NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- After a week of waiting to see who their next opponent would be, the Tennessee Titans found out that they will host the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday (4:30 p.m. ET, CBS) at Nissan Stadium in the divisional round of the playoffs after getting a bye in the first round as the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
The No. 4-seeded Bengals will pose a variety of challenges for Tennessee, namely on offense.
The dynamic combination of QB Joe Burrow and WR Ja'Marr Chase has rolled over from their record-breaking season together at LSU in 2019 to breaking records this season in the NFL. Chase had 81 receptions for an NFL-rookie record 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns.
"It is the first pick [Burrow] in the draft and the fourth pick in the draft," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. "So obviously they have a lot of talent and the trust and the connection is there. It is there down the field -- whether it is back shoulder, whether it is in the quick game."
Cornerback Kristian Fulton got very familiar with the Burrow and Chase show from getting to face them frequently during practice at LSU. Fulton and Chase also played together at Archbishop Rummel High School in Louisiana.
Fulton said they never imagined getting to face off against each other in an NFL playoff game. But that's exactly what they'll do Saturday.
Chase finished with nine receptions for 116 yards in the Bengals' 26-19 win over the Las Vegas Raiders last week in the wild-card round. He became the fourth player in franchise history to post a 100-yard receiving game in the playoffs.
The rookie receiver got off to an early start by catching multiple passes on the opening drive for only the second time this season. Chase and Burrow got off to an early start by connecting three times for 37 yards to start the game.
Burrow's 7-yard pass to C.J. Uzomah for a touchdown capped off their first possession. In his 26 regular-season starts over his career, Burrow has one opening-drive touchdown pass.
It's imperative for the Titans to jump on the Bengals' potent offense early in the game. Entering last week's wild-card matchup with the Raiders, Cincinnati had scored only 17 points on opening possessions this season, tied for the second fewest in the NFL.
If the Titans can get out to an early lead, they can rely on their ball-control offense to shorten the game and keep the Bengals' offense off the field. Tennessee's 32:39 average time of possession was second in the NFL during the regular season.
The Titans are no strangers to playing keep away from opposing teams. Utilizing a ball-control offense will be much easier with the expected return of Derrick Henry (foot). Henry should be to be activated from injured reserve for this week's game. He was the NFL's leading rusher when he was placed on IR in November and finished ninth despite missing the final nine games.
Even if the Titans do manage to dominate the time of possession, they still have to be concerned with Burrow's ability to connect on deep passes. Burrow has completed 66% of the fades he has thrown, for an average of 22.3 yards per attempt, and eight touchdowns on such passes, per ESPN Stats & Information. All are tops in the NFL.
The trio of Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and Chase will be a big test for Tennessee's secondary. The Titans would be best served by resorting to a plan similar to the one used during their 27-3 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 7: rush four and drop seven into coverage.
The Titans' front four is capable of getting to Burrow, who was the most-sacked quarterback in the league (53), without blitzing. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Tennessee generated 35 sacks during the regular season when using a standard four-man pass rush (second in NFL) and 153 QB pressures in that situation, which was also second best.
"That's the most important thing going into this game," defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons said. "It's going to come down to how our front four plays this week. We know it. Of course, stopping the run -- but it's also how can we affect the quarterback? Get our hands up at the line of scrimmage. How can we try to keep him from going to his favorite targets?"
Then there's running back Joe Mixon, who finished third with 1,205 rushing yards. Defending the run while being able to utilize seven players in coverage is no easy task. It's going to take sound tackling and pursuit to the football by the defensive backs.
"You don't have to go out there and do anything crazy," Titans safety Kevin Byard said. "Just do what we do, play as a whole defense."