Hopefully the third time is a charm. Twice in his career Andy Dalton has lead the Bengals into Houston and twice the results have been disastrous. Dalton will take the Bengals to Houston again this Sunday and he will look to continue his hot streak against the league's 31st ranked pass defense.
Here is what to look for this Sunday when the Bengals travel to Houston...
When the Texans Run the Ball:
Texans Run Offense: 144.6 YPG (3rd); 4.3 YPA (t-9th)
Bengals Run Defense: 136.2 YPG (28th); 4.4 YPA (t-23rd)
Arian Foster has played the Bengals twice in Houston's NRG/Relian Stadium - both times in the playoffs, both times against a good Bengals run defense, and both were games that we Bengals fans would like to forget.
In those two games, Foster averaged 28 carries, 146.5 yards, 5.23 YPA and 1.5 touchdowns. The bad news for the Bengals is that Foster is having another outstanding year. Among starting running backs, Foster is ranked third in rushing yards (822) and YPA (5.1). Worse news for the Bengals is that the 2014 Bengals defense is not of the same caliber as their 2011 and 2012 counterparts.
However, there is potentially good news for the Bengals. The Bengals run defense clearly looked better with Rey Maualuga back in the lineup and although Foster looks to dress this week, he is returning from a groin injury that kept him out of the Cleveland game last week. Groin injuries can be tricky for any player, but especially for a running back who is constantly making cuts.
If Foster can't go, the Texans will feature rookie running back Alred Blue from LSU. With 36 carries and 156 yards last week in Cleveland, Blue is certainly serviceable, but his 3.8 YPA is definitely a drop off from Foster's 5.1. With Ryan Mallett making just his second start in the NFL, Maualuga back in the Bengals lineup and Foster at less than 100% (presumably), I think the Bengals will put eight men in the box and dare Mallett to beat them with his arm.
Advantage: Texans (slight)
When the Texans Throw the Ball:
Texans Pass Offense: 209.8 YPG (28th); 7.7 YPA (9th); 9 INTs (t-14th); 20 Sacks (t-13th); 88.1 Rating (19th)
Bengals Pass Defense: 249.5 YPG (20th); 6.5 YPA (t-4th); 10 INTs (t-10th); 13 Sacks (t-29th); 79.2 Rating (4th)
The Bengals did an excellent job last week shutting down Drew Brees, one of the best quarterbacks of all-time. Brees had just 255 yards (his second lowest total on the year) and 1 touchdown on the day (tied for his lowest of the season). What makes me optimistic about this week's matchup is that Ryan Mallett is no Drew Brees. What concerns me about this matchup is: 1) historically, the Bengals have struggled against rookie/inexperienced quarterbacks like Mallett and 2) besides Jimmy Graham, Mallett's weapons present a bigger challenge for a defense.
Along with Arian Foster, the Texans feature a dynamic wide receiver duo in DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Johnson. Hopkins - 14th in receiving yards - is one of the young budding stars at receiver, and Andre Johnson - though not the dominant receiver he once was, is still a legit No. 1 (23rd in receiving yards). Mallett played well in his first start, but now the Bengals have tape on him and it sounds like the Bengals secondary is getting healthy. Despite his weapons, I expect the Bengals to crowd the line of scrimmage, take away Mallett's safety blanket (the running game) and use their experienced secondary to force Mallett into some mistakes.
When the Bengals Run the Ball:
Bengals Run Offense: 124.3 YPG (9th); 4.3 YPA (t-9th)
Texans Run Defense: 111.4 (16th); 4.0 YPA (t-11th)
Don't look now, but the Bengals run offense is suddenly a top 10 unit and has looked very good the last few weeks with Jeremy Hill as the lead back. Giovani Bernard should be active this Sunday, but look for him to be used more in the passing game than the running game. With the success Hill has had, the Bengals will ease Bernard back into the run game and let Hill continue to take the bulk of the carries. Going up against a mediocre Texans run defense that surrendered 190 yards to the Eagles just two weeks ago, the Bengals should be able to get Hill going again and open things up for Dalton to take advantage of the 31st ranked pass defense.
When the Bengals Throw the Ball:
Bengals Pass Offense: 222.0 YPG (21st); 7.2 YPA (t-17th); 9 INTs (t-14th); 13 Sacks (3rd); 84.3 Rating (25th)
Texans Pass Defense: 278.1 YPG (31st); 7.4 YPA (t-15th); 11 INTs (t-8th); 21 Sacks (19th); 89.1 Rating (12th)
It is astonishing that a defense with J.J. Watt is ranked 31st against the pass. Even more surprising, despite Watt's 9.5 sacks, the Texans, as a team, only have 21 sacks and rank 19th in terms of sacks.
That being said, Watt and/or Jadeveon Clowney will get a chance against either Andre Smith - fresh out of a walking boot and in the midst of a poor season - or Marshall Newhouse - who played better last week but is not a starting NFL tackle - on every snap. That could get ugly.
It will be key for the Bengals to use Gresham to help Smith and/or Newhouse, because if the Bengals line can give Dalton time, this is a pass defense that is not only on pace for allowing 4,450 yards, but is banged up as well. Johnathan Joseph has been limited this week with a sore knee and Kareem Jackson looks to still be out with his own knee issue. That leaves second year corner, AJ Bouye on Green or Sanu on every play. If provided time in the pocket, that is a matchup Dalton can, and will, exploit.
Kickoff Returns: Texans - 21.5 Avg (28th); Bengals - 27.5 Avg (4th)
Punt Returns: Texans - 5.9 Avg (29th); Bengals - 11.6 Avg (6th)
Kickers: Randy Bullock: 18/22 (81.8% - t-23rd) - Long 55 yds; Mike Nugent: 17/23 (73.9% - t-29th) - Long 49 (1 blocked)
Texans -Shane Lechler: NET 40.6 (t-19th); Inside 20 - 15 (30.6%); TB - 7 (14.3%)
Bengals - Kevin Huber: NET 45.5 (1st); Inside 20 - 19 (41.3%); TB - 3 (6.5%)
Kick Coverage: Texans - 23.7 Avg (14th); Bengals - 26.0 Avg (28th)
Punt Coverage: Texans - 13.3 Avg (30th); Bengals - 5.1 Avg (3rd)
Another week, another special teams advantage for Darrin Simmons' squad. The Bengals not only have a huge advantage in the return game with Adam Jones, they also have a huge advantage at the punter position and on punt coverage. Plus, Randy Bullock is barely outperforming Mike Nugent. On the road and in a tough environment, the advantage at special teams could play a big role in this game.
Bill O'Brien has an impressive coaching resume and the way the Texans have bounced back in 2014 is a testament to his ability as a coach. That being said, he has coached a total of 10 NFL games. Marvin Lewis has coached 11+ NFL years.
Advantage: Bengals (slight)
Key to the Game:
Neutralizing J.J. Watt and neutralizing the Texans run game. The 2014 Texans defense is surprisingly weak, but J.J. Watt is so good that he alone can stop an offense. If the Bengals right side of the line can't keep Watt in check, he could wreak havoc on Dalton and the Bengals offense. As for the Texans run game, if the Bengals can stop the run, they can force Mallett to have to win the game with his arm and doing so will give the Bengals great opportunity in this game.
Before the season I had the Bengals winning this game. While this game concerns me, I am sticking with my original pick. I think the Bengals pass offense exploits the Texans pass defense and puts up some big numbers.
Bengals 31, Texans 17