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Bengals vs Texans: Top 3 player matchups to watch

The Bengals host the Texans in what is an essentially meaningless game this week, but we’re still going to keep an eye on these key matchups.

Houston Texans v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Bengals were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs last week after losing their eighth game of the season to the Pittsburgh Steelers. But, they still have two more games in the 2016 regular season to play. Although this week’s game against the Houston Texans is essentially meaningless for the Bengals, it still means quite a bit to the Texans. And as a group of very competitive individuals, you can bet the Bengals will be doing everything they can to come away with the spoiler win. For that to happen, the Bengals will need to come out on top of these three important matchups:

Bengals’ pass rush vs QB Tom Savage

The Bengals’ defensive line has been incredibly underwhelming given the talent level represented, most notably, from Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. The Bengals rank 24th in sacks this season with 26. Atkins ranks 22nd among all players with 7.5 sacks while Dunlap ranks 27th with 7.0. Both players could do better, given what we know about them, and they’ll have an opportunity to take down a quarterback starting his first NFL game on Saturday. The Bengals don’t typically excel against quarterbacks with limited tape, but wouldn’t it be nice to see impressive games from Atkins and Dunlap on Saturday in Houston? Even if the Bengals lose, it’s always great to see dominating defensive line play. And this season, the Bengals simply haven’t shown that.

On the opposing end, the Texans have seen shoddy quarterback play all season with free agent bust Brock Osweiler recording a measly 71.4 quarterback rating over 14 games. As a result, he was benched last week in favor of Tom Savage, who performed better, but still not great (85.4 quarterback rating). If Vontaze Burfict plays (which seems unlikely given his concussion) it would be nice to see if he too could get to the quarterback in Houston. He has been an absolute terror in pass coverage and pass rush all season, so Savage will want to keep his head on a swivel if Burfict is active. Either way, solid play from the defensive line would go a long way on Saturday.

RBs Jeremy Hill and Rex Burkhead vs DE Jadeveon Clowney

After mildly picking up for a few weeks, the Bengals running game has gone right back to struggling against every team but Cleveland since Week 11. Hill recorded 111 yards and a touchdown against Cleveland, but dropped to 43 yards and a touchdown last week against Pittsburgh. Those are his two highest outings of the past four weeks. Ouch.

Rex Burkhead has done better, but has received extremely limited opportunities, rushing for 32 yards on 7 attempts against the Steelers.

If the Bengals aren’t going to utilize Burkhead more, it seems unlikely that the Bengals would have much of a productive running game this week regardless of their opponent. But, they are going up against the Houston Texans, who have only allowed more than 67 yards rushing from any team only twice since Week 8. In fact, they haven’t allowed an individual back more than 70 yards since Week 7, when they were annihilated by a Denver Broncos team that was looking much better at the time.

Therefore, it will undoubtedly be a challenge for Hill and Burkhead to make the kind of impact the Bengals need in the run game. If that wasn’t enough, remember that the Texans have Jadeveon Clowney on the other side of the line. Clowney has traditionally played an outside linebacker role with the Texans, but he has been playing at defensive end in the place of the injured J.J. Watt this year and has been absolutely lighting the league up - enough to earn a Pro Bowl berth. He is a key part of the Texans’ elite defense and is certain to make it even more difficult for the Bengals to accomplish anything on the ground.

And to make matters worse, Hill was limited in Wednesday’s practice with a knee injury, so keep that in mind heading into Saturday.

Bengals’ receivers vs CB A.J. Bouye

With Jonathan Joseph nursing injured ribs, the Texans could be missing one of their best cornerbacks, who has traditionally played very well against the Bengals. Don’t forget, Joseph began his career in Cincinnati as a first round draft pick back in 2006. With A.J. Green hoping to finally be back this week, Joseph’s up-in-the-air status could be a huge issue for the Texans. Or, at least, it would be if A.J. Bouye, Joseph’s replacement, wasn’t already playing so well. Bouye’s 12 passes defensed and 37 tackles are enough to make any opposing wide receiver nervous.

Then again, Green has the kind of skill set to make any opposing cornerback nervous. Unfortunately, having just recovered from his hamstring injury and with very little left to play for, the Bengals will probably be very conservative with his playing time, if he plays at all. Brandon LaFell has played well in Green’s absence so far, but he will have a very tough matchup this week when going up against Bouye.

With Hill going up against such a tough matchup this week as well, the Bengals will likely need to have a great day in the passing game if they want to win. That starts with whomever the Bengals are playing as the No. 1 receiver overcoming a solid player in Bouye.