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Five Keys For The Cincinnati Bengals Against The Houston Texans

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This is it: Cincinnati will host the 9-3 Houston Texans in a game that could make or break the Bengals playoffs. After Sunday's 1 p.m. kickoff (CBS), Cincinnati will have games against the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams, offering the team a respite and rejuvenation towards the all-unexpected playoff run. However the team has to get basics against the Houston Texans, winning the running game, protecting the quarterback, assaulting their quarterback and god forbid a consistent game with Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell included.

5. For The Fifth Time... Simpson And Caldwell Need To Show Up

Even with Johnathan Joseph covering him on Sunday, Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green will have his signature plays, most likely making some crazy reception that forces the world to jump out of their seat. Truth is no cornerback this year has really shut Green down. Even though he only caught one pass during a rainy Sunday evening, A.J. Green gave Darrelle Revis fits with his explosive step off the line of scrimmage and squirmy routes that raises hell with mostly every cornerback in the league.

Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson have combined for five receptions for 39 yards receiving in the past two weeks, including a tremendously impressive zero receptions against the Pittsburgh Steelers… combined. Even though it appears that Andrew Hawkins and Jermaine Gresham are you most reliable second and third receivers right now, Cincinnati’s offense this weekend will depend on a powerful rushing offense with pops down the field. And as Andy Dalton has become more obsessive with getting the football to Green down the field, the other receivers are idle watching the deep pass while their own participation is limited likely due to the lack of trust (only three targets between Simpson and Caldwell last week – all to Simpson).

At this rate defenses could put three or even four defensive backs on Green and there’s not a thing Cincinnati’s offense could do about it until Simpson and Caldwell install that trust to become more progressive with this team’s final stretch towards the playoffs.

4. Bengals Pass Rush Needs To Assault T.J. Yates

There’s plenty of praise going around for Houston’s third-string quarterback T.J. Yates, standing tall after the team’s starting and backup quarterback went down to season-ending injuries. Whenever your third-string quarterback is pushed into the game, it’s never good – says the most obvious man in the world. That being said he’s played admirably after replacing Matt Leinart against the Jacksonville Jaguars two weeks ago.

Yet in his only start this season against the Atlanta Falcons, Yates failed to convert 50% of his passes, averaged 7.5 yards per pass and was sacked three times. Houston used him to manage the game, and that’s the smartest thing to do with a third-string rookie quarterback. And that’s the key.

Cincinnati will largely focus on Houston’s rushing offense – as they should – and that focus could lead to a forgetful attitude against Houston’s passing offense, compounded by the loss of wide receiver Andre Johnson with a hamstring injury. Call it a trap game-plan.

Though Cincinnati’s best pass rusher in Carlos Dunlap isn’t likely to play this weekend (listed as Doubtful but hasn’t practiced in weeks), the Bengals still need to aggressively assault Yates by keeping him in the pocket, pressuring him into making mistakes. Guys like Michael Johnson, Jonathan Fanene, Frostee Rucker and Robert Geathers will be tasked with holding contain against the run while putting pressure on Yates during the pass. But it’s Geno Atkins that makes the biggest difference with a pass rush up the gut.

3. Protecting Quarterback Andy Dalton

Only one team in the NFL has registered more quarterback sacks than the Houston Texans. Though Baltimore is crushing the world with 41 this season, Houston’s 35 sacks as a team is tied with the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings for second in the NFL. Connor Barwin leads the team with 8.5 quarterback sacks, named the Defensive Player of the Month in November (6.5 sacks in the month, at least one per game and four against the Jacksonville Jaguars). Just as impressively Barwin has registered 14 hits on the quarterback and 18 pressures in an aggravating state of harassment.

Yet Cincinnati’s offensive line has only allowed 20 quarterback sacks this season, ranked fourth in the NFL (Houston is ranked third with 19 allowed). That being said Cincinnati has allowed seven quarterback sacks in the previous three games, including a season-high three against the Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend.

2. Win The Battle Of Rushing Offense

There’s no doubt that Houston’s top-ranked defense includes nice praise for their efforts stopping the run, allowing only five teams to surpass the 100-yard rushing mark where the Texans are 3-2 in such games. Yet those games also embody a twisted perspective that while opposing teams are limited in their rushing efforts, the Houston Texans have only limited opposing rushing offenses to less than four yards per rush five times. Comparatively speaking the Cincinnati Bengals have only allowed four teams to average more than four yards rushing this season.

Even though words on paper tend to underscore the effort it takes to make something happen, Cincinnati wins the running game this weekend between both teams and the Bengals will improve to 8-5.

1. Stop Houston's Rushing Offense

The Houston Texans’ efficient rushing offense has posted 150 yards rushing or more in five of their previous six games with an 88-yard effort against the Jacksonville Jaguars as their lone depression. During Houston’s three losses this year the Texans averaged 90.7 yards rushing whereas during their nine wins, Houston is averaging 173.2 yards rushing per game.

The Texans excellent rushing offense is encountering a struggling Bengals defense that hasn’t limited an opposing offense to under 100 yards rushing since November 16 against the Tennessee Titans. Compounding the problem is when Cincinnati’s defense does allow over 100 yards rushing, they’re 1-4 this season (and 1-3 during an active streak in the last four weeks).