The Bengals are streaking into Sunday's game at Paycor Stadium (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) against the dangerous Texans and their NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year leader C.J. Stroud as well as NFL Coach of the Year candidate DeMeco Ryans, another rookie showing no stress when it comes to the league's learning curve.
The Bengals have won four straight, three straight at home, six straight in November, and three straight over rookie quarterbacks. With wins over Trevor Lawrence, Kenny Pickett, and Anthony Brown, Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow has never lost to a rookie.
But never has he played one coming off the greatest game a rookie quarterback ever had. The 4-4 Texans are not re-building. Instead, they've already got as many wins as they had last year and are riding Stroud's 470-yard game against Tampa Bay a few days ago that threw them into the playoff hunt when he became the sixth man in history to throw for at least 450 yards and five touchdowns without throwing an interception.
The Texans arrive during a monstrous Bengals stretch. They beat the two-time NFC finalist 49ers on the road and the perennial AFC East champ Bills here before meeting the Texans. Four days after they play Houston, they head to AFC North-leader Baltimore in a bid to avoid a sweep that could decide the division in a Thursday nighter. The 10-day break doesn't leave much of a reprieve because here come the 5-3 Steelers into Paycor Nov. 26.
Head coach Zac Taylor tried to set the proper tone before Wednesday's practice when asked if Pro Bowl wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase's back status is connected to the proximity of the Thursday nighter.
"Recovery time? Don't focus too much on that. We're just focused on Houston right now," said Taylor, who knows exactly what the first-time head coach Ryans is trying to do when it comes to establishing culture and direction to a program.
Taylor, a graduate assistant with the son of then-Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, watched every game for a stretch that Ryans played at linebacker for Houston.
"You would see DeMeco was a leader on those teams. "It's no surprise that he's transitioned to the NFL as a coach," Taylor said before Wednesday's practice. "He made that impact in San Fran. He's immediately making that impact on Houston. It's not a surprise that he has established,the culture he has. And I just remember watching the video when he got hired and he walked in that building and you saw all the employees there and the genuine excitement and so that just tells you enough about the person and the impact that he's going to have on the whole organization, the whole city. And he's done that."
The Bengals have kept their eye on the ball. More streaks? They've won six out of their last seven against teams with a .500 or losing record.
"Houston isn't a bad team at all. Watching them on tape, they play hard," said slot receiver Tyler Boyd after Wednesday's practice. "They've got the young quarterback. He's a great talent. His numbers are crazy, too. You can talk about him as MVP as well (with Burrow). Any team in this league can beat you (even if) the record does not live up to the hype. I think we do a great job around here not taking anything for granted. Playing every game like it's the Super Bowl, like it's a meaningful game and try to get a win."
There are some huge statistical matchups besides Burrow vs. Stroud.
Thanks to Stroud throwing just one interception, the Texans are averaging the fewest giveaways per game (0.6) in the NFL. But the Bengals defense is averaging 1.9 takeaways per game, good for a tie for fourth in the league. They challenge Stroud's one pick with their 11, tied for the second-most interceptions in the league. Houston has the second-best punt coverage and the Bengals have the fourth-best punt return game, and rookie returner Charlie Jones practiced full for the first time Wednesday since injuring his thumb in the Sept. 17 game he went for an 81-yard touchdown.
Also, the Texans are averaging 19.5 points per game on the road, where they are 1-3. The Bengals are 3-0 in their last three Paycor games giving up 15.7 per.
Ja'MARR, TEE ON INJURY REPORT: Bengals fans were no doubt a bit jarred to see both starting wide receivers on Wednesday's injury report. Pro Bowler Ja'Marr Chase (back) was still sore from last Sunday's fall trying to make a deep catch and didn't practice.
That was expected. What isn't is two-time 1,000-yard receiver Tee Higgins (hamstring) surfacing in limited fashion. That sent the archivists scrambling to find the last time the Bengals played with neither and it was a few weeks after Burrow won the Heisman Trophy in the 2019 finale.
But Boyd is here like he was then, when he caught five balls for 59 yards in a win over Cleveland. And in the game before that in the Burrow Bowl in Miami, he had nine catches for 128 yards in the loss that gave the Bengals the No. 1 pick.
So Boyd, who has back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons himself, has been here before. No one knows, and maybe both can play, but Boyd looks at the Next Three behind The Big Three and is encouraged.
When Higgins missed a game this year, Trent Irwin had a career-high 60-yard, eight-catch day in the win in Arizona. And, with The Big Three playing in San Francisco, Irwin came into a four-receiver set on the last drive to salt the game away and had a huge 21-yard catch to jump-start the drive. Plus, rookie wide receiver Andrei Iosivas already has two red-zone touchdowns. And Jones may be able to return to the lineup Sunday.
The threshold isn't at three. You need guys that come in at your ability if something happens," Boyd said. "That's on us because they're watching how we do it. As a leader I try to make sure Chuck Sizzle (Jones) know everything he needs to know because he's my backup.
"The more confident and ready they are, I feel even better about myself because there might be plays I might want to play, but I might be tired but I can count on those guys to (for a breather)."
Boyd has no qualms about being called to carry the load. He's done it all during his career and it hasn't always been the game plan. In both of his 1,000-yard seasons, he also caught balls in a stretch of games from Andy Dalton backups Jeff Driskel and Ryan Finley.
TB VOTES FOR CTB: Bengals sophomore cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt is all the rage and why not? The man has interceptions in three of the last four games while getting the best of some of the best receivers. After Seattle's DK Metcalf threw him down in frustration, Buffalo's Stefon Diggs motioned away from him. His three interceptions are tied for second among cornerbacks.
Boyd has seen enough to cast a post-election day vote.
"Probably an All-Pro corner right now in my eyes," Boyd said. "He's making turnovers. He's chopping down (big-time) receivers, he's tackling well. He's playing all-around great defense. Great ball. Cornerbacks only want to cover. They don't want to tackle. They don't want to get their nose dirty. They just want to cover. You need a guy that's going to do whatever it takes to get the job done. That the type of guy he is."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: Also on the injury report and not practicing Wednesday was left end Sam Hubbard (ankle). He doesn't miss many even though he leads all NFL defensive ends with combined tackles since 2018, playing 83 of a possible 90 games …
Taylor-Britt (quad) went full …
NT Josh Tupou (shoulder) didn't practice …
Special teams backer Akeem Davis-Gaither (knee), back to playing, is managing and was limited …