The Texans will have their hands full against Joe Burrow and company. Composite Getty Image.
What: Texans vs. Bengals
When: 11/12 12pm CST kickoff
Where: Cincinnati, OH Paycor Stadium
TV/Radio: KHOU-TV, KILT-Radio
Betting Lines: Bengals -6.5 (-110), O/U 47 (-110) *As of this writing
The Bengals enter this matchup on a four-game win streak after losing their October 1 game 27-3 to the Titans. They're now 5-3 overall. The Texans enter the game alternating wins and losses over their last five for a 3-2 record, 4-4 overall. Both teams are seemingly hitting their stride after a bit of a rough start. The Bengals went from potential Super Bowl contenders to a team looking very much like a shell of its former self at the beginning of this season. The Texans were an afterthought who showed promise, now they're being looked at as a surprise playoff contender by some. Both teams have very young head coach/quarterback combos. Zac Taylor and Joe Burrow are 40 and 26, respectively. DeMeco Ryans and C.J. Stroud are 39 and 22, respectively. The NFL's youth movement will be on full display.
When the Bengals have the ball: For a team that doesn't average 300 yards of total offense a game, the Bengals are still favored by almost a full touchdown and extra point. While their defense has been the calling card, especially in their current win streak, this offense is still capable of putting up ridiculous numbers. Wide receiver Tee Higgins (hamstring) has been ruled out for this game. Ja'Marr Chase (back) is expected to be a game time decision, but did suit up for practice on today (Friday). Taylor when asked of Chase's status for the Texans game: “We'll see.” That sounds a lot like somebody asking to borrow money from you when you know they can't pay you back. With the Texans being without Jimmie Ward and Steven Nelson listed as questionable, that might be a wash to see no Higgins and possibly a hobbled Chase. Henry To'oTo'o will be out as well. Look for the Texans to put pressure on Burrow and force the issue, considering the Bengals' offensive line hasn't been very good since he's gotten there. Their run game is almost non-existent for the same reason. 76 yards a game on the ground isn't going to scare anyone.
When the Texans have the ball: The Bengals' defense has been shouldering the burden lately. In their current win streak, they have given up 20 or more once. It was exactly 20 to the lowly Cardinals in a 34-20 win to start their streak. They've been held under 20 once. They beat Seattle 17-13 in the second game of this streak. The Texans have been thought to be in uphill battles against the Saints and Buccaneers recently. Both are very talented defenses. Both lost to the Texans. Stroud is putting up numbers unheard of for a rookie quarterback in this league. One interception in eight games with 14 touchdown passes is impressive. Even more impressive is he's doing this behind an injury-riddled offensive line and doesn't have an alpha-male lead dog WR1. DE Sam Hubbard being out for the Bengals will help Stroud and the pass game. So will having veteran WR Robert Woods back in the fold. Missing Dameon Pierce, Nico Collins, Andrew Beck, and kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn will definitely make things more difficult. Could THIS be the week in which the run game gets going? The Bengals give up 130 yards a game on the ground. The run game would help offset missing pieces in the pass game and help control the clock to give your ailing defense time to recover.
Outcome: No Fairbairn (most of the game) and no Pierce was no problem last week. This week, adding others to that list will make it more of an uphill battle. Whatever the passing yards total is for this game, bet the over. Neither team can run the ball effectively, but the Texans have a better run defense. Part of that comes from help in the secondary. Whoever establishes their run game, will have the leg up. I trust Joe Mixon behind their offensive line more than Devin Singletary behind the Texans' line. Last week, I predicted a closing seconds win. While it didn't go exactly as I thought, a win is a win. This week, I see a similar outcome, but not in their favor. Bengals 23, Texans 21 as Evan McPherson kicks a game winner with a few seconds left on the clock.
“Another one!”- DJ Khaled
That's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the news of Tytus Howard being shut down for the season because of a knee injury. They've had more injuries on the offensive line this season than Nick Cannon has Father's Day cards. Almost every member of the offensive line has spent time on the injury report. Howard went down in the same game in which Juice Scruggs was finally on the active roster. He missed the first 10 games due to a hamstring injury. The irony of next man up has never been so in your face.
The other thing that came to mind was the soap opera As the World Turns.
Howard had just signed an extension this offseason. So did Laremy Tunsil and Shaq Mason. They drafted Juice Scruggs, and signed a few guys too. Those moves, along with other holdovers, were expected to fill out the depth chart. Then a rash of injuries struck. At one point, only one of the original five guys expected to start was playing! In fact, they beat the Steelers 30-6 with that backup offensive line!
One can't have the expectation of backups to perform as good as the starters. They're professionals and are on an NFL roster for a reason. However, the talent gap is evident. One thing coaching, technique, and preparation can't cover is lack of ability or talent. The Texans have done a good job of navigating the injury minefield this season. While the Howard injury will hurt, I have faith in the guys there still.
As of this writing, the Texans are in the eighth spot in the AFC playoff picture. The Steelers, Browns, and Colts are all in front of them at the fifth through seventh spots respectfully. They've beaten the Steelers already. They play the Browns on Christmas Eve and their starting quarterback is out for the season. The Colts are relying on the ghost of Gardner Minshew to steer their ship into the last game of the season vs. the Texans with a possible playoff trip on the line. The Broncos and Bills are the two teams immediately behind them. They play the Broncos this weekend. Even though they're on a hot streak, this is the same team that got 70 put on them by the Dolphins. The Bills are the old veteran boxer who still has some skill, but is now a stepping stone for up & comers.
To say this team should still make the playoffs would be an understatement in my opinion. I believe in them and what they have going on more than I believe in the teams I listed above. That includes teams around them in the playoff race that aren't on their schedule. The one thing that scares me a little moving forward is the sustainability of this line. When guys get up in age as athletes, it becomes harder to come back from injuries. The injuries also tend to occur more frequently when it's a knee, foot, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or another body part critical to blocking for C.J. Stroud.
I know they just re-signed three of those guys and drafted one they believe can be a starter, but depth and contingency plans are a way of life in the NFL. We see how important depth was this season. Why not plan ahead? Don't be surprised if the Texans spend valuable draft capital on the offensive line. By valuable, I'm talking about first through third or fourth rounders. Those are prime spots to draft quality offensive lineman. Whether day one starters or quality depth, those are the sweet spots. The only guy on the two deep depth chart for this offensive line that wasn't drafted in one of those rounds was George Fant, who was an undrafted rookie free agent. While I highly doubt they spend any significant free agency dollars on the group, I'm not totally ruling it out.
The bottom line is, this team will be okay on the line for the remainder of this season. The only way that doesn't happen, more injuries. Stroud is clearly the franchise guy. Protecting that investment is a top priority. I don't care about a number one receiver, or a stud stable or singular running back if the quarterback won't have time to get them the ball. If the pilot can't fly the plane, you know what happens. So making sure he's happy, healthy, and has a great crew is of the utmost importance.