The Houston Texans are heading into Week 9 at 3-5, and naturally in excellent position to win their division. They’re only one game behind the Indianapolis Colts for the AFC South lead, and its more than reasonable for the Texans to take over the No. 1 spot still this season. If they hope to do that however, they’re going to need every game possible, starting with their Week 9 Monday Night Football matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals. They key to beating the Bengals? Slowing down their offense.
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The Cincinnati Bengals are 8-0 this season, one of two undefeated teams left, and they’re doing it on the back of one of the league’s best offenses. They’re defense is one of the best in the league too, but its their offense that is drawing peoples’ attention. Quarterback Andy Dalton is second in the league in total QBR, tight end Tyler Eifert leads the league with 9 receiving touchdowns, and the team’s top two running backs have combined for over 1,000 offensive yards and 8 scores.
If Houston wants to have any success this week against the Bengals, they’re going to have to be able to keep Andy Dalton from scoring too many points. With the problems Houston has had on offense this season, its going to be up to the defense to keep them in the game. Slowing down Cincinnati’s offense may not be easy, but its certainly something this talented Houston D can accomplish.
The first step to slowing down the Bengals will be getting pressure on the quarterback, something Houston is more than capable of. Defensive end J.J. Watt is second in the league with 8.5 sacks and Whitney Mercilus is finally coming into his own, having a career day last week with 3.5 sacks:
"“I thought he did a good job today of getting on the edge of guys and not rushing down the middle of guys,” head coach Bill O’Brien said about Mercilus (via Deepi Sidhu of HoustonTexans.com). “I thought he did a really good job of getting on the edge and he got off on the ball. Sometimes he can be a little bit late getting off on the snap. I thought he got off on the ball today. That was good. I thought he had a whale of a game from what I saw from the sideline.”"
With Watt and Mercilus coming off of each side, Houston may finally be able to get the pass rush they’ve been looking for. If they can put pressure on Andy Dalton, they may be able to force him into a few mistakes. Dalton has 20 career multi-interception games, and Houston is hoping the can force him into only his second one of 2015.
The next step to slowing down Cincinnati’s offense is guarding the talented receiving weapons. Houston has given up only three tight end touchdowns this year, two of those coming in Week 1, so I like their chances of keeping Tyler Eifert out of the end zone. Missing cornerback Kareem Jackson will hurt as Houston tries to slow down A.J. Green, but Kevin Johnson has been solid so far this year, and the team’s safeties have been stellar. Houston won’t be able to keep Dalton from getting the balls to these guys at all, but they could manage to limit it.
Houston will also be forced to try to slow down Cincinnati’s one-two punch at running back. Jeremy Hill hasn’t been outstanding this year, but we know he’s got talent and he could break out at any point. Giovani Bernard has been outstanding so far, so Houston will certainly try to key on him if they can. Hopefully Bernardrick McKinney, Jadeveon Clowney, and Akeem Dent will be able to play (or at least one or two of them) so Houston will have a shot at stopping this Bengals rushing attack.
Ultimately, the key to stopping this offense is getting pressure on Andy Dalton and forcing him to make mistakes. Two weeks ago, the Bengals barely beat the Steelers, and were held under 300 offensive yards for the only time this season. Pittsburgh was able to do this because they got pressure on Dalton, sacking him 3 times and forcing him to throw 2 picks. Hopefully the Texans can play spoilers for Cincinnati’s flawless season, and start a playoff push of their own.