The Cincinnati Bengals face a tricky test this week. The Houston Texans are playing much better football than expected, and the game is sandwiched between the huge clashes against the Bills and the Ravens on Thursday night.
We get some insight into this upstart Texans team from Scott Barzilla of SB Nation’s Battle Red Blog. Here’s what he had to say:
1.) AC: What has been the secret to C.J. Stroud’s early success? What areas can the Bengals possibly exploit this week since he seems to be taking care of the ball very well and putting up impressive numbers?
SB: Stroud learns quickly and prepares well. He is good at placing the ball where receivers can gain yards after the catch. He has also made a few throws every game that could be picked, but they haven’t been many.
You simply can’t miss an opportunity to catch those. The Texans will not run the ball well, so you can get them in obvious passing situations and get pressure on him. He still holds onto it a little too long in those situations, so you can get an extra sack or two.
2.) AC: Who have been some of the most pleasant surprises for the Texans in their solid 4-4 start? It appears that Dalton Schultz has integrated himself nicely into the offense, but who else on both sides of the ball?
SB: My biggest surprise is Nico Collins. He was a decent third receiver in his first two seasons but he has blossomed into a borderline number one receiver. Tank Dell has been a breath of fresh air as well.
On defense, the secondary has been much improved with Jalen Pitre and Steven Nelson leading the way. Blake Cashman has been a revelation at linebacker. It has been remarkable how most of the same guys that were here are suddenly playing good football.
3.) AC: What would you say are the biggest improvements DeMeco Ryans has made to the Texans since his arrival?
SB: He has given them an identity. They play hard and they play pretty smart. They get beat sometimes because they still have holes on the roster and sometimes struggle to tackle, but they rarely, if ever, get fooled.
I think they will struggle with some of the big play receivers the Bengals have, but I don’t think the Bengals will actually fool them. Ryans does a good job of putting his guys in position to make plays. They don’t always make them yet, but eventually they will be more consistent.
4.) AC: The Texans are 28th in sacks forced this year, and stud edge defender Will Anderson has just two sacks this year. We know there is much more than that singular stat that goes into assessing a team’s pass rush, but where would you say the Texans are in this department right now?
SB: They are getting better. They have had eight in the past two weeks and both Jonathan Greenard and Anderson are among the best in their win rates against offensive tackles. They are getting pressure but just seem to have problems finishing the deal.
Some of that has been a series of mobile quarterbacks on the schedule, but some of that is probably just inexperience. Guys that dominate in college do so because they are athletically superior.
Anderson won’t get by through superior athleticism. However, if he can learn technique in addition to the athleticism he can be a force. That likely starts next year.
5.) AC: On Monday, DraftKings had the line at Bengals -7, and now it has ticked down to -6.5. How do you see this one playing out?
SB: I’m not optimistic, overall. The Bengals are a really good football team that seems to get better every week. You don’t stop guys like Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase. I think what is most impressive are the number of secondary targets that have gotten better this year.
I anticipate a high-scoring game. I might even go something like 38-31 Bengals. Maybe that’s just me projecting the kind of game I hope to see. Stroud and this offense is fun to watch and it’s fun when Bobby Slowik damns the torpedoes and just airs it out.
I just don’t see the defense slowing Burrow and that offense down enough. The Texans have done a good job against the run, so maybe going for the under with Joe Mixon is a decent bet. As for the game itself, I am leaning Bengals and the over.
Our thanks to Scott Barzilla over at Battle Red Blog. Be sure to catch the other side of our conversation over there, too!