I've been asked plenty on whether this week two prime timer at Cincinnati is a 'must win' game. Let's just put it this way. If it's a loss, you're desperate and off on a three game stretch featuring teams that all had winning records last year. And two of those were division winners. Oh, and one won perhaps the greatest Super Bowl ever.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The Bengals are a familiar foe. This is the fourth year in a row the Texans will play them. And the last two have been low scoring semi-thrillers that went a long way toward determining each season's fate. One was the Monday nighter that saw Houston beat a previously undefeated Cinci team in week 10 in 2015. The other was last year's Christmas Eve division clincher at NRG Stadium.
You never know how a game will play out but don't expect big numbers. Unless you're talking defensive stats. The Bengals were handled by Baltimore last week in their season opener, 20-0. The locals are saying that the Cincinnati defense is really pretty good, that the offense put them in bad spots with turnovers and the Ravens never really got rolling when they had the ball.
It'll be up to Bill O'Brien to piece together a game plan that gets just enough early scoring opportunities so his defense can play with a lead and fire off at Andy Dalton, who was sacked five times and threw four picks in the opener.
I write 'piece together' because that's what it is. With all three tight ends suffering concussions, Evan Bayliss was signed to the 53-man roster just yesterday. He'll be the only available tight end. O'Brien can use an extra offensive lineman or try to function without a tight end at all. We'll see.
You'd love to see the Texans run the ball more often and more effectively than they did against the Jaguars. That's easier said than done because of the missing tight end group. Still, O'Brien will try to find a way because he cannot afford to constantly call drop backs and see his quarterbacks get the human piñata treatment as they did in game one.
With both teams struggling, and the Bengals missing the playoffs last year, it would behoove Houston to jump on top early and get the crowd expressing its displeasure over the Bengals' performance. It won't guarantee that the Cincinnati players get rattled but it can't hurt.
This projects to be a field position, low point total game. Shane Lechler and the punt coverage crew will be as important as anyone on the field. And there's really very little margin for error on defense. If the Bengals generate a healthy ground game, you're likely looking at an 0-2 start.
We've seen the Texans overcome adversity before under O'Brien. They've often responded with winning performances when things looked bleakest. It's still early but this is one of those times where the Texans need to dig deep and find a way. If they avoid turnovers and the defense plays up to their potential, it could be a happy autumn night in Cincinnati.