Cincinnati Bengals beat writer Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com joined Nick Scurfield of HoustonTexans.com for an exclusive interview to preview the Texans-Bengals Week 8 matchup at Reliant Stadium.
Hobson has covered the NFL since 1987 as a sports columnist for the Portland *(Maine) *Press Herald and as a beat man for the Bengals at the *Cincinnati Post *(1990-91) and *The Cincinnati Enquirer *(1994-95, 1999) and was the GA sports reporter at *The Enquirer *from 1996-98. He has been at Bengals.com since 2000.
Nick Scurfield:How much has Chad Johnson/Ocho Cinco been limited this season by the shoulder injury he suffered during the preseason?
Geoff Hobson: He won't say. But the numbers suggest it has to impact his game because there is such a stark difference from the five previous Pro Bowl seasons. It looks like he's adjusting the past couple of weeks, but it's been a mess with a new QB, no protection and no running game. So maybe his numbers wouldn't be there anyway. I think what the injury did, more than anything, was interrupt a training camp that had already been abbreviated because of an ankle scope, so there has been just a lot of rust.
Nick Scurfield:Bengals quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrickhas a 65.7 passer rating after three starts. Has his chemistry with the Cincinnati receivers improved at all in recent weeks?
Geoff Hobson:The killing stat is 4.8 yards per attempt. That's not good enough for Friday Night Lights, never mind the NFL. But he is starting to get the ball to T.J. (Houshmandzadeh) on third down, and Chad had a season high eight catches last week and he almost had nine but a 60-yard bomb was just past his diving fingertips. There are signs they are starting to click, but it's been fits and starts.
Nick Scurfield:It looks like Texas native Cedric Benson is moving into the starting role at running back for Chris Perry. What has Benson done well to earn that starting job?
Geoff Hobson: He's running hard. He's playing with a passion. He's hitting holes while Perry has been looking tentative after missing the last month of '06 and all of '07 with a dislocated ankle. Plus, he's holding on to the ball. Perry fumbled five times in first five games. Cedric knew his career was at a crossroads and has responded.
Nick Scurfield:Do the Bengals have a capable backup to take over for rookie linebackerKeith Rivers, who's now out for the season?
Geoff Hobson:They don't have a guy with first-round talent, but Brandon Johnson is a serviceable three-year vet who can run and cover has been productive whenever called on. He came off the bench last week and tied for the team lead with 10 tackles.
Nick Scurfield: The Bengals are sixth in the league defending the pass. The Texans have the NFL's sixth-ranked passing offense. Who has the advantage in that battle this weekend?
Geoff Hobson: Give it to Houston because the Bengals have only five sacks. Give (Matt) Schaub that much time with (Andre) Johnsonand (Owen) Daniels and it's not good. See next question.
Nick Scurfield: Where do the Texans present the biggest challenges for the Bengals?
Geoff Hobson:Offensively. In the big picture, the Bengals' defense has played better than anyone thought. If their offense had been normal, they'd be 4-3, maybe 5-2. But in each game, they trip up on two or three big plays, and more often than not it's been in the running game with a missed tackle or blown gap. The Texans have a solid running game and they do so well off play-action and do a great job of getting the ball to Johnson. The Bengals have to button up the big plays.
Nick Scurfield:What's your prediction for the score?
Geoff Hobson:An old fashioned Texas Hold 'Em – Shayne Graham at the gun to end a shootout for Bengals, 38-35.
*To check out Hobson's comprehensive Bengals coverage on Bengals.com, click here.