The Tennessee Titans failed to build on back-to-back wins after they fell to the Cincinnati Bengals, 20-16, at home in Week 12 of the 2022 NFL season. The Titans are now 7-4, which is still good enough for first place in the AFC South. Here we’ll discuss the four Titans most to blame for their tight Week 12 loss vs. the Bengals.

The Titans lost to the Bengals just 11 months after losing 19-16 to the same team in the AFC Divisional Round last postseason. Unlike that game, however, the Bengals didn’t win thanks to turnovers and special teams. Instead, Cincinnati relied on quarterback Joe Burrow and his deep-shot connection with receiver Tee Higgins to push past the Titans late.

The Titans just could not finish the job here. Their ground game was underpowered, and their defense had plentiful gaps. Tennessee will pay a visit to Philadelphia next week and hope to return to the win column.

For now, let us look at the four Titans most to blame for their Week 12 loss vs. the Bengals.

4. Titans Secondary

The Titans secondary is something that’s a bit concerning. The pass defense is usually aided by the play of Tennessee’s tenacious front seven, but the cornerbacks just continue to struggle against big-bodied star wideouts. Higgins is one such receiver, and he repeatedly found the holes in Tennessee’s zone.

He was also successful in one-on-one situations against several different defensive backs. Look no further than to the Bengals two biggest plays of the game: completions to Tee Higgins on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter that set the Bengals up in the low red zone.

Both of these completions were backbreaking, and both came on simple go routes up the side of the field to Higgins. Tennessee’s two standout cornerbacks both got a taste of Higgins on this route. First, Roger McCreary and then Kristian Fulton. Both got burned. Neither one put up a great fight, both losing the battle to a more physical receiver.

3. Titans Pass Rush

The Titans have long taken pride in being one of the most physical teams in the NFL. Physicality is part of this team’s identity. Or, well, it should be.

In this game, however, that wasn’t really the case. The Bengals came into town and did to the Titans what Tennessee usually does to other teams. Not surprisingly, the Titans ended up losing.

This was clearly observed in the Titans pass rush, which produced just one sack all game. Remember that these same Titans recorded a monstrous nine-sack outing against Joe Burrow and company before. And even beyond the one sack, Tennessee’s pass rush just got routinely pushed around up front. This was one reason the Titans secondary had to scramble so many times as well.

2. Coach Mike Vrabel in the Red Zone

One big reason for this debilitating loss was the play-calling in the red zone.

Recall that Tennessee had four trips to the red zone against the Bengals. Unfortunately, the Titans failed to find the endzone on any of them. That was strange since coming into this game, the Titans were ranked 2nd in the league in red zone touchdown percentage (74.1 percent). This had been a key ingredient for them all season. Tennessee rarely wasted opportunities to score when they managed to move into scoring position.

This was one of the key ways in which Sunday’s performance was wildly out of character for Mike Vrabel’s team. At the end of the day, he just cannot expect his team to win in the NFL when they go 0-4 in the red zone. They need better play-calling and better playmaking in the coming weeks.

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1. RB Derrick Henry

One of the Titans’ best weapons should be their ground attack. That was strangely not the case here. Be it on offense or defense, Tennessee’s ground game was just ineffective. Keep in mind that the Titans have built their reputation under coach Vrabel on being dominant in the run game. It is the engine that keeps this squad humming, so to speak.

On one hand, without a capable run game on offense, the passing game can no longer play second fiddle and often turns back into a pumpkin. On the other hand, without a capable run defense, their secondary is forced to devote bodies to the run-stopping effort. This leaves their aerial defenses significantly weakened.

We saw that here. The Bengals rushed for a total of just 108 yards all game, but the Titans were even worse. Tennessee totaled only 63 ground yards when the final whistle was blown. Yes, just 63 — for a team with King Henry. It was grossly uncharacteristic and just unacceptable.

Going back to the team’s red zone woes in this game. One reason they have usually done well in the red zone is that they possess a solid run-based offense paired with an effective passing game. In this game, though, the Titans were held to their worst rushing performance all season.

Derrick Henry was made to look thoroughly washed, thanks to an inept run-blocking effort of the Titans offensive line. Henry managed a putrid 2.2 YPC on 17 carries for just 38 yards. That was his second-lowest rushing total of the season.