The Texans' history with the Bengals is one that evokes all kinds of memories…mostly good ones at that.
Who can ever forget 2011? In a regular season matchup late in the season, a rookie QB (T.J. Yates) led the Texans to their greatest ever regular season win in Cincinnati to win the AFC South for the first time. Then, a few weeks later at NRG Stadium, the Texans, behind another rookie (J.J. Watt), beat the Bengals in the Texans' first ever playoff game.
Fast forward to 2015 on Monday Night Football. Yates, again, led the Texans to an improbable win just after re-joining the team two weeks prior. That win helped catapult the Texans to another AFC South championship. At NRG Stadium in 2016, the Texans survived a Bengals missed field goal on the last play of the game to win the AFC South for a second consecutive year. The next year, with 22 players on the injury report, no tight ends and just barely enough bodies to play on a Thursday night four days after the opening weekend and just days after Hurricane Harvey struck our area, the Texans upset the Bengals in Cincinnati on national television.
But, that was over six years ago. That was all before 2021 when the Bengals won the AFC, went to the Super Bowl and were just one deep ball away from being Super Bowl Champions. Cincinnati fans probably still mutter Aaron Donald's name in their sleep, I'd imagine. They, then, went to the AFC Championship in 2022, only to lose on a last second field goal at Arrowhead Stadium to the Chiefs. And, in 2023, the Bengals, after a slow start with a banged up Joe Burrow, have won five in a row and are one of the hottest teams in the NFL. It's also one of the most talented teams in the league and one of the most synergistic teams in the league; most of the roster has been together for years now. Without question, this is the BEST and HOTTEST team that the Texans have faced all year long and Sunday's matchup takes place at Paycor Stadium, where the Bengals haven't lost since week 2 to Baltimore.
So, before Sunday arrives, let's get to Know the Texans' Week 10 Foe - The Cincinnati Bengals
2023 Schedule (5-3)
Week 1 - L @ Cleveland Browns 24-3
Week 2 - L Baltimore Ravens 27-24
Week 3 - W @ Los Angeles Rams 19-16
Week 4 - L @ Tennessee Titans 27-3
Week 5 - W @ Arizona Cardinals 34-20
Week 6 - W Seattle Seahawks 17-13
Week 7 - BYE
Week 8 - W @ San Francisco 49ers 31-17
Week 9 - W Buffalo Bills 24-18
Week 10 - Houston Texans
Week 11 - @ Baltimore Ravens
Week 12 - Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 13 - @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 14 - Indianapolis Colts
Week 15 - Minnesota Vikings
Week 16 - @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 17 - @ Kansas City Chiefs
Week 18 - Cleveland Browns
Bengals OFFENSE (in 2023 regular season)
Rushing Yards Per game - 75.9 ypg (32nd in the NFL)
Passing Yards Per game - 216.0 ypg (18th)
Total offense per game - 291.9 ypg (25th)
Turnovers lost - 6 (4 INT, 2 Fumbles lost)
Expected Bengals starting offense for Week 10
QB - Joe Burrow
RB - Joe Mixon
WR - Ja'Marr Chase
WR - Tee Higgins
WR - Tyler Boyd
TE - IRV SMITH JR.
LT - ORLANDO BROWN JR.
LG - Cordell Volson
C - Ted Karras
RG - Alex Cappa
RT - Jonah Williams
Other Key Offensive pieces
WR - ANDREI IOSIVAS
WR - Trenton Irwin
OG - Max Scharping
TE - Drew Sample
TE/WR - Tanner Hudson
RB - Trayveon Williams
RB - Chris Evans
Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2023
Keys to winning v. the Bengals Offense
1. Joe Schiesty - When Bengals QB Joe Burrow entered the league, some thought he was perhaps a one year wonder. Yes, he was the number one overall pick, but he didn't see the field much at Ohio State and his first year at LSU was decent, not great. But, he became JOE SCHIESTY in 2019 at LSU and carried that bravado into the league. So, in 2020, when he became a Bengal, the offense showed signs of life until Burrow went down with an ACL. However, since he returned in 2021, the Bengals are 27-14 and went to two AFC Championships and one Super Bowl. Burrow is now, arguably, the best QB in the league and he's now healthy after a calf injury in training camp. Why is it so hard to stop Burrow? Well, if you keep him from throwing downfield, he'll spread the wealth in the short to intermediate game. If you take that away, he'll throw to Ja'Marr Chase repeatedly. If you take that away, he'll get Tee Higgins involved heavily. If you take that away, he'll use his backs on screens and checkdowns. If you heat him up, he'll throw hot all day. If you drop eight, he'll take checkdowns for five to seven all day. If you think you have him sacked, he can escape and scramble/throw for big gains. If you rattle him, he'll transform into his alter ego Joe Cool. He completed three or more passes to seven different players on Sunday night against the Bills. He's like a chef that can cook any type of food, from any culture, on any device and it all tastes sublime. He's a handful and I'm not even sure what slows him down at this point.
