Everyone who's anyone in the Texans blogosphere has already weighed in on what the keys to the game will be. That includes our venerable alumni Rivers, the guys at Grantland, Lance Z and pretty much all week over at Battle Red Blog. Let's try to put together all of those points here to see what could be factors in today's game:
1) The Texans pass rush vs. Andy Dalton -- It's not that the Texans pass rush tailed off at the end of the season. Houston finished with 44 total sacks and had eight in the final three games. The problem is they only had five sacks combined against Indianapolis and Carolina, who rank in the bottom half of the league in sack rate.
If there's an upside, it's that the Texans did have three sacks against Tennessee, who have the second-best sack rate in the league. Cincinnati is fourth and only allowed one sack in the first meeting between the two teams. Houston will have to get to Dalton more times than that if they want to control this game.
2) The return of Mike Brisiel -- The Texans offensive line has garnered more attention this season for the excellent job of run blocking they've been doing. Not every one of the guys stands out as the best at his position, but as a unit, they work very well. The loss of Brisiel earlier this season hurt in small ways, as his backup Andre Caldwell was not nearly as athletic and struggled when asked to pull on screens and getting to the second level.
Brisiel will help a lot with that and it couldn't come at a better time. As Lance Z points out in his breakdown, the Bengals had a very agressive defensive scheme that limited what the Texans like to do on the offensive line. Houston will need Brisiel's experience to counteract that if they want to be successful in the running game.
3) Andre and the long pass play -- It's not surprising that Andre Johnson will be a factor in this one. But, the way he'll be a factor is important. Rivers brought up a good point that's been very obvious in the past three games of watching T.J. Yates. He does not press the ball down the field. Against Indy, Yates only managed two passes longer than 15 yards and one of those was a Hail Mary.
Johnson will help the Texans push the ball down the field, but Yates needs to feel comfortable throwing to him there. That's part pocket presence, which Yates has also struggled with this season. With Leon Hall out, the Texans will have opportunities to throw it long. Yates needs to capitalize on those if Houston wants to keep the Bengals honest.
4) A.J. Green's wild card position -- The worst possible scenario for Houston is if dynamic rookie receiver A.J. Green hits a couple big pass plays and gives the Bengals a big lead early, it could get tough in a hurry for Yates and the Texan offense.
Green was held in check for the most part by Johnathan Joseph in the first one, but Joseph has been a little more prone to the big plays in the second half of this schedule. His matchup against his old team will be a big part of this one.
5) Special teams -- Without Brett Hartmann, the Texans won't have the kind of field position edge they're used to. Matt Turk has averaged 1.7 less yards than Hartmann did before the injury. Couple that with Neil Rackers' troubles kicking from 40-49 yards (he's 4 for 8 on the season) and the Texans will have to be consistent in the kicking game.
They could also use a big play or two out of Jacoby Jones or Danieal Manning in the return game. This one is probably not going to be high scoring, which means field position will be a huge factor. If the Texans can get a couple favorable returns to turn the tide on that field position, they'll be able to take some pressure of Yates and the offense.