Thursday Night Preview: A Battle Between Two Teams That Imploded in Week 1
Both teams had the doors beaten off them, as the Bengals were shut out by the division rival Baltimore Ravens, at home no less, and the Texans opened with a lopsided home loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
It's only Week 2, so it's not exactly must-win territory. But historically, teams that start 0-2 have made the playoffs just 10% of the time, so tonight's loser is going to be facing an uphill battle the rest of the way.
So, who can remedy those mistakes from last week and get back on the winning side of the ledger? Let's dig in and find out.
Both quarterbacks who will lead their team into this Week 2 matchup would like to forget what happened on Sunday.
Andy Dalton suffered through a miserable Week 1 at the hands of the Ravens defense, turning the ball over five times (four picks and a fumble) and suffering four sacks. In terms of Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, among 31 Week 1 passers with 15 drop backs or more, Dalton ranked 29th with a mark of -0.75 per drop back. In terms of Passing Success Rate -- the percentage of drop backs which result in a positive NEP -- Dalton struggled even more, as his mark of 30.56% checked him in second to last.
That's a far cry from last season, when among passers with at least 200 drop backs, Dalton ranked 14th in Passing NEP per drop back (0.15) and 12th in Passing Success Rate (49.34%).
On the opposing sideline, the Texans have already turned the reigns over to the rookie Watson. Tom Savage has a nightmare game last week, but Watson wasn't all that great, either. The rookie passed for 102 yards, a touchdown and an interception along with rushing for another 16 yards, and he wasn't efficient. He checked in just above Dalton at 28th in Passing NEP per drop back (-0.59), and Watson was slightly better in Passing Success Rate, ranking 25th (37.04%).
Neither quarterback set the world on fire last week. Given that this is Watson's first NFL start and it's on the road against a solid defense, the Bengals likely have the edge under center.
Running Back Play
The Texans backfield is a little easier to understand -- Lamar Miller is the clear lead back, so let's dissect him first.
Last week, Miller, despite a very negative game script, was pretty effective. Miller rushed 17 times, and of the 50 running backs with 5 carries or more last week, he ranked 17th with a Rushing NEP per play of 0.01. He also caught both of his targets for 35 receiving yards, and he will look to build on that performance and help his rookie quarterback this week.
The Bengals' running back depth chart is a bit more confusing. Jeremy Hill, the named starter, saw the least amount of snaps (10) among Cincy's three core backs, but that was probably influenced by the negative game script the Bengals were involved in. Hill rushed six times last week with a Rushing NEP per play of -0.05, which ranked him 25th in the pack.
Giovani Bernard played the most snaps (29), logging seven carries for a Rushing NEP per play of -0.01 (20th), and he caught only one ball. Rookie Joe Mixon garnered 22 snaps, and he had the most touches of the three (11), but Mixon recorded the Bengals' worst Rushing NEP per play at -0.18 (35th).
Regardless of who garners the majority of the playing time, this Bengals rushing attack will need to be far better, and the Texans appear to have the edge.
It's hard to pull much from either defense's first game, as both units went up against run-heavy attacks against opponents who jumped out to a big lead due to the poor play of Savage and Dalton.
Let's peep back to 2016. These were two good defensive units a year ago, with Houston ranking among the league's best defenses. Per our schedule-adjusted per-play metrics, the Texans' D ranked 4th last year while the Bengals' defense came in 15th. The Texans were extremely stout against the pass, finishing sixth last season, but they lost stud corner A.J. Bouye in free agency.
However, Houston put up all those gaudy defensive numbers last year despite all-world star J.J. Watt playing in just three games. Watt is back in the fold now.
Both teams struggled to get after the quarterback last season, and that reared its ugly head in the first week. In 2016, Cincinnati ranked 19th in the NFL with 33 sacks, and Houston checked in 24th with 31 sacks. Last week, the Bengals recorded a single sack, and Houston didn't record any -- although, as we mentioned, the way the games unfolded led to their opponents utilizing a run-heavy offense. Both Houston and Cincy will want to get a bit more pressure on the quarterback in this matchup.
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