Texans at Bengals: 5 Things to Watch, Consider, Note and a Prediction
CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Here are five things to watch, consider and note for Thursday's Bengals game against the Houston Texans, which will kick off at 8:25 p.m. in Paul Brown Stadium and my prediction is at the bottom.
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5. Adam Jones hoping to provide some attitude and a spark.
The Skinny: The Bengals cornerback is returning after missing the opener due to an NFL suspension, and in addition to talking about how much he missed playing in Sunday's opener against the Baltimore Ravens and for his matchup with Houston wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, Jones is also looking to add a little spark to the entire team.
"I'm going to bring a lot of spark and attitude, you know that," said Jones. "I'm going to compete every play, and I'm going to try my best to make sure that everybody's in the game having fun and playing with an edge."
He said he thought some teammates got a little too chummy with Ravens players by helping them up.
"The hardest part was probably (watching teammates) helping guys up," said Jones. "I'm not big in helping nobody up, and I have friends that play on other teams. Especially when we're losing - I'm definitely not when we're winning - I'm really not when we're losing. The competitive edge, you just have to keep it up at a high level and realize that everybody's playing for jobs. We're going to make mistakes, but don't forget the competitiveness."
Jones said he was going to make it clear to teammates before the game that they need to stop helping up opposing players.
"After plays, helping guys up. I'm not a big fan on that," said Jones. "We will have a talk before Thursday night's game, trust me, I can promise you. I ain't saying play nasty or nothing. I'm just saying you ain't got to help nobody up. You hit them and you run back to the huddle. Is there something wrong with that?"
4. Tyler Eifert has to get more than one target.
The Skinny: The standout Bengals tight end may be coming off back surgery and then not playing in the third preseason game at Washington - the "dress rehearsal" game - due to what Lewis said was knee tendinitis, but he was targeted just once in Sunday's game against Baltimore.
Eifert played 88.5 percent of the Bengals offensive snaps and had one reception for five yards on his lone official target.
"We can’t force the ball," said Lewis. "We are going to let the quarterback make the reads and do the things he’s supposed to do. They (Ravens defense) did a good job at times when things were directed to Tyler of being around him. Andy (Dalton) pulled the one ball back, and it ended up being the sack fumble. He’s got to go ahead and read those things out, and we need to get the ball down to the next player for the next opportunity. It doesn’t change."
That's nonsense. No one is saying force a ball into coverage, but with a talent like Eifert there have to be some plays where the ball is thrown his way, even if it's on a tight end screen or two.
What Lewis is saying is that opposing defenses can dictate what the Bengals do as opposed to the other way around. The Bengals can, and need, to find a way to get Eifert the ball through formation or with a play call two dedicated specifically for him.
3. Can the Bengals bring the heat like Jacksonville did?
The Skinny: The Jaguars sacked Houston quarterbacks Tom Savage and DeShaun Watson 10 times, and while there is little doubt the Bengals pass rush has improved from last season it sacked Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco only once and didn't put a lot of pressure on him.
Flacco threw just 17 passes and most of those were short, quick throws. He threw only three passes in the second half, and completed none.
The Bengals were playing from three scores behind the entire second half against Baltimore, so it will be interesting to see if they can get a lead how much more pressure they can put on Houston.
2. Another year, another new Texans quarterback to face Bengals.
The Skinny: Watson, a rookie, is expected to start at quarterback for the Texans and if he does (over Savage, who started the opener) he will be the fourth different Texans starting quarterback against the Bengals in the last four years and the fifth different one in that span to throw a pass.
Savage started last year's meeting, Brian Hoyer started in 2015 and was relieved by T.J. Yates, who threw the game-winning touchdown pass, and Ryan Mallett started in 2014.
This will be the 10th regular-season meeting all time between the teams and Watson will also become the seventh different starter. David Carr started games against the Bengals in 2002, 2003 and 2005 with Matt Schaub in 2008 and 2009 and Yates in 2011. Yates also started in the 2011 playoff game against the Bengals and Schaub started the 2012 playoff game against the Bengals.
All of the quarterback changes haven't helped the Bengals much. After winning the first three games in the series (all started by Carr), the Bengals have won just one of the last eight, including two playoff losses.
