Kyle Phelps and I are continuing our weekly debate by looking at the advantages and disadvantages that both of these teams have heading into the contest -- and how those elements can come into play on Monday. Against a team that is still very much alive in a weak AFC South, can the Bengals go 9-0?
Alex: Kyle, thanks for joining me. I'll come right off the bat and say that I'm very glad this game is at home. I don't think the Texans are a great team, but they've been fairly resilient this year, despite injuries and bad news. If this game were in Houston, I think it would only foster that underdog atmosphere, which is something the Bengals don't want to see encouraged.
Now, for those of us who remained sober, we all remember Brian Hoyer's game against us last year, as painful as it was. Dalton had the worst game of his career, and the defense made a career journeyman look like a born leader. Officially, Hoyer is 2-0 against the Bengals, with both of those wins coming at the helm of the Browns' offense. Yet, as he told ESPN: "it's not really relevant. It was a different team that I was on. Different team for them [too.]" Is Hoyer's career success against this Bengals club a fluke -- just two bad games by Cincinnati? Or this another reason to expect a different outcome this time around?
Kyle: I'm gonna go ahead and say that Hoyer's two wins over Cincinnati were not a fluke. I don't think that really translates to this week though, because of that exact quote that you used from Hoyer and ESPN. It might be a good way to boost Hoyer's confidence as he travels to Cincinnati with a team that, by most accounts, are similar to the Browns in terms of how good they look lately.
However, the point is that it's a new team and almost a completely new experience. Sure, Hoyer knew how to utilize weapons like Jordan Cameron, Josh Gordon, Terrence West, and a good Browns defense to hand the Bengals two decisive losses. But, everything is all mixed up now. DeAndre Hopkins is having a very good season so far, but the Texans' running game that ranks sixth worst in the league. There are defensive stalwarts like Jonathan Joseph and J.J. Watt to worry about, but as a whole the unit is vulnerable to a very potent Bengals offense.
Essentially, I think that if the Dolphins can put up 41 points on the Texans in the first half so soon after firing their head coach and defensive coordinator, then a much more confident Bengals team with a lot of momentum can handle them without much issue.
You're right though that the Texans are still very much alive in their division. They likely won't roll over without putting up some sort of fight, even if it is to a vastly superior team in almost every statistical category. The great thing about the NFL is that any team can win any given Sunday (or, rather, Monday). Are there any particular holes in the Bengals and/or strengths for the Texans that you think they can use to secure an advantage and exploit enough to win on the road?
Alex: As far as weaknesses on the Bengals go, the glaring issue that stands out to me is the secondary. While Houston is limited in weapons, DeAndre Hopkins has emerged not only as his team's best weapon, but one of the top receivers in the NFL -- that in itself, given the instability of the Texans offense, is impressive.
I'll go back to our first debate to shine the spotlight on Dre Kirkpatrick. To mask the youth and inconsistency in the secondary, Cincinnati has been playing a lot of zone coverage. And while Hopkins is the clear No. 1 threat for the Texans, Nate Washington and Cecil Shorts (listed as probable) have twenty-six catches apiece behind him. Their offense is made a bit more one-dimensional without Arian Foster, so Houston will look to throw early and often.
Curiously enough, the rankings that Houston boasts this season actually provide a nice counter to the Bengals strengths. Their No. 6 pass attack will keep the Bengals defensive backs at work throughout Sunday, while the Texans' No. 8 pass defense will look to curb the Bengals' top weapons.
This is a very different Houston team than the Bengals have faced in the past. I don't believe they'll be able to exploit Cincinnati's weaknesses enough to win, but I do think the game could be a bit closer than some expect. As I said before, this is a resilient team.
Who do you think has a bigger game this Monday: A.J. Green or DeAndre Hopkins?
Kyle: Alex, as much as Bengals fans might not want to admit it, I would expect DeAndre Hopkins to have a better game than A.J. Green. Why? Just a few reasons. The main ones are Tyler Eifert, Marvin Jones, and Giovani Bernard.
Tyler Eifert is on pace to break the TD record for a tight end in a season. Along with Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones has given Andy Dalton another body to throw to so as to require less and less from Green this year more than any other year.
And then there's the running game. Despite Jeremy Hill's inconsistent form this year, he is tied for third in the NFL in touchdowns (5) while Giovani Bernard is averaging an impressive 5.6 yards per run. That leads the NFL for running backs with at least 70 touches this year. The combination of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard is amazing for the Bengals' offense, but not so great for Green's stat line.
