeating the Las Vegas Raiders at Paul Brown Stadium in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs, the Cincinnati Bengals are advancing to the divisional round. The Bengals will travel to Nashville to take on the AFC's top seed, the Tennessee Titans.

After finishing the regular season with a record of 12-5, the Titans earned a first-round bye. As Tennessee awaited its next opponent, head coach Mike Vrabel's team was given a chance to get healthy, something they haven't been much of the season. At one point this year, the Titans fielded 82 different players due to injuries.

Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel walks the sideline during the fourth quarter at NRG Stadium Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022 in Houston, Texas.
Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel walks the sideline during the fourth quarter at NRG Stadium Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022 in Houston, Texas.

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Most notably, the Titans are expecting to get Derrick Henry back in the lineup by Saturday's game. The Pro Bowl running back was limited to eight games in the regular season due to a foot injury and was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 1. Henry's carries could be limited though despite practicing with full participation all week.

"I felt great," Henry said Wednesday. "I just wanted to get some pads on. Haven't (had) them on in a while and got some contact going."

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) stuff arms Cincinnati Bengals cornerback LeShaun Sims (38) on a run during the first quarter of a Week 8 NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) stuff arms Cincinnati Bengals cornerback LeShaun Sims (38) on a run during the first quarter of a Week 8 NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.

Cincinnati enters the game mostly healthy but did lose a key starter against the Raiders with defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi being placed on injured reserve. Pro Bowl defensive end Trey Hendrickson cleared the NFL's concussion protocol and will play against the Titans.

Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (65) rides off the field on a cart in the second half the AFC wild card game on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. Cincinnati Bengals defeated Las Vegas Raiders 26-19.
Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (65) rides off the field on a cart in the second half the AFC wild card game on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. Cincinnati Bengals defeated Las Vegas Raiders 26-19.

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Here's how the Bengals can upset the No. 1 seed and advance to the AFC Championship game:

Start fast and don't allow Titans to control the clock

The Titans' entire game plan on offense hinges on their run game. They want to run Henry and D'Onta Foreman as much as they can and then utilize the play-action pass game to set up big plays for wide receivers A.J. Brown and Julio Jones.

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If the Bengals can get up early on the Titans, they'll be able to dictate the style of game. However, if Tennessee takes a lead, they are a hard team to beat because of the style in which they play.

The Titans finished the 2021 season ranked No. 2 in the AFC in time of possession, controlling the ball for an average of 32:40 minutes of the game.

Tennessee Titans outside linebacker Bud Dupree (48) sacks Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) during the third quarter at Heinz Field Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Tennessee Titans outside linebacker Bud Dupree (48) sacks Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) during the third quarter at Heinz Field Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Win at the line of scrimmage

When quarterback Joe Burrow is sacked more than four times in a game, the Bengals typically don't win. Burrow is one of the best in the league right now in escaping the pocket and avoiding sacks, but he hasn't seen a defensive line like Tennessee's in a few weeks.

The Titans have one of the best pass-rushing defensive fronts with outside linebackers Bud Dupree and Harold Landry and defensive tackle Jefferey Simmons wrecking havoc all season.

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Tennessee ranked No. 9 in sacks this season with 43. Keeping Burrow's pocket clean and getting the ball out of his hands fast will be critical for the Bengals to have success on offense.

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins (85) runs downfield as Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Desmond Trufant (10) goes to tackle him after he got a first down in the second half the AFC wild card game on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. Cincinnati Bengals defeated Las Vegas Raiders 26-19.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins (85) runs downfield as Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Desmond Trufant (10) goes to tackle him after he got a first down in the second half the AFC wild card game on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. Cincinnati Bengals defeated Las Vegas Raiders 26-19.

Feed Tee Higgins

The Titans game plan will probably start and end with how to limit Ja'Marr Chase's production. Cincinnati has the luxury if the Titans are successful in doing so to utilize wide receiver Tee Higgins on the outside.

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Former first-round pick Kristian Fulton, who played with Chase at LSU, will likely draw the matchup on his former teammate. This would leave Higgins in a favorable matchup against Tennessee's No. 2 cornerback,

Tennessee Titans cornerback Kristian Fulton (26) breaks up a pass intended for San Francisco 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk (44) during the fourth quarter at Nissan Stadium Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021 in Nashville, Tenn.
Tennessee Titans cornerback Kristian Fulton (26) breaks up a pass intended for San Francisco 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk (44) during the fourth quarter at Nissan Stadium Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021 in Nashville, Tenn.

Janoris Jenkins is dealing with an ankle injury and missed practice on Wednesday. Higgins is having the best season of his professional career in his second year. The second-round pick caught 74 passes for 1,091 yards and six touchdowns in the regular season.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: How the Bengals can beat the Titans in AFC divisional round

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