In Week 2, the Cincinnati Bengals will play their first primetime game of the 2017 NFL season, while also facing their first non-AFC North opponent of the regular season.
The game, which will be televised only on NFL Network, will be an important one for the Bengals to win. The Bengals and Texans have played fairly frequently in primetime and the results have almost always gone the Texans’ way. In the Andy Dalton era, the Bengals have a 1-5 record against the Texans, with two of those losses coming in the playoffs and the only victory coming in Houston in 2014.
We spoke with Battle Red Blog’s Luke Beggs to learn about the Texans’ offseason, how the team evolved since the Bengals last played Houston in Week 16 of the 2016 season and what to expect from J.J. Watt and co. in 2017.
First, we got the answers to some basic offseason questions and below is our Q&A with Luke.
Notable free agent additions: None
Notable free agent departures: CB A.J. Bouye, DT Vince Wilfork (retirement)
Trades: Brock Osweiler traded to Cleveland, traded up in the first round for DeShaun Watson with Cleveland, traded into fourth round for Carlos Watkins with Cleveland
Draft picks expected to contribute as rookies: DeShaun Watson, Zach Cunningham, D’Onta Foreman, and Carlos Watkins will all likely see the field throughout their rookie year. Watson of course is the quarterback of the future, but look for Cunningham and Foreman to carve out big roles this season as a nickel linebacker and short yardage back, respectively. Watkins will likely see plenty of snaps as a rotational interior pass rusher behind J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.
Biggest offseason addition: DeShaun Watson, hands down. Anytime your team adds a potential franchise quarterback, it’s automatically the biggest move of the offseason. Whether it was through free agency last year with Osweiler or through the draft this year for Watson, the Texans have been ultra-aggressive in their approach to finding a capable signal caller in the post-Matt Schaub era. Hopefully Watson will finally be the guy to end their arduous search.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp: Who will start at quarterback on opening day? Tom Savage and DeShaun Watson will both compete for the job, though Savage has the early leg up in the competition due to his experience. If Watson shows up to camp and flashes something special early, however, we may see him start sooner than anyone previously anticipated.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: When will DeAndre Hopkins and Jadeveon Clowney be signed to contract extensions? The Texans have quite a bit of free cap space at the moment with A.J. Bouye taking his talents to Jacksonville instead of staying in Houston, so presumably all of that money - $29.8 million to be exact - will be set aside to keep Hopkins and Clowney on the team long term. Both players seem optimistic about deals getting done, with Hopkins the more likely candidate to be extended this offseason, but until the ink has dried on both contracts there will still be some apprehensiveness among Texans fans about the situation.
Notable injuries heading into training camp: No star players have sustained any major injuries this offseason so far, though J.J. Watt’s recovery from last offseason’s back ailments still loom large over the organization. As long as Watt is healthy and ready to hit the ground running in August, expect the Texans to be an elite defense yet again in 2017. If he still needs more time to “get right”, however, it may be another slow start for him this September as the training staff eases him back into a full workload.
And now, onto our Q&A with Battle Red Blog!
Cincy Jungle: What were the best parts of the Texans' offseason?
BRB: The best part of the Texans’ offseason was undoubtedly the drafting of Deshaun Watson at quarterback. The Texans have been mired in this endless sequence of terrible veteran quarterbacks due to the fact that head coach Bill O'Brien has shown an aversion to starting a young quarterback. After the whole Brock Osweiler scenario a lot of fans just wanted the Texans to finally bite the bullet and draft a quarterback to develop rather than constant slew of other teams leftovers.
CJ: What were the worst parts of the offseason?
BRB: Probably losing star cornerback A.J Bouye in free agency to the Texans’ division rivals Jaguars. Even though the Texans never had a lot of flexibility when it came to their offseason spending, their inability to re-sign the home-grown star still stings.
CJ: What do you think of your draft class?
BRB: The Texans’ draft class was a really solid mix of players who can contribute immediately and players who have the potential to develop into starters down the road. Deshaun Watson can contend for a starting position right away or he can sit and develop for a year. Zach Cunningham is seen as many as being the natural successor to Brian Cushing at the Texans inside linebacker spot alongside emerging star Benardrick McKinney. Former Texas running back D'Onta Foreman will hopefully help lighten the carry load on Lamar Miller and offensive tackle Julien Davenport will hopefully revitalise the Texans’ aging and often injured offensive line.
CJ: What are the chances Deshaun Watson starts Week 1... or more importantly Week 2?
BRB: I'd say about 10-15% chance. Bill O'Brien has been quoted on multiple occasions saying he would find it difficult to start a rookie quarterback straightaway and he already has former fourth round quarterback Tom Savage who has started in the past for the Texans. Additionally, O’Brien has expressed some confidence in him. I personally think it would take either an injury to Savage or a series of truly dreadful performances in order to force the Texans’ hand into starting Watson.
CJ: What's your expectation for how the Texans will do this year?
BRB: I honestly do not know. There is so much up in the air in regards to the Texans offense this season that trying to forecast anything just feels like a disaster waiting to happen. The Texans defense still is predicted to be its usual destructive self but everything this season will rest on the performance of the quarterbacks and to a lesser degree the Texans running game. If the Texans running game functions to a high degree they could be a 9-7 or even 10-6 team. If the running game struggles then this team could really bottom out and end up in the five to six win range.
CJ: What's the strongest position group on the roster?
BRB: Defensive Line. Without question the Texans strength is their defensive line talent and depth. Even without J.J Watt last season they thrived behind exceptional performances from Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus. The Texans have also had great performances from second year nose tackle D.J Reader, which helped with Vince Wilfork's decline in form and now retirement. J.J Watt's return combined with Clowney's continued improvement mean the Texans defense is going to be built around their front seven.
CJ: How about weakest position group?
BRB: Probably the safety position. The Texans lost AFC South Defensive Player Of The Month Quintin Demps this offseason and have questionable performances all of last season from the variety of players who occupied the safety roles. There has been chatter regarding current Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson shifting to one of the safety spots in order to help cover up some of the holes, but even with that move the position is far from secure.