First-place Bengals search for consistency in Houston

( – The Houston Texans helped their postseason chances with
a win over an AFC North team last week. They’ll try do the same on Sunday when
they welcome the equally-playoff hopeful Cincinnati Bengals to NRG

Houston won for only the second time in six games in Week 10, as it came out
of its bye with an impressive 23-7 road win over the Cleveland Browns. Ryan
Mallett completed 20-of-30 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns in his
first start to help the Texans (5-5) pull within a game of the Indianapolis
Colts in the AFC South.

“I think anytime it’s around Thanksgiving and you’re still in the hunt, that’s
a good thing,” Houston head coach Bill O’Brien said. “You’re in the 11th game
of the season and you’re still there. There is a lot to play for.”

Randy Bullock also converted three second-half field goals for the Texans, who
have won two of their last three. Alfred Blue contributed a career-best 156
yards on 36 carries, while J.J. Watt and Garrett Graham posted a touchdown
reception apiece.

It was the second touchdown reception this year for Watt, the defensive player
of the year frontrunner. He also has a fumble and an interception return for a
score, making him the first defensive lineman to have four touchdowns in a
single season since 1948.

“Hopefully it’s not the end of it,” Watt said. “There’s nothing better than to
score a touchdown and the whole offense runs over to congratulate you.”

Cincinnati, meanwhile, bounced back from an awful home loss and won for the
third time in four games last Sunday in a 27-10 victory over the New Orleans

Andy Dalton completed 16-of-22 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns. It
was a stark contrast to his previous game against Cleveland that saw him
compile a passer rating of 2.0 while throwing for only 86 yards and three
interceptions in a 24-3 setback to the Browns on Nov. 6.

“There’s no doubt I am proud of our effort today,” said Cincinnati head coach
Marvin Lewis. “I’m proud of our execution and our preparation leading up to
the game this week. We came out here ready to play and it showed up out there
on the field today.”

In fact, Dalton threw six interceptions and had completed just 52.3 percent of
his passes over his previous four games, leading to some in Cincinnati calling
for his head.

“You lose and everyone wants to run you out,” Dalton said. “You win, everyone
is going to like you. I’m not too worried about it. It was a big win for us.
So it’s good to bounce back and get a big one on the road.”

Helping Dalton could be the fact that wideout A.J. Green appears to be
healthy. He caught six passes for 127 yards and a touchdown after totaling
just six catches over his previous two games. He had also missed the previous
three games before that with a toe injury.

“These couple of weeks I wasn’t feeling like myself,” Green said. “Not because
I was injured. It was trying to just get back in the flow of things I missed
those couple of weeks.”

Rookie Jeremy Hill totaled 152 yards on 27 carries for Cincinnati (6-3-1),
which is a half-game in front of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North.

Houston has won five straight meetings with the Bengals, the last two being
wild-card victories after the 2011 and ’12 seasons.


Houston did its damage last weekend without running back Arian Foster, who
missed the game after injuring his groin in a Week 9 loss to Philadelphia.
Foster returned to practice this week as a limited participant and will likely
be a game-time decision on Sunday.

In three games against the Bengals Foster has compiled 430 scrimmage yards
(334 rush, 96 rec.) and three rushing TDs.

Foster has gone over 100 years in six of his last eight games and needs one
more 100-yard rushing game to surpass Priest Holmes (31) for most ever by
undrafted player.

Although, Foster leads AFC in rush yards (5,628) and rush TDs (49) since the
start of 2010, the Texans running game did not skip a beat without him in the
win over Cleveland, as Blue’s 36 carries were a franchise-record.

“Arian Foster is a proven player in this league,” O’Brien said. “But at the
end of the day, injuries occur, so the next guy has to be ready to step up no
matter who you are. I think we all had confidence that Alfred would step in
there and do the job.”

Cincinnati has also had to rely on its backup running back the past few weeks,
as Giovani Bernard has missed three straight games with hip and clavicle

Hill, though, has done a fine job filling in, and has gone over 150 yards in
two of the three starts.

Like Foster, Bernard’s status for this week’s contest is up in the air.

“We have still quite a bit to improve upon,” Lewis said. “We had a lot of
areas, particularly in the running game, where we could get better, make sure
we’re clicking on the same page throughout. And in the pass game, too.”

It may not matter who is running the ball, though, as Houston has surrendered
just 3.28 yards per carry since Week 5, the third lowest mark in the NFL in
that span.

Blue and Hill were teammates at LSU.


The Cincinnati Bengals looked as good as anyone the first few weeks of the
season, then they looked just as bad for a good stretch of time. So what

Could it have been as simple as that they just missed Green? It would
be nice if it was that simple, but there are some warts on this team, namely
Dalton, who may have his hands full against a very opportunistic Texans
defense that is plus-8 and can get to the quarterback. Still, barring another
complete meltdown from Dalton, the Bengals should be able to do enough on
offense to get by in this one.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Cincinnati 17, Houston 13