Week Six Preview: Houston at Cincinnati

Now that the Bengals are perched atop the AFC North standings and feeling good about themselves after an “emotional” win, one face springs to mind when looking ahead to the next game against the Texans; that bug-eyed, lobster-like freak, Admiral Ackbar, in Return of The Jedi.

It’s a trap!

For being such a tough-guy sport, it’s interesting how much conversation is centered around emotions in football. We as fans are picky about what emotions are acceptable. It’s encouraged for players to demonstrate emotional hostility on the field—unless that hostility is between teammates—yet in the locker room, we want cool, placid interviews jammed pack with generic responses and sports cliché. Anger and frustration is fine; it shows that they care, but spontaneous celebration is out; that shows that they’re greedy and self-promoting. It’s a deep-rooted hypocrisy that fits in nicely with all of the other nonsensical traditions of this country established by stuffy, rich dudes a long time ago. Pardon the digression.

I bring all of this up because the words “emotional letdown” keep cropping up all over the internet in regard to this week’s game.

It all makes sense; tsunamis in Samoa, the unexpected passing of Zimmer’s wife, and already enough nail-biting wins to leave Bengal fans now chewing on their fingers, have been enough concentrated gobs of emotion to leave any group strung out and half crazed. It’s only human to take a deep breath and relax at some point, but do that in the NFL and the opposition will strike at the jugular. It’s a brutal jungle out there; constant vigilance is the key to survival.

That being said, the Bengals match up well against Houston and leave little reason not to pull out another win.

The primary concern against the Texans is to contain their superhero-like receiver, Andre Johnson. The Bengals corners have dazzled onlookers thus far, but Johnson will serve as the ultimate test for the tandem. I would expect double-teams on Johnson all day and the secondary to give him cushion to avoid the big play. Houston will likely throw shorter passes to work him in early and draw the corners and safeties up to give less cushion. That’s when they might try to go deep to their other receivers left in one-on-one coverage. Jacoby Jones is a particularly dangerous deep threat and kick returner; Joseph and Hall had better be ready to run.

The next defensive priority should be to flush Matt Schaub out of the pocket as much as possible. Last week Arizona got no sacks on him, and allowed the Texans to get back in the game. When they were able to get him to move around, Schaub fell apart and rarely converted anything for yardage. Blitzes are in order against Houston, but Zimmer has to choose wisely when he calls them and account for their jittery running back, Steve Slaton.

Slaton likes to run in space and the Texans use him on the outside as often as they can manage. Like Ray Rice, Slaton works off of shotgun draw-plays, pitches, screens and stretch hand-offs. It’s important for Cincinnati to keep him between the hash-marks in order to limit his fire-power.

So, in order to manage all three priorities, the Bengals should: blitz linebackers up the middle to flush Schaub out of the pocket, stretch the defensive line out wide to contain Slaton to the middle of the field, keep safety help on Andre Johnson’s side every play, and rely on one-on-one pass coverage on Johnson’s opposite side.

It’s a lot to manage simultaneously, but long athletic players like Michael Johnson and Brandon Johnson (unrelated) can excel in a scheme that emphasizes outside containment, while Rey Maualuga, and every now again, Roy Williams, can be unleashed on blitzes up the middle or on the weak-side.

Even if the defense does struggle, the offense should be able to pick up the slack this week. Houston ranks dead last in the league against the run, allowing over five yards a carry, and Cedric Benson has burst upon the scene, leading the NFL in rushing yards and carries after five games.

The Texans do have Mario Williams who has a natural inclination to sack quarterback’s and make offensive tackles look bad, but Cincinnati has faced some nasty pass-rushers already this season and has kept them from having much impact on the game.

Carson Palmer seems to improve every week and he could really cut it loose against a suspect Houston secondary. As long as his line continues to dominate the trenches—especially late in the game—Carson and his blue-collared crew should enjoy a nice day at the coal-mines.

If the offense is able to get a lead early, I would expect large doses of hand-offs and screen plays with the occasional deep ball if the defense falls asleep. This game, like the Cleveland game, should be a chance for Bernard Scott to get involved a little more, especially if the Bengals are playing with the lead.

That’s what coaches like about the X’s-and-O’s of the game; there is no emotion involved. It’s about strategy and preparation for these men and not about feelings or psychiatry. Of course, both aspects are inescapable for any coach—after all, these are still human beings—but on the NFL level, players are expected to do their jobs no matter how strenuous the circumstance. That is why the Bengals will once again prove their professionalism by handling the Texans and fighting through the trap of an emotional letdown.

Bengals 30, Texans 23

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