As the Texans went to the bye week last week, they were tied with the Colts at 3-5, tied for first place in the AFC South, although admittedly it felt sort of dirty to even call the Texans a first place team. So conventional wisdom thought the Texans would come out of the bye week in first place all alone, with the Colts presumably losing to the undefeated Broncos.
But if we've learned anything in this season's NFL, it's ASSUME NOTHING. The Colts knocked off the Broncos, and we were all sad. Then we found out three days ago that Colts QB Andrew Luck has a lacerated kidney and will miss at least a month, and we were all happy again! What a roller coaster, man!
Now comes the Cincinnati Bengals, on Monday night in prime time and undefeated as all get out. What are a few things to watch for in this game, besides sever burn marks all over Texans defensive backs trying to cover A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert? Well, how about there four things….
4. Fixing the running game
If there was one thing that Bill O'Brien and his staff needed to figure out over the bye week it was finding a way to spring running backs for more than three yards per carry. Right now, the Texans total inability to run the ball is the single biggest problem with the team. It puts them in horrific down and distance situations, and it negates any ability to run play action (against smart teams that don't fall for fakes… in other words, any team other than Tennessee). Here's the problem — once the line starts opening up holes, do we honestly think that the Alfred Blue, Chris Polk, Jonathan Grimes pupu platter can actually take advantage? Someone get me Charles James!
3. Return of Griffin
I'm not sure what it says about the Texans' offense, in particular the tight end position, that the return of Ryan Griffin off injured reserve is legitimate cause for excitement, but that's how Godawful the position has been this season. Garrett Graham has been targeted 19 times and caught four balls. Do you have any idea how utterly putrid that is? You almost have to be willingly slapping balls back at the quarterback to have numbers like that. Griffin at least brings HOPE that the tight end position can add something material to the overall passing game. (Until he starts holding while trying to set the edge, then he goes persona non grata.)
2. CLOWNEY, the wacky doctor's game!
Jadeveon Clowney has been nursing an injured back since the first quarter Tennessee game. Now, if you're keeping track at home, since entering the NFL, Clowney has had surgery for a sports hernia, suffered a concussion, torn his meniscus, required microfracture surgery, sprained his ankle, and dinged up his back. I'm not saying he's injury prone, but if dude went miniature golfing, I think he'd somehow tear his ACL hitting the ball through the clown's mouth. You remember the board game "Operation, The Wacky Doctor's Game"? (ALERT: I know no one below the age of 40 gets that reference.) Well, they need to make one with a picture of Clowney and all his broken body parts...
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Here's the thing — the Texans need Clowney, because their only chance on Monday is to….
1. Heat up Andy Dalton
The Bengals offense is a nightmare matchup for most teams, but especially the Texans. Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard are as solid a 1-2 running punch as there is in the league. (See what happens when you actually draft running backs with decent picks?) But the major issue is the tandem of WR A.J. Green and TE Tyler Eifert, both of whom are elite level matchup problems. The only way to stifle both of them is to force Dalton into mistakes. He's been playing nearly flawless this season, so it won't be easy, but Monday would be a good time for a) a J.J. Watt "See, I never left, stop writing me off!" kind of game and b) a Jadeveon Clowney "Here's why they took me first overall, bitches" kind of game.
PREDICTION: Bengals 26, Texans 17
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