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Five Things To Watch: Bengals vs. Texans

CB Cam Taylor-Britt celebrates during Sunday Night Football against the Buffalo Bills at Paycor Stadium in Week 9 of the 2023 season.
CB Cam Taylor-Britt celebrates during Sunday Night Football against the Buffalo Bills at Paycor Stadium in Week 9 of the 2023 season.

The Bengals seek their fifth straight win when they welcome the Houston Texans to Paycor Stadium on Sunday. The game airs at 1 p.m. on CBS. Here are five things to watch:

1. Burrow aims to keep it rolling

Cincinnati has boasted one of the NFL's hottest offenses during its four-game win streak, and much of that success can be attributed to the play of Pro Bowl quarterback Joe Burrow. Burrow leads the league in completion percentage (75.8) and passer rating (111.2) since Week 5. He has hit 70 percent of his passes in three of the past four games, and in Week 9 against Buffalo Burrow spread the wealth with completions to eight different receivers.

Burrow leads the Bengals offense into a matchup against a Texans side that allows opposing quarterbacks to complete 70.5 percent of their passes, the second highest rate in the league. Houston also has given up 238.0 passing yards per game (24th in NFL), and three of the last four quarterbacks to play the Texans registered a passer rating above 100. If Burrow can carry over momentum from the past several games, Cincinnati will be tough to stop on Sunday.

2. Turnovers at a premium

One of the Bengals' greatest strengths this season has been the defense's ability to create turnovers. Cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt's interception on Sunday night against the Bills was the team's 11th of the year, which is tied for the second most leaguewide. Taylor-Britt, safety Dax Hill and linebackers Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson all have multiple picks, helping contribute to a plus-nine turnover differential for Cincinnati that is tied for the best in the NFL.

Bengals coaches this week have praised Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud's poise, and perhaps no stat indicates that more than just one interception on 279 pass attempts. Stroud was turnover free in Week 9 against Tampa Bay, when he threw for an NFL rookie-record 470 yards and five touchdowns to earn AFC Player of the Week honors.

Cincinnati's defense, which under Lou Anarumo has gained a reputation for confusing opposing quarterbacks, has forced multiple turnovers in each of the past four games. The Bengals continuing that trend and forcing Stroud to beat a myriad of different looks on Sunday will give them a key advantage.

3. Leads lead to wins

In each of the Bengals' past four wins, Burrow and the offense have come out of the gates with a touchdown on their opening possession. The Bengals have then followed up with another score on their second drive in each of the past three contests, becoming the first team to find the end zone on their first two possessions in three straight games since Green Bay (four games) in 2020.

"It's proven if we can start fast and get a lead, our defense pins their ears back and gets after the quarterback and creates turnovers," said head coach Zac Taylor this week. "It's easier to call the game with a lead as well."

The numbers back up Taylor's sentiment, as Cincinnati is 18-2 when scoring first and 20-1 when leading at the half since 2021 — both are the top record in the NFL in that span.

Even with the Week 7 bye included, the Bengals have put up a league-high 45 points in the first quarter of play since Week 5. If Cincinnati can once again jump out in front and control the game with a lead, Houston may be hard-pressed to get back in.

4. Defense takes on explosive Texans pass game

The back end of Cincinnati's defense has done well to limit big plays this season, as the Bengals are one of just six teams that has allowed one or fewer touchdown passes of 20-plus yards. This week, Lou Anarumo's unit faces a Texans offense that is predicated on explosive plays, as their 13.08 yards per completion is the second highest mark in the NFL.

Houston leads the AFC in completions of over 20 yards, with Stroud pacing the league in passer rating (144.5) on passes over 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. Contributing to that air raid attack is third-year wide receiver Nico Collins, whose 17.5 yards per reception ranks fifth in the NFL, and newcomer Tank Dell, whose 16.2 receiving average leads all rookies.

For the Bengals to hold Houston at bay in the passing game, their young secondary will need to keep everything in front and keep the big plays to a minimum.

5. Staying ahead of the sticks

A common thread in the Bengals' five victories this season is that they've won the time of possession battle in each game. Cincinnati's ability to maintain long drives that result in points has allowed it to not only control the pace of the game, but also keep the ball out of the hands of some dangerous quarterbacks in recent weeks.

The Bengals have helped themselves by getting into third-and-manageable situations, then executed at a high rate once they're in those spots. Of the 31 instances in which the Cincinnati offense faces a third-and-three or less, it has converted 71 percent into a fresh set of downs — the second best rate in the NFL.

Conversely, Houston's defense is giving up a first down on 72.2 percent of third-and-short situations, ranking 29th in the league. But when the Texans can back their opponent into a third-and-seven or longer, they allow just a 17 percent conversion rate, the sixth best leaguewide. The difference between short and long third downs is pivotal for the Bengals' offense this week. If it can keep ahead of schedule on its drives as it has during the current-four game win streak, it may be able to move down the field consistently.

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