By Jay Betsill
Cincinnati Bengals vs Houston Texans
Sunday – November 23 – 12:00 pm
NRG Stadium – Houston
The Houston Texans (5-5) welcome the Cincinnati Bengals (6-3) to NRG Stadium on Sunday for a noon kickoff. The Texans had lost four of its previous five but pulled to within one game of the division-leading Indianapolis Colts following Ryan Mallett’s first career start at quarterback that resulted in a 23-7 win on the road at the Cleveland Browns.
Mallett’s first TD pass came to star defensive end J.J. Watt, who had subbed in the game as a tight end. Watt, who made a highlight-reel catch to stay in bounds on the 2-yard touchdown pass from Mallett, also recorded a strip sack, made five tackles and recovered a fumble.
“I was telling the offensive linemen, there’s nothing better than scoring a touchdown and the whole offense runs over to congratulate you,” Watt said. “It’s such a cool feeling. I really, really enjoyed today. It was a blast.”
Mallett, the four-year veteran was promoted during the bye week after Houston benched Ryan Fitzpatrick, threw a pair of TD passes and finished with 211 yards to win the battle of Tom Brady’s back-ups over Brian Hoyer. Rookie running back Alfred Blue filled in for injured star Arian Foster and ran for 156 yards on a franchise-record 36 carries.
“Arian Foster is a proven player in this league,” Texans head coach Bill O’Brien said, of his star who is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. “But at the end of the day, injuries occur, so the next guy has to be ready to step up no matter who you are. I think we all had confidence that Alfred would step in there and do the job.”
The Bengals (6-3-1) have won three of their last four games and are ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-4) by mere percentage points in the crowded AFC North that features each team with at least six wins. Quarterback Andy Dalton recorded his first three-touchdown game of the season while going 16-for-22 for 220 yards in a 27-10 win road win against New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
If the Texans are to win, it will be a key to contain Bengals leading wide receiver A.J. Green, a job that will likely fall to cornerback and former Bengal Johnathan Joseph. Green caught six passes for 127 yards and a touchdown in last week’s win. Rookie running back Jeremy Hill, who rushed 27 times for 152 yards last week against the Saints, along with Giovani Bernard — who is returning from a hip injury — will be a big part of the Bengals balanced attack. The Bengals have also excelled on special teams, specifically Adam Jones, who leads the NFL with 32.6 yards per kickoff return.
For the Texans to win their second in a row, the key will be the continued good play of Mallett and the team’s third-best ground attack in the NFL with 144.6 rushing yards a game. The Bengals have allowed their opponents to run on them, as Cincinnati is allowing 136.2 yards per game. Only four teams in the NFL allow more per game.
“They’ve got a good front seven and they’re experienced in the back-half of their defense,” Mallett told HoustonTexans.com. “Their DBs are playing well. They can stop the run. So we really are going have to be ready to go.”
PREDICTION: In a close contest, the Bengals will win, 31-27.