2. Chase-ing the Best? - One thing that could give Burrow some pause is that Bengals All-Pro WR Ja'Marr Chase took a nasty fall in the game against Buffalo on a deep route down the field. A slow motion replay showed the impact he felt on his back/hip when he landed. If that hampers him, or he's unable to play in this game as a result, it's HUGE for a banged up Texans defense. There's no telling at this point who is healthy enough for the Texans to even play in this game. And, the same can be said for Chase. When he's healthy, he's the one of the three or four best WRs in the game. Size. Speed. Toughness. Ball Skills. Confidence. Route running. Connection with Burrow. He has it all. No team can truly "Double #1" because Tee Higgins and the rest of the Bengals receivers can EAT as well. But, Chase is THE guy and the straw stirring this drink, but the question of his presence on Sunday is unanswered. I'm assuming he's going to gut it out and play, so the Texans are going to have hands full against him.
3. Pressure to be had? - One of the ways that the Texans can help secondary members on Chase and company is to get heat on Burrow. Teams that have shaken up the Bengals' offense have been able to do just that. In the opener against the Browns, Browns star DE Myles Garrett lined up all over the field and the Bengals OL couldn't handle it. But, the Texans don't typically move guys around the formation like the Browns did Garrett. Plus, the Texans have some banged up dudes in the rush group. They've gotten some great production out of their stunts/3rd down exotics, but they must put pressure on Burrow consistently, meaning they need to win their one-on-one battles every single time Burrow steps back to pass. He's been sacked 18 times this year in nine games, so there's evidence that the Texans can get to Burrow. Can that pressure result in big changes in field position, sacks or errant throws/turnovers? That, my friends, is the one question the Texans must answer in the affirmative.
Bengals DEFENSE (in 2023 regular season)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per game - 129.8 ypg (27th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Allowed Per game - 234.3 ypg (22nd)
Total offense Allowed per game - 364.0 ypg (27th)
Turnovers generated - 15 (11 INT, 4 Fumble recoveries - Bengals are +9 in TO margin)
Expected Bengals starting defense for Week 10
DE - Trey Hendrickson
DT - D.J. Reader
DT - B.J. Hill
DE - Sam Hubbard
LB - Logan Wilson
LB - Germane Pratt
Nickel - Mike Hilton
CB - Chidobe Awuzie
S - Dax Hill
S - NICK SCOTT
CB - Cam Taylor-Britt
Other Key Defensive pieces
DE - Joseph Ossai
DT - Zach Carter
CB - D.J. TURNER II
S - JORDAN BATTLE
DE - Cam Sample
LB - Akeem Davis-Gaither
LB - Markus Bailey
Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2023
Keys to winning v. the Bengals' Defense
1. Trey the Hard Way - When DE Trey Hendrickson was at FAU in college, I remember thinking "man, why is no one talking about this guy?" He's dynamic. He's long. He's relentless. Someone is going to get a TREMENDOUS edge rusher. After signing Hendrickson to a massive deal, the Bengals are that team reaping the dividends after investing in the former New Orleans Saint, who has eight sacks on the season. With Sam Hubbard on the other side and Joseph Ossai also in tow, Hendrickson relentlessly uses his length to create issues on linemen. He's agile to ghost tackles, sliding under their pads quickly and effortlessly. He can get under pads easily to create holding penalties. There's only one Bengal that worries me as much as Trey…and it's a guy we all used to know.
2. Grave Dave - His real name is David Vernon Reader Jr., but those of us in Houston knew him as D.J. And, if you paid real close attention, you knew that young man was a special player during his time in Houston. He didn't pile up a ton of sacks and flashy numbers but he was a physical marvel who won against good OL with amazing leverage, power and athleticism. He's doing it even better in Cincinnati and, again, don't be fooled by his numbers. He has two TFLs and one sack, but he eats up two blockers often in the run game and pushes the interior pocket in the pass game repeatedly. When an interior lineman gets a little SNF vignette and Cris Collinsworth points him out during a broadcast, it's clear the impact Reader has on the game. He was beloved by his teammates in Houston and all of us in the building so it absolutely stinks to face him up in Cincinnati where he is STILL beloved by his teammates and all the people in the building.
3. Slot Gawd - I remembered seeing Mike Hilton play at Ole Miss back in college and thought he was an outstanding football player. But, like many, I couldn't see where he was going to fit in an NFL defense. The program says 5-9, 184 lb, but I'm not sure that guy is 5-8, 170 lb, if I'm being honest. Then, on Christmas Day 2017, the Texans played the Steelers and the Slot Gawd, as I call him, put on a show. As a rookie slot corner, Hilton blitzed about ten times that night and finished with three sacks. Even when the Texans knew it was coming, they couldn't block the diminutive Hilton. He then moved on to Cincinnati in the same role and kept the pressure on. In Cincinnati's AFC Division win over the Bills last year, he was a major thorn in the Bills side, registering two QB hits and one TFL. He's such a fun player to watch and I often wonder why more teams don't have a player like him. Then, I'm reminded that there isn't anyone truly like him; he's the Slot Gawd.