The Bengals will play host to the Texans on Monday Night Football looking to remain unbeaten this season.
Andy Dalton enters the game having just completed the best eight-game stretch of his career and was named the AFC Player of the Month for October. He's up to 20 total touchdowns (18 passing, 2 rushing) and just five turnovers (4 interceptions, 1 fumble lost). Dalton also has the second-best passer rating (111.) and second-best QBR (77.6) of any NFL quarterback.
He is having a career-year thanks in large part to what Tyler Eifert has brought to the table for the Bengals. Though it's taken three years, Eifert and Dalton are finally beginning to find a level of chemistry that allows both guys to play at or close to their highest level possible.
"I think it just comes with reps," Dalton said at his Thursday press conference. "For him (Eifert), a guy that's got a great feel for the windows and knowing when to go up and make catches. I think it takes a little bit of time to get used to each other, but when you've got a guy like that that's doing it right all the time and has such a good feel for the game, it makes it easier."
For perspective, Dalton has never finished a season with a passer rating over 88.8 or a QBR over 56.8. Thanks to his improved level of play, the Bengals look poised to win the most games they've ever gotten with Dalton as the quarterback, but as he's saying, it's all about getting win number 9 right now.
"I think our focus right now is getting to nine wins," Dalton said. "We'll handle the playoff things whenever that time comes. We've done enough so far to win every game, and our goal is to keep doing that."
However, Dalton and the Bengals will be facing a familiar foe this week that's had success against him. The Bengals and Texans have faced off four times since Dalton's rookie season in 2011 with the Texans claiming three wins, two of which came in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
J.J. Watt alone can destroy game plans and make life hard on any quarterback, something Dalton knows all too well.
"For him (Watt), he's such a good player, you've got to know where he is because he does so much. He runs down running backs on the backside of runs. He jumps around and makes big plays. Even in the pass game when he's not getting close to the quarterback and him sitting back and knowing when to time jumps and get up and bat balls down. There's a lot of stuff that he does really good. He's a dominant player, one of the most dominant players in this game. We understand that. We know what we're going up against."
In four career games (including the playoffs) against Watt and the Texans, Dalton has completed just 81-of-135 passes (60 percent) for 806 yards with two touchdowns, five interceptions and one fumble. Dalton's offense has also averaged just 16.5 points per game, but the Bengals finally broke through with a 22-13 win in Houston last year.
A big reason why was the quick-passing game neutralised Watt's impact, and Texans head coach Bill O'Brien is already talking about new ways to get him in better position to get to Dalton. But, Dalton already knows what Watt is capable of.
"He has to just come at me usually, you know?" Dalton said. "The defensive line usually knows the spot where the quarterback is going to set up, and so he moves all over the place and does a lot of different things. I definitely have to take notice of what he's doing."
Facing the Texans goes beyond the players and records for Dalton, who was born in Katy, Texas where he played high school football. The Texans are essentially Dalton's hometown team. During Dalton's senior year, he was named the Greater Houston Area offensive player of the year by the Houston Chronicle.
Then Dalton went on to have a memorable college football career at TCU in Fort Worth, which, along with Katy, is just a short 40-minute drive from Houston. That made the win last year a special one for Dalton for multiple reasons.
"Obviously I grew up in the Houston area and I watched the Texans ever since they came around," Dalton said. "We've had a lot of different games against them, and to get the win last year was big just because we'd never beaten them before. This one's big. It is Monday night, it's the next one on the schedule and it's going to help us with our future goals."
That win in Houston was also special because it came in front of Dalton's family, including his dad, whose birthday was that day.
"It was cool last year because, obviously the win in Houston, I had all my family there, but it was also my dad's birthday, which made it kind of cool," Dalton said. "So after the game, I gave him the jersey and everything, which was a cool moment. So that one was special just from all the different things that had gone on."
A win this time around would put the Bengals at 9-0, a record Dalton also had his final year at TCU. That alone makes getting a win here something special for Dalton and the Bengals.