When the Houston Texans bring their brand of football to Paul Brown Stadium for Monday Night Football, the nation will be watching. The lights will be on and shining on Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals’ red hot offense. But the real battle will be in the trenches. The Texans will have a hard time dealing with the Bengals defensive pressure.
“They’re 8-0 for a reason,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said, per the Houston Chronicle. “One of the reasons why is their front is a very strong front – Dunlap, Johnson, Geno Atkins – one of the best three-techniques in the league. Linebackers are athletic, tough. Their top four corners are all first-round draft picks, talented guys. I got a lot of respect for this defense and our guys are obviously going to have to be up to that challenge. That’s a heck of an opponent on the other side.”
Dunlap is an extremely difficult blocking assignment. He’s tall, strong, quick, and relentless. He leads the Bengals with 8.5 sacks, tying him with Texans defensive end J.J. Watt for second in the NFL with one fewer sack than New England end Chandler Jones.
The Bengals’ defense is building a reputation for giving headaches to offensive line coaches and terrorizing quarterbacks. In Thursday’s win over the Cleveland Browns, the Bengals defense hurried Johnny Manziel all night. In the second half, their rush was furious. The Browns were able to muster only 32 yards of total offense, according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. The Bengals rank No. 12 in total defense and fourth in scoring defense, allowing 17.8 points per game. The Bengals are tied for fifth in the NFL with 23 sacks.
“They have done a really good job of playing together,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “They are not old in age, but they’ve played a lot of football together and they are smart. I think that’s the most important thing.”
Another development in the Bengals defensive line play is the health of Geno Atkins. Since coming back from a torn ACL, the big man has regained his explosive speed and is able to pressure the quarterback like he used to. When the ball is snapped, the offense has to account for his whereabouts or be ready to find their signal caller wrapped in his embrace.
Being in the same system has had its rewards. Mike Zimmer left to lead the Minnesota Vikings. But defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has kept the scheme familiar with the Bengals’ players. Having that sane system in place allows the players to go out and play instead of second guessing what they have to do.
The Texans may attempt to keep the Bengals honest by using the running game. Brian Hoyer will be starting at quarterback for the Texans and he’s had some success against the Bengals. The combination of Hoyer’s knowledge and a steady flow of play-action may slow the Bengals furious front down.
The matchup looks like one that will see the Bengals blowout a sub 500 team and once again be the darlings of prime-time. But the Texans are a tough team that plays with pride and determination. Both the Bengals and Texans will no doubt be thinking of the history they have.
Houston only gives up 227.4 passing yards per game, a top 10 rank, for a reason. But the Bengals’ wealth of weapons can exploit the unit so long as the ball gets out fast. There won’t be prizes given for style points so Cincinnati will have to play gritty football against a team that wants to shine under the lights too.
The Bengals managed a win at NRG Stadium, last year. It was a tough, low scoring game. Monday night may be the same scenario.
[Feature Photo by Scott Halleran / Getty Images]