The Cincinnati Bengals look like one of the NFL’s most complete teams as they have started with consecutive victories for the first time since beginning 3-0 in 2006.
Andy Dalton has yet to throw an interception or get sacked, though his options could be limited this weekend.
The Bengals are unsure of the status of A.J. Green and will be thin at tight end as they look to stretch their regular-season home win streak to 11 games Sunday against the Tennessee Titans.
Article continues below ...
Cincinnati (2-0) boasts the AFC’s top-ranked offense with 426.0 yards per game with Dalton throwing for 553 and two scores while leading the NFL in yards per attempt at 9.07. He and Houston’s Ryan Fitzpatrick are the only quarterbacks who have started both games and yet to be sacked.
"We feel confident in whoever we are," left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. "It’s the effort, it’s the attitude, it’s the intangibles and we feel like there’s not a phase of the game we can’t do if we play that way."
Cincinnati beat Atlanta 24-10 in last Sunday’s home opener despite playing nearly the entire game without Green, who aggravated an injured big toe on the Bengals’ opening series and did not return.
Green said he originally got hurt in the season-opening 23-16 win at Baltimore on Sept. 7, when he had six catches for 131 yards and a touchdown. His status remains up in the air after sitting out practice Wednesday.
"It’s getting better," Green said after getting treatment. "Anytime I’m not on the field, I feel like I’m letting my teammates down. Even though we came out with the win (last week), I still feel bad. But it’s something I can’t control. I’m just trying my best to get back."
Tight end Alex Smith hurt his left biceps last weekend and is out for the season. The Bengals are already missing tight end Tyler Eifert, who will sit out at least the first eight games with an elbow injury. Undrafted rookie Ryan Hewitt is now the primary player to provide depth behind starter Jermaine Gresham.
Cincinnati also may be without one of its top defensive players after revealing Wednesday that Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict is dealing with more concussion symptoms.
The Bengals had numerous players step up versus the Falcons. Giovani Bernard ran 27 times for 90 yards with a touchdown and caught a team-high five passes for a career-best 79 yards. Rookie Jeremy Hill added 96 total yards with a TD, while Mohamed Sanu had three receptions for a team-high 84 yards and completed a 50-yard pass to Brandon Tate.
"I’m pleased," said coach Marvin Lewis, whose defense is among the league leaders in points allowed (26) and turnovers forced (five). "We’re as good as we can be, but again we can’t take a step back. We can’t take a breath or relax."
While Dalton’s steady play is making the six-year, $115 million contract he signed in the offseason look like a wise decision by Cincinnati, the jury remains out on a quarterback selected above him in the 2011 draft by Tennessee.
Jake Locker was the eighth overall selection that year while Dalton was a second-round pick, but the Titans’ signal-caller has much more to prove ahead of the first meeting between these quarterbacks.
Locker finished 18 of 34 for 234 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in last Sunday’s 26-10 loss to Dallas.
That only tells part of the story since he was 4 of 12 for 26 yards in the first half with a 7.6 passer rating – the worst by anyone in a half this season. The Titans (1-1) trailed 16-0 at the break.
First-year coach Ken Whisenhunt insisted he is not concerned about Locker, who has been sacked six times.
"I’ve worked with some of the better quarterbacks in the league, and they have games no different than Jake had (against the Cowboys)," he said. "I think we’re looking at one game over maybe a skill set."
Locker’s most reliable target has been tight end Delanie Walker, who has 13 receptions for 179 yards with touchdowns in each of the first two games. Titans receivers have combined for one TD.
"I’ve never placed an emphasis on targets and completions," Whisenhunt said. "I don’t even pay attention to targets. We’re working to try to get guys open, and the quarterbacks go through their reads."
The Titans’ defensive effort was dramatically different. They held Jamaal Charles to 19 yards rushing in a season-opening 26-10 win before allowing DeMarco Murray to gain 167 last weekend.
"It’s easy to fix," said defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, who had two sacks. "It’s about playing smart and playing consistently. We didn’t have that when it came throughout the game."
Tennessee owns the NFL’s top-ranked pass defense, allowing 163.0 yards per game and totaling three interceptions. That could be weakened if cornerback Jason McCourty is unable to play after he exited last Sunday with a groin injury.
Dalton threw touchdowns to three different players the last time these teams met as the Bengals won 24-17 on Nov. 6, 2011.