Another week of the 2014 Cincinnati Bengals' season and another oddball game. The boys from The Queen City exorcised some demons from down south on Sunday, likely making everyone feel jovial about taking that supposed "next step". Still, the game wasn't without its twists and turns, and, the game got uncomfortably close in the second half, as the Bengals always like to bring the drama in a match-up.
There were a lot of positives to take away from another much-needed road win against a scrappy team, but there are also glaring issues that need to be ironed out as the Bengals hope to march to the postseason. Here are our best and worst from this Sunday's game against the Texans.
Mike Nugent: What a game for a guy whose head was supposed to be served on a platter to fans a handful of weeks ago. When the game got close and/or the team needed points to keep Houston at bay, Nugent delivered. Both of his makes on the day were huge, especially the 49-yarder at the two-minute warning. He had eight points on the day.
Kevin Huber: It could be labeled a "travesty" if Huber doesn't get Pro Bowl consideration this year. The Bengals' punter had four attempts on the day and all four landed inside Houston's 20-yard line. If an offensive drive had to stall, that is the kind of response needed by special teams, especially with a quarterback making his second start.
Rey Maualuga And Emmanuel Lamur: These two were everywhere once again on Sunday, combining for 14 total tackles. Maualuga was the critical player on the run-stop for a safety and had a big interception to start the second half, while Lamur roved around the field making plays against the pass and the run. It could be argued that the past two games have been two of the best in Maualuga's career.
A.J. Green And Mohamed Sanu: Sticking with grouping players together on this list, Green and Sanu were perfect compliments to each other on Sunday. Green gashed with plays designed for him to get yards after the catch, while Sanu blended hard-nosed running for yards after a reception and some highlight-diving grabs. Green had a career-best 12 receptions for 121 yards, while Sanu had four catches, 48 yards and a touchdown.
Andy Dalton: Dalton's play in the first half was some of the best in his career, missing just a couple of passes. Dalton cooled off in the second half, but still hit his receivers and was mostly decisive on the day, minus two plays. He finished the day 24 of 35 for 233 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
The Secondary: After looking pretty confident in his first career start against the Browns, Mallett had a pretty miserable day against the Bengals. He had a sub-50 percent completion percentage, just 189 yards in the air and an interception. Mallett apparently tore a pectoral muscle in pre-game warm-ups, which might explain some of the errant throws on the day. Still, the Bengals stifled almost every facet of the Houston offense.
The Run Defense: The Texans had the No. 3 ranked rushing offense going into Sunday and backup Alfred Blue didn't miss a beat off of the torrid pace that Arian Foster had been setting before going down with a groin injury. Against the Browns, Blue had 156 yards on the road. The Bengals held him to 46 at home and a 2.9 yards per carry average.
The Running Backs: Yes, Giovani Bernard averaged just 2.7 yards per carry and Jeremy Hill didn't crack the 100-yard mark. Still, it was great seeing both of them rotating in and both having big plays both running and catching the football. If they stay healthy and are used correctly, it makes the offense that much more formidable.
No Game-Changing Plays From J.J. Watt: Give credit to the offensive line and to Marshall Newhouse who came into the lineup because of an injury to Andre Smith. Though there were moments that made you watch the game through your hands when Newhouse went up against Watt, he stepped in and didn't allow any big plays. Credit goes along the line too, given how Watt lines up in multiple areas. He had a batted ball and a couple of stuffs on running plays, but nothing spectacular from the NFL's poster boy.
Dominating The Stats, But Not The Scoreboard: The Bengals coaches had better start driving home an important point to their players: If you don't step on an opponent's throat when they are down, you will inevitably pay for it in the NFL. That almost became the case on Sunday when the Bengals gave up 10 unanswered points to cut their lead to just three going into the fourth quarter. A gift of an interception that was returned for a touchdown, a subsequent stalled drive and the defense bending for the only time on the day, all occurred in a maddening stretch. Talented teams are able to overcome those mistakes as the Bengals did, but consistently great teams don't make those kind of errors.
Certain Facets Of Coaching Decisions: When you look at the stats for the running backs, fans likely love the balance of carries between Hill and Bernard. Still, as the game wore on and the Bengals needed to chew clock, it seemed like Hill would have been the better call, as he was generally more effective on the day. That wasn't the case on a long drive at the beginning of the fourth quarter and it took some Dalton magic to convert multiple third downs for a Nugent field goal.
The other divisive issue was on Marvin Lewis' decision to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the Houston one-yard-line. You can see the rationale on both sides of the argument, and since it didn't work out in the Bengals' favor, it's easy to criticize that decision.
Just One Quarterback Sack On The Day: The Texans' offensive line has played well this year, but with each passing week, the lack of a Bengals pass rush gets more and more alarming. The most consistent player on Cincinnati's defensive line, Carlos Dunlap, had the lone sack on the day. One would think that blitzing a completely immobile quarterback in his second career start would be a no-brainer, but it wasn't really the case. This is another glaring issue the Bengals will need to address, if they want to make playoff noise.
J-Joe Gets More Revenge: The Bengals were marching to take a commanding lead midway through the third quarter. Up 16-3, the Bengals just converted a third-and-one and were at about midfield. On second down, Dalton was pressured and threw a terrible pass late to the sideline that Texans (and former Bengals) cornerback Johnathan Joseph snagged and returned 60 yards for a touchdown, changing the entire outlook of the game. It ultimately didn't mean all that much in the end result, but on the plus side, Joseph was able to have as much Gatorade after the game as he wanted.
The Andre Smith Injury: Unfortunately, the vague reports make it sound like the Bengals' starting right tackle has a season-ending arm injury. It will be the fourth time out of six years that Smith will not have played an entire season. Consequently, he's missed 28 total games as a pro. Though he had a couple of rough patches this year, Smith was playing well overall and his replacement makes some uneasy.
The Referees: I hate to do it. I really do. Unfortunately, this unit struggled all day. Easy calls that should have been made weren't, poor calls were made that needed to be challenged in order to be corrected, and multiple cases of bad judgement on illegal hit calls were all part and parcel of the game. Understandably, it's one of the toughest jobs around and when done poorly, people are called out. Sunday was an example.