In turning around to play Thursday of Week 2 after matching horrid Week 1 showings last Sunday, the Texans and Bengals had very little time to dwell on their disastrous 2017 debuts. But did they have enough of a window to fix anything?
The numbers are ugly, to say the least. In their season-opening losses, Cincinnati (to Baltimore) and Houston (to Jacksonville) combined for:
• Seven points
• Nine turnovers
• 15 sacks allowed
• 18 penalties
Burn the tape and bury the ashes.
The Texans, unlike the Bengals, at least scored in Week 1, courtesy of a Deshaun Watson-to-DeAndre Hopkins touchdown pass. As of Thursday morning, Houston coach Bill O’Brien had yet to make official whether Watson or Tom Savage would start at QB in Cincinnati, but all signs (and reports) have pointed toward the rookie (on his birthday, no less). Watson was 12 of 23 for 101 yards, a TD, interception and fumble against the Jaguars; Savage finished 7 of 13 for 62 yards and two fumbles.
Between them, they were sacked a Jaguars franchise-record 10 times. The game’s dagger—and perhaps the end of Savage’s brief run as starter—came when Yannick Ngakoue sacked Savage late in the first half, forcing a fumble, which Dante Fowler scooped up and took to the house.
“The decision to go with Deshaun really didn’t have a whole lot to do with ... it had more to do with could we find the spark?” O’Brien said on Monday. “Could we find somebody that could maybe make a play, that could escape the pocket? Things like that. I thought that Tom really hung in there and played very tough. We had a hard time protecting him.”
No kidding. And as one might expect given the blocking woes, neither QB had the luxury of help from Houston’s run game. It produced just 93 yards on 23 attempts—with 16 of those yards coming from Watson. A major gap remains on the left side of the line, as holdout OT Duane Brown will miss his second straight game.
The Bengals’ offense was just as much of a mess, arguably more so. The one major difference: Cincinnati never pulled its starting QB, Andy Dalton, who was responsible for four interceptions on 31 pass attempts. He was downright awful, although it would have been difficult to excel considering the play of his O-line. The tackle combo of Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher was in over its head against the Ravens’ rush, and the interior of the line fared about the same.
Unfortunately for everyone involved there, the Texans will trot J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and its own potent defensive front into Thursday night’s matchup. The Jaguars kept QB Blake Bortles clean, much of which they owe to game flow—they led after just three minutes and were up by 19 at the break.
The Bengals did little to solve their jumbled situation in the backfield, either. Gio Bernard led them in rushing with 40 yards on seven carries, but 23 of those yards came on one attempt. Jeremy Hill ran it six times for 26 yards, while rookie Joe Mixon managed all of nine yards on eight attempts. The latest reports say that Cincinnati WR John Ross, who didn’t play last week due to a knee injury, will start on Thursday night, which could provide the Bengals’ offense with a needed edge.
There’s not much foreshadowing a Thursday night classic. Watson drawing his first NFL start could be the only thing holding the audience’s attention, if these offenses keep taking on water the way they did last week.
Impact player: D’onta Foreman. Watson was the Texans’ pick at No. 12 overall; Foreman got the nod at No. 89. While the big-bodied (but nimble) back out of Texas saw just one carry Sunday, O’Brien promised that he would be more a part of the action vs. the Bengals. He’ll be behind starter Lamar Miller, so it remains to be seen just how many reps are reserved for the first-year back. These Thursday nighters have a habit of elevating unexpected stars, though, and there’s no doubt Houston will commit heavily to the run.
Bold prediction: Mixon will score the Bengals’ first points of the season. For whatever reason, the Bengals still seem committed to as their starter, but he’s their least worrisome RB from the perspective of opposing defenses. At some point in the not-too-distant future, bank on Mixon leapfrogging Hill for those early-down carries, with Bernard continuing to work in as a dynamic three-down option. Let’s assume the Bengals’ offense remains sluggish early Sunday, thus opening the door for Mixon to provide a jolt.