Texans at Bengals: 5 things to know about today’s game

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The Cincinnati Bengals will be looking to avoid falling into a classic “trap game” against the Houston Texans on Sunday with an important AFC North matchup at first-place Baltimore on Thursday night.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor said the team hasn’t discussed Baltimore yet, and the focus remains solely on Houston. The Texans (4-4) are no longer the same team that struggled to get even four wins the past three years and come to Cincinnati on a roll thanks to a newfound confidence under quarterback C.J. Stroud.

Cincinnati (5-3) will be looking to extend a four-game winning streak before that matchup with the Ravens (7-2). Here are five things to know about Sunday’s game vs. the Texans:

1. Turnover battle

The Bengals defense already has 11 interceptions this season, after finishing with 13 all of last year, but they are going up against the quarterback with the fewest picks among those with 200 pass attempts or more. Will the Cincinnati defense be able to break C.J. Stroud?

Stroud, the No. 2 overall pick out of Ohio State in the 2023 draft, has just one interception through eight games. He also set a record for single-game passing yards by a rookie when he threw for 470 yards last week in a 39-37 comeback win over Tampa Bay.

“He looks legit, no question about it,” cornerback Mike Hilton said. “He looks calm in the pocket. I think his touchdown to interception ratio is 14 to 1, best in the league, and that’s amazing for a guy (eight) games into his career. He’s a guy they are leaning on and he’s definitely a talented quarterback. He’s throwing on time, putting the ball where it needs to be and his guys are making plays for him. It’s going to start up front, getting some pressure on him and forcing him into bad balls.”

2. Can offense keep rhythm?

Joe Burrow is coming off his best two games of the season – completing 87.5 percent of his passes in a win at San Francisco in Week 8 and throwing for a season-high 348 yards in Week 9 – and the Bengals are hoping to keep that rhythm going. However, that could be a challenge with Tee Higgins out because of a hamstring he injured in practice Wednesday and with Ja’Marr Chase nursing a sore back that could also sideline him Sunday.

Chase said he expects to play so long as he feels like he can be productive for the team, but Higgins had just finally gotten comfortable following his fractured rib and recorded his first 100-yard receiving game of the season last week. Losing him again is a blow to the team.

Trenton Irwin and Andrei Iosivas have proven capable of making big plays, and rookie wide receiver Charlie Jones, who has been on injured reserve with an injured thumb, returned to practice this week and could be an option.

“I’m confident in all those guys to be able to do their job, and when their opportunities arise, they’re gonna take advantage of them,” Burrow said. “That’s what this offense is built on. I’m gonna see the coverage and I’m gonna put the ball where I think it’s supposed to go. I’m not always gonna be right, but I’m gonna have the trust in my guys to go make plays.”

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

3. Getting pressure up front

As Hilton said, getting pressure on Stroud could be a key to slowing Houston’s offense, which has struggled in the running game and very much leans on the pass. However, the Bengals will be without defensive end Sam Hubbard because of an ankle injury, and defensive tackle Josh Tupou remains doubtful with a shoulder injury that sidelined him the past two weeks.

Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson has been playing at a high level, already matching his sack total from last year (eight sacks) in eight games. Sunday will be a big opportunity for Cam Sample, Joseph Ossai and Myles Murphy to step up in Hubbard’s absence.

Murphy, the team’s first-round pick this year, especially could benefit from more playing time. His snap counts have ranged from one to 19 this season and everywhere in between.

“I think he’s built for the length of the season,” Taylor said. “…Those are things that we talked to our rookies about is maybe you haven’t got a ton of playing time here in the first eight weeks, but we’re not even halfway done with the season. And so, you gotta stay ready because your opportunities may be coming in chunks soon and you gotta be ready to go.”

4. Houston decimated by injury

Although the Bengals have some concerning injuries at key spots, the Texans are dealing with even more ailments this week. Eight of their players are out and three are questionable.

Among those who will be out are wide receiver Nico Collins (calf), fullback Andrew Beck (ankle/elbow/shoulder), running back Dameon Pierce (ankle), linebacker Henry To’oto’o (concussion), safety Jimmie Ward (hamstring) and kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn (quad), who are all first-string players. Linebacker Jake Hansen (hamstring/hand) is To’oto’o’s backup at the SAM linebacker spot, and tight end Brevin Jordan (foot) is the second-string tight end behind Dalton Schultz.

Cornerback Steve Nelson (back/neck), defensive end Jerry Hughes (back) and wide receiver Robert Woods (foot) are questionable.

Earlier in the week, left tackle Laremy Tunsil also was among the injured, as was linebacker Blake Cashman and defensive ends Will Anderson Jr. and Myjai Sanders. All were full participants Friday and are clear to play.

5. Avoiding the trap

The injuries to Houston and the team’s struggles over the past seasons could make this an easy game to overlook with the Baltimore game coming up, but the Bengals seem focused on the task at hand. Stroud’s ability to lead the Texans back against Tampa Bay last week especially put them on notice what they are capable of with him leading the offense, and Tank Dell will be playing a bigger factor with Collins out and appears up to the task.

Stroud led the Texans on a 75-yard drive in the final 46 seconds against the Bucs and scored the game-winning touchdown on a 15-yard pass to Dell with six seconds left.

“I don’t know why guys would even be saying that because Houston isn’t a bad team at all,” Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd said of the idea this could be a trap game. “… At the end of the day, any team in this league could beat you. Just because the record doesn’t live up to the hype, doesn’t mean you can’t lose any given week.”


Texans at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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