The Texans (4-4) face the Bengals (5-3) on Sunday in Cincinnati. Each team is coming off a victory last Sunday, and the Bengals have won four in a row. This is the first meeting between the two clubs since the Texans fell, 37-31, at NRG Stadium on December 27, 2020. Overall, the Texans have won on each of their last four visits to Paycor Stadium, with the last one happening in Week 2 of 2017. Here are five things to watch when they kick off at noon CT.
1) Who's in, who's out? – The practice week began Wednesday with some notable news from both sides, as the Texans saw cornerback Derek Stingley, Jr. return to practice, and the Bengals go without wide receiver Ja'marr Chase. The former remains on injured reserve, but his 21-day practice window began with that return to practice. The latter, meanwhile, was banged up in the Sunday night win over Buffalo and missed work because of a back injury. There's also uncertainty about the availability of Cincinnati receiver Tee Higgins, as well.
The Texans had nine starters not practice on Wednesday, and a slew of others limited with various injuries.
Whether or not Stingley's hamstring injury keeps him from returning for Sunday's game remains to be seen, but at the very least, the Texans will likely be without some key contributors.
One player who returned, however, was Texans receiver Robert Woods. He's excited to be back, and ready to contribute. Woods explained that his "first touch" with a pass from quarterback C.J. Stroud is all he'll need to get back into a rhythm.
"Being able to connect with C.J., get the drive going I feel like it's going to be a great energy and atmosphere this upcoming Sunday," Woods said. "That'll be enough to get me going."
2) Speaking of Stroud – Stroud is the reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week. The California native is back in Ohio after leading the Ohio State Buckeyes in 2021 and 2022. Coming off a five touchdown, 470-yard passing performance last Sunday, the rookie quarterback is riding high and excited to be back in an area he remembers fondly.
"I know there'll be a couple Ohio State fans there, maybe," Stroud said. "But they'll probably be booing me that day, so it is what it is, and I'm excited to go back to Ohio and play. I wish it was a little colder. [laughs] Nah, I'm happy it's not cold. But yeah, for sure, I'm excited."
On the other side, the Bengals are very familiar with the Texans rookie, and very impressed.
"For a rookie to come in there and play the way he's done, it's been really, really good," Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said. "We've got a great test in front of us that our guys have got to be ready for."
3) Be careful with explosives – The Texans scored touchdowns last weekend on passes of 75 yards and 29 yards, among others. In all, Stroud had nine completions of 21 yards or more. In all, he's tossed 14 touchdown passes to a lone interception, and is completing 62 percent of his passes.
Nobody, however, is better in the NFL than Stroud is on passes of 20 air yards or more. His passer rating on those attempts is 145.8. In 2016, Matt Ryan won the NFL MVP award, and he's the closest to Stroud with a 135.4 passer rating on those deep balls.
Wide receiver Noah Brown caught the 75-yard score, and finished with six catches for 153 yards against Tampa Bay. It was the third straight game for the 6-year veteran to catch a pass for 31 yards or longer, and that that 3-game stretch after missing time due to injury, he's averaged 22.5 yards per reception on 11 catches.
"I did a good job in the training staff, did a good job getting me healthy here so that when I came back, I had fresh legs and was ready to go," Brown said. "A lot of guys are starting to feel the season, and I think I came back at the right time and ready to execute."
4) Burrow's a bad man – Quarterback Joe Burrow is one of the best players in all the league. He's guided Cincinnati to four straight victories, and is completing almost 76 percent of his passes with a 111.2 quarterback rating during the win streak.
Texans Defensive Coordinator Matt Burke reeled some of the many reasons Burrow is such an elite signal-caller.
"Very precise," Burke said. "Really in command of just getting the ball where it needs to go. He just gets the ball out really quick. He is probably one of the best, I think, at pre-snap stuff."
5) Cleanliness is important – For the second straight week, the Texans are facing a team atop the NFL in turnover differential. Cincinnati's plus-9 on the year, which means they've taken the ball away from opposing teams nine more times than they've turned it over.
Houston's tied for 6th in the NFL at plus-5 in that category.
The Bengals have picked off 11 passes this season, which ties them for second in the NFL.
"They're an experienced group that has played very well," Woods said. "The secondary knows how to find ways to get turnovers."