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NFL Week 2: Bengals seek to get on track vs Texans

Cincinnati hopes for a reversal of fortunes Thursday night when Houston comes to town.

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
Marvin Lewis
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Paul Brown Stadium proved anything but friendly Sunday as the Cincinnati Bengals dropped an embarrassing 20-0 decision to the Baltimore Ravens. The Bengals hope to reverse that trend on Thursday, September 14, 2017 at 8:30 p.m. when they host the Houston Texans.

Both teams come into the contest having lost convincingly in their respective home openers to teams they were favoured to defeat. Houston dropped a 29-7 decision to the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Thursday will mark the 12th meeting between the two teams, and recent history is definitely not on the Bengals side. After winning the first three games of the series, Cincinnati has lost seven of the last eight meetings, including last season’s 12-10 defeat that saw Randy Bullock miss a potential game-winning 43-yard field goal attempt as time expired.

In addition to nine regular-season contests, the teams have met twice in the AFC Wild Card Playoffs, and both matchups resulted in wins for the Texans. Houston beat Cincinnati 31-10 in the January 7, 2012 playoff showdown in a game that featured an acrobatic 29-yard interception return for a touchdown by Texans’ all-pro defensive end J.J. Watt.

Watts’ return, with 52 seconds left in the first half, helped to turn the tide in a previously close battle between the teams. The score was tied 10-10 at the time, and Watts’ interception began a string of 21 unanswered points by the Texans.

The following year, on January 5, 2013, Houston prevailed in a defensive struggle by a score of 19-13. The Bengals were able to keep the Texans’ passing attack out of the end zone, although it allowed quarterback Matt Schaub to complete 29 of 38 passes for 262 yards. Unfortunately, Cincinnati had no answer for running back Arian Foster, who ran for 140 yards and sealed the Texans’ victory with a 10-yard touchdown run. Cincinnati’s only score came on a 21-yard interception return by cornerback Leon Hall.

It seems like every year the teams play, there is something on the line for the Texans. Last year, a victory by Cincinnati would have denied the Texans a playoff birth. Instead, Houston’s victory gave the Texans their third AFC South Division title in five years.

In Week 14 of the 2011 regular season, Houston had to beat Cincinnati and needed help from New Orleans in its game against Tennessee in order to get into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The Texans defeated the Bengals, 20-19, while the Saints knocked off the Titans by a 22-17 count.

Cincinnati’s offense was back at full strength last week, but it made little difference. Despite having tight end Tyler Eifert and wide receiver A.J. Green on the field at the same time for only the fourth time since the start of the 2016 season, the Bengals were unable to come away with any points on three trips into the red zone.

In addition to Eifert and Green, the Bengals could also have the services of receiver John Ross, who set the NFL Combine record with a 4.21 showing in the 40-yard dash, Thursday night. Ross was inactive Sunday as he recovers from a sprained knee. Also inactive was speedy receiver Josh Malone of Tennessee, who was also one of the faster receivers at the combine with a 4.40 showing.

Giovani Bernard, fresh off his own knee injury that derailed his 2016 season, led a trio of running backs in Sunday’s loss. Bernard ran for 40 yards on seven carries, an average of 5.7 yards per carry, and caught one pass for 39 yards. A.J. Green had five receptions for 74 yards to lead an anemic Bengals’ passing attack, while Brandon LaFell and rookie Joe Mixon had three catches each.

Cincinnati continued to deal with struggles on the offensive line, which allowed quarterback Andy Dalton to be sacked five times Sunday and saw him running for his life on many other occasions. And things are looking even bleaker for the future of that line, which lost starting right guard Trey Hopkins to what appears to be a season-ending knee injury.

Injuries struck the defensive side of the ball, as well, as Cincinnati lost right defensive end Michael Johnson to a stringer and possible concussion on the final play of the first half. Backup cornerback Josh Shaw suffered an ankle injury on the game’s opening kickoff, but returned with just under one minute left in the first quarter.

Despite changes along the defensive front seven, which included the loss of longtime nose tackle Domata Peko to free agency and the addition of linebacker Kevin Minter from the Arizona Cardinals, the Bengals continued to struggle in the same areas that have plagued them in recent years. Cincinnati managed only one sack on the day and its linebacking corps continued to show an inability to cover tight ends and running backs over the middle of the field.

Cincinnati will benefit from the return of starting cornerback Adam Jones, who was suspended for Sunday’s opening game for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Jones replacement, Darqueze Dennard, was burned on a 48-yard touchdown play Sunday that helped to break open a tight defensive struggle.

About the only good thing to come out of Sunday’s loss for the Texans was the debut of rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Watson, who came on for Tom Savage to start the second half, completed 12 of 23 passes for 102 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and lost a fumble.

DeAndre Hopkins caught the lone touchdown pass, a 4-yarder from Watson, and finished with seven receptions for 55 yards. Lamar Miller led the Houston ground game with 17 carries for 65 yards.

Houston turned the ball over four times against Jacksonville and its struggling offensive line surrendered 10 sacks in the losing effort.