Sunday could not have gone worse for the Cincinnati Bengals or Houston Texans. Both sides were effectively beaten by half time and only managed a combined 7 points on offense. Thursday night offers both teams a chance for temporary redemption and to put Week 1 firmly in the rear view mirror. The short week will put both sides under pressure on TNF, below we will take a look at where the game is likely to be won and lost.
Rookie Watson in at the deep end
Texans Head Coach Bill O’Brien spent the majority of the pre-season trying to convince the media that Tom Savage was ‘his guy’ and ready to lead the team while rookie selection Deshaun Watson matured. That game plan lasted a paltry 30 minutes. Savage was not wholly responsible for the abject offensive performance but he was hesitant and stationery in the pocket. Watson fared little better but his mobility at least allows him the chance to make plays without having to depend on solid protection which the Texans have trouble providing. A short week is not an ideal build-up for your first NFL start but Watson has shown at college level he can perform when his back’s against the wall.
Battle of the basement o-lines
It was clear from the weekend’s performances that both team’s biggest weakness was their offensive lines. The Bengals young tackles struggled mightily and Andy Dalton regressed to a level that Bengals fans had hoped they would not see again. The loss of guard Trey Hopkins to injury won’t help but it may cause a rethink that gives experienced heads such as Andre Smith and TJ Johnson a chance to get into the starting lineup.
For the Texans, Duane Brown’s contract hold out continues and his absence was very apparent in week 1. Watson’s ability to make plays even when the pocket breaks down gives the Texans a glimmer of hope that the offense can function at some level without Brown.
Tailor the offense accordingly
Offensive line problems mean that both offensive co-ordinators will need to have a re-think with their game plans heading into the Thursday night face off. Watson and Dalton will need to operate more from the shotgun in order to give themselves additional time in the pocket. The Bengals need to think outside the box and could get more creative with the likes of Alex Erikson and Cody Core who both flashed the speed that could trouble defenses if used in the right situation. The Bengals running game struggled but by using three backs so fluidly they failed to establish a rhythm in what appeared a disjointed backfield. If they give one back the chance to establish himself they may find greater success.
The Texans will likely target the intermediate passing game as a weakness in the Bengals defense. Too often the Ravens extended drives against the Bengals with bruising runs and passes in between the linebackers and secondaries. Targeting these areas will make things easier for Watson while also exploiting the Bengals soft under belly.
Injuries and suspensions continue to hurt
The Bengals will likely lose guard Trey Hopkins to injury and Dre Kirkpatrick will be a late decision with a foot problem. John Ross could return from injury while defensive leader Adam Jones has now served his one game suspension. Their biggest absence will continue to be linebacker Vontaze Burfict. He remains suspended and his hard hitting tackles were sorely missed in an effective but tame Bengals defense.
The Texans face serious questions at tight end, a position of importance when bedding in a rookie signal caller. CJ Fiedorowicz has been placed on injured reserve while Stephen Anderson and Ryan Griffin also sat out practice. On the defense, three key players; JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Kevin Johnson all nursed injuries while middle linebacker Brian Cushing is almost certainly out. With 21 names on the Texans’ injury report at the start of the week, injuries may prove to be the deciding factor in what could be a difficult watch for the neutral fan, with the only bright spot being the reappearance of color rush jerseys.
Follow the author @RJDanielsNFL
Like us on Facebook – Click here!