In this AFC matchup between the Houston Texans and the Cincinnati Bengals, this is the type of game that can only hurt one team. While the Bengals’ playoff hopes are over, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t enjoy beating the Texans today. For Houston, while the win won’t change their playoff destiny, a victory will help them continue their win streak.

Scouting the Texans:

Step back Osweiler, A new Savage is at the Helm!

The benching of QB Brock Osweiler is no surprise to fans or the media, but how well Savage performed coming off the bench is what is shocking. After being out for a few weeks dealing with an infection to his elbow, Savage had very little time to throw the ball at practice in the preparation vs. the Jaguars. That didn’t stop him however from throwing 36 passes vs. Jacksonville; 14 of which came in the 4th quarter. While he only boasted a completion percentage of 63%, his ability to push the ball downfield and not turn the ball over has become a valuable asset for the Texans offense. It will be important to build on his performance this week vs. the Bengals who have the 16th best pass defense in the NFL.

If Savage throws the ball downfield, He’ll be looking for Deandre Hopkins. Coming off a game where he caught 8 passes for 87 yards, Hopkins is proving that he is still a threat in the NFL. Tight End Ryan Griffin has also proven to be a safety net all season; last week he caught 8 passes for 85 yards. If Hopkins can’t get open Will Fuller has a chance to have a great game; last week he caught 4 passes that included a 22 yard long reception. The X factor in this group is Wendall Williams; a rookie who was just called up from the practice squad. Last week he was able to haul in a 32 yard pass that ended up being the longest offensive play of the game.

savage-t If Savage struggles early, the Houston Texans will again have to lean on the running ability of Lamar Miller. The 1,000 yard rusher had another strong game last week where rushed for over 60 yards and the game winning touchdown. While they were sparingly used last week, both Johnathan Grimes and Alfred Blue can also provide a change of pace in the backfield. Another player to keep an eye on is running back Akeem Hunt, who has shown ability as a kick returner and a shifty runner.

Defensive, Pile on the Pressure!

1st time Pro Bowler Jadaveon Clowney is coming off a game where he continually wreaked havoc on quarterback Blake Bortles. In the contest vs. the Jaguars he came away with a sack, 3 tackles for loss and a pass breakup. Clowney’s consistent pressure on the QB allowed the defense to hold Jacksonville to just 13 points and less than 75 yards on the ground. The secondary was also able to benefit from the pass rush, as they only allowed 92 passing yards through the air. Quentin Demps also came away with a victory sealing interception the 4th quarter, it was his 3rd interception in the last 4 games. From the linebacker position, Whitney Mercilues and Brina Cushing will need to have a better day as this unit cannot only rely on the pass rushing abilities of Clowney and Bennardrick Mckinney.

Dec 18, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (90) celebrates with strong safety Quintin Demps (27) during the second half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Scouting the Bengals

Offensively, look for Cincinnati to keep their fingers on the trigger of the Red Rifle

The Bengals are led by Texas Christian University Alum Andy Dalton. This season has not panned out well for the former 2nd round pick; as he has led his team to a 5-8-1. Record. What Dalton does bring to the table is accuracy and athleticism; he has completed 64% of his throws and has ran for 4 touchdowns. While Dalton only has 7 interceptions this year, one of the problems he has faced this season is utilizing his targets downfield, meaning that if he finds himself and 3rd and long situations vs. the Texans he could be in for a rough day.

Dec 18, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) reacts to a touchdown by running back Jeremy Hill (not pictured) against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first half at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

For the past month top receiver A.J Green has been out and it Dalton has had to depend on the hands of the former LSU Tiger Brandon Lafell. The 7th year pro has caught 51 passes this season and 5 touchdowns. Stepping up in Green’s absence is the rookie Tyler Boyd who has caught 50 passes and a touchdown. When looking to stretch the field, Dalton seeks out tight end Tyler Eifert; who has caught 29 passes and is tied for the team-high 5 touchdowns.

In the running game Bengals implement a 3 pronged attack using the combination of Jeremy Hill, Givovanni Benard, and Rex Burkhead. Hill has proven to be a tough runner for Cincinnati and already has 9 touchdowns on the year. Benard has been utilized more as a receiver; he is 4th on the team in receptions with 39. He might not touch the ball much. But you will find Rex Burkhead in the backfield pass blocking on 3rd down situations.

 

For the Bengals, it’s all about Thug Ball

Aggressive, fast, and unapologetic this defensive unit has made no friends under the direction of head coach Marvin Lewis. While this team does not have amazing numbers in either the passing or the run game, they have still found a way to keep their team in the game and play with intensity this season. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict and Karlos Dansby are a force in the middle and have over 190 tackles and 3 sacks this season.

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In the secondary safety Shaun Williams provides a thump in the running and passing game; while corners Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones have 4 interceptions between them. Keep an eye on free safety George Iiloka who is tied for the team high 3 interceptions; this season he has continually found ways to make opposing QB’s pay the price for throwing in his jurisdiction

 

Final Take

The Truck is still Rolling, Don’t Fall Asleep at the Wheel!

While the Texans have all but wrapped up their division, they still have some things to work on. On offense, look for Savage to take that next step as the Texans starting QB and find a way to allow the offense to consistently score touchdowns. On defense, it’s important to not be overconfident from the strong performance last week and continue to dominate opposing offenses. While the Bengals record isn’t pretty they are from a tough division and are always ready for battle.

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