On the flip side, the Texans are hurting for weapons at this point. You mentioned that the Texans have the No. 6 pass attack, but Hopkins accounts for six of their 16 touchdowns, 870 of their 2,252 yards, and 112 targets of the Texans' 362 passing attempts. With Arian Foster out for the year and Nate Washington being Hopkins's primary competition as a passing target (50 targets this year), it just logically follows that Hopkins is going to soak up nearly as much offense as the Texans can muster.
I'm curious about one particular matchup this week, though. For those of us who have been following the Bengals longer than Andy Dalton has been around, Jonathan Joseph is a familiar name. He was originally drafted by the Bengals in 2006 and formed a deadly CB tandem with Leon Hall before leaving in Free Agency for the Houston Texans in 2011. Every time he has played the Bengals since, he has gotten an interception and generally held Green in check. Part of the reason I think that Hopkins will have the bigger game is that Joseph typically plays well against Green. But, how do you think that this matchup will play out this week?
Alex: Your summation of why Hopkins can be expected to have the better day hits the nail on the head. I think that it's because of the Bengals having a great deal more weapons that Green doesn't boast quite the stat-lines that we've seen from Hopkins. Of course, that's a good thing!
Kyle, I used to love watching Joseph and Hall as a CB tandem before the Dalton era. I remember being frustrated that we had let him go. He's had a great career, serving as a defensive cornerstone once with Cincinnati and now with Houston -- I'm happy for him. He's also had success covering Green, as you mentioned. This time around, as always, I'm excited to watch these two players go at it.
Where Joseph has advantages in agility and having soft hands, he lacks in size. Standing at 5'11" I really think that Andy Dalton will need to look his way on the deep passes. I don't expect Green to be involved in the majority of pass plays because he doesn't need to be. Eifert, Jones, Sanu, and Bernard out of the backfield will all look to create opportunities for Dalton. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that "Magic" Marvin has the biggest stat-line for a Bengals receiver on the day.
Now while I don't see an overload of targets toward Green, I do, however, anticipate some boom-or-bust plays down the field with both Green and Joseph tangled up on the receiving end. It'll be interesting to see if Green can effectively play his height advantage.
My question to you: In order for the Texans to win this game, what is the single most important thing that Houston has to do in this contest?
Kyle: I think that the single most important thing for the Texans to do this week is simply to keep the Bengals' explosive offense in check. The Texans have yet to win a game in which the opposing team managed to put up more than 20 points. The Bengals, on the other hand, have only been held under 24 points once this season (Week 8 in Pittsburgh).
That means winning the battles in the trenches, flushing Dalton out of the pocket, and shutting down the Bengals' multi faceted running game. They'll have a hell of a time holding the Bengals to few points if they can't stop Bernard from extending drives or Jeremy Hill from finishing them in the endzone. But, once they do that, that's where Hopkins and Hoyer can start to cause havoc.
A lot of people have called this a pretty easy game for the Bengals, but we both know that wins never come easy in the NFL. Tell me, what will the Bengals need to specifically avoid doing this week that would allow the Texans to have an opportunity to rip this seemingly sure win away from the them?
Alex: I really think it boils down to the Bengals maintaining a positive turnover ratio. With the weapons this Cincinnati team has, there is absolutely no reason why the Bengals should be outmatched in any faced of the game. That means that the Texans will have to create more opportunities than they give away.
That's easier said than done. The Bengals boast a +4 in the turnover margin on the year, while the Texans are -2 in that category. We'll see if they can turn that ship around, but I don't foresee it happening.
That being said, I think it's prediction time. Kyle, what's the scoreboard read on Monday night?
Kyle: I think the Bengals just have too many weapons for the Texans to deal with. Sure they might be able to handle Green and maybe put some pressure on Dalton, but how will they deal with Eifert? Jones? Sanu? Bernard? Hill? And on that note, there's just too much defensive firepower coming from the player with the second most sacks in the NFL (Carlos Dunlap), and the Bengals' killer defensive line. I think when it's all said and done, we could be looking at a final score something like: Bengals 27, Texans 10
Alex: I think that's fair, but I also want to be careful about not giving Houston's offense enough credit. I think they can exploit this Bengals defense enough to post more than 10 points. That being said, I think the Bengals go 9-0 tonight. If Cincinnati sets up the running game with the pass and goes through their motions to get comfortable, not much can stop the chemistry of this team when they're in a rhythm. Bengals 27, Texans 16
To our readers, what are your thoughts for Monday Night Football?