Watson was just 12 of 23 for 102 yards and a touchdown in relief of Savage, but was also intercepted once and sacked four times. The athletic Watson did run twice for 16 yards.
"Whether it’s Tom Savage or Deshaun (Watson), it’s what they are," said Lewis. "And it is a short week, so I don’t think we are going to see a new offense. We are going to see (Texans head coach Bill O’Brien’s) offense and what the Houston Texans do on offense. I would expect Deshaun to be the quarterback, and it would surprise me if he’s not. I think he’s a young, talented player, and they’re going to run their offense, which starts with the running game. We have to do a very good job against that."
1. Offensive line has to improve significantly or it will get embarrassed even worse.
The Skinny: While Dalton turned the ball over five times (four interceptions and a lost fumble) the main issue in the opener against Baltimore was how poor the revamped offensive line performed.
Dalton was sacked five times and was in constant state of duress if he had to hold the ball for any length of time.
Now come the Texans, which have elite defensive linemen like J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, plus linebacker Whitney Mercilus to rush the passer.
"We know this is a very skilled defensive football team," said Lewis. "It doesn’t get any easier. That’s life in the National Football League. We have to get ready to go, and we’ll be ready Thursday night."
The entire line struggled as none of the starters received a grade above 50 (on a scale of 100 being the best) from the analytics-based site ProFootballFocus.com, and left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi perhaps struggled the most.
Offensive line coach Paul Alexander said he still believes in Ogbuehi, who was benched last season after 11 starts at right tackle and one at left tackle, because he said the corrections Ogbuehi needs to make are fixable.
"I think it’s all kind of that simple," said Alexander. "You’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to have your mental focus and you’ve got to do it right every time. I’ve really taken it no further than that, because I think that’s the simple answer. The last thing I want to do is go in there and give him a 100 things and then you’re like the golf coach who has a guy who can’t hit a golf ball. I try to give them simple direction and it has to be with mental focus and concentration. He and (right tackle Jake) Fisher have so much athletic talent it's ridiculous, and sometimes players who have great athletic ability rely on their athletic ability over the technique, and that's kind of where we are."
Alexander's message to his entire offensive line group was stay the course.
"It’s easy in practice," said Alexander. "You go out there, there’s no stress, there’s no nerves going on, but to do it out there on the stage requires experience and it requires having backbone, where you do it, and who you trust and you do it, because 9 out of 10 times, they did it right. But 9 out of 10 (is) not good enough."
Veteran left guard Clint Boling, who is one of only two returning starters from 2016 in the same spot (center Russell Bodine is the other), said he expects a bounce-back performance.
"I would hope we bounce back as an offensive line and as a team," said Boling. "I don’t think anybody has the mentality that we got beat the first game and things didn’t go well and we just kind of lay down for the rest of the year. I hope and think we’ll play well. It’s not like we’ve always been phenomenal scoring 40 points. We’ve had good and bad performances since I‘ve been here and been a part of. We’ve been able to bounce back some and I expect we will again."
The Bengals also won't have right guard Trey Hopkins for Thursday's game (and possibly much longer) after he suffered a knee injury in the first half against Baltimore. T.J. Johnson replaced him and appeared to play well and he played well in his lone start last season at right guard in the finale against the Ravens.
"We’ll find out how TJ does now that he’s got a whole week to think about it," said Alexander. "That’s the worst part: you go out there, you’re not thinking about it, you think, ‘Hey, this is easy!’ Now you think about it and you go (oh, crap). He’s really smart and he’s tough and he’s dedicated and he’s just a brawler. He’s the type of guy you trust."
PREDICTION: Bengals 16, Texans 9.
The Skinny: As bad as the Bengals were in their opener Houston may have been worse, and they come into the game with seven players listed as out. That includes starting guard Jeff Allen, starting linebacker Brian Cushing and wide receiver Will Fuller, and the three tight ends who opened the season on the 53-man roster.
There's also the fact that the Texans will be starting a rookie quarterback behind a suspect offensive line against a Bengals defense that actually played well.
The Bengals offensive line is still a huge question mark, but if it improves even a little the defense should lead the way to a much-needed victory to avoid an 0-2 (and likely 0-3) start.