BEN­GALS BAT­TLE TEX­ANS TONIGHT

The Ben­gals host rookie quar­ter­back De­shaun Wat­son and the Tex­ans tonight in prime time af­ter both teams bombed in their sea­son-open­ers.

Dayton Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - By Jay Mor­ri­son Staff Writer

Reel­ing from a 20-0 blank­ing by Balti

more in the sea­son opener, the Cincin­nati Ben­gals will try to avoid their first 0-2 start since 2008 and just the third of the Marvin Lewis era when they play host to the Hous­ton Tex­ans tonight.

The Tex­ans will try to avoid go­ing 0-2 for the sec­ond time in three years, al­though they ral­lied from that slow start in 2015 to make the play­offs.

Here are five things to watch for in the game:

Woe line

Af­ter giv­ing up five sacks to Bal­ti­more in the opener, the Ben­gals of­fen­sive line has to con­tend with a Tex­ans de­fense that al­lowed the fewest yards in the NFL last year and ranked No. 2 in pass de­fense due to the amount of pres­sure it puts on the quar­ter­back.

A Ben­gals of­fen­sive line al­ready in flux lost start­ing right guard Trey Hop­kins to a knee in­jury. T.J. John­son, who be­gan train­ing camp as the third-stringer, will get the start.

Of­fen­sive line coach Paul Alexan­der said the mes­sage to the group af­ter Sun­day’s dis­ap­point­ing de­but was sim­ple:

“It’s easy in prac­tice,” he said. “You go out there, there’s no stress, there’s no nerves go­ing on, but to do it out there on the stage re­quires ex­pe­ri­ence and it re­quires hav­ing back­bone. Be­cause nine out of 10

times, they did it right. But nine out of 10’s not good enough.”

All six of the line­men —John­son played the sec­ond half — took turns get­ting beat against the Ravens, and all of them will have to con­tend with Hous­ton All-Pro de­fen­sive end J.J. Watt at some point, not to men­tion lineback­ers Jade­veon Clowney and Whit­ney Mer­cilus.

“We have a pretty clear strat­egy of what we need to do against (Watt), and I don’t re­ally want to share that,” Alexan­der said.

“The big­gest thing is don’t go for all the cha­rades, all the an­tics that kind of makes him ap­pear even greater than he is. Stick to your knit­ting, do what you do.

“(Watt’s) the best de­fen­sive player in the league,” Alexan­der added. “The only de­fen­sive player who you might think is as good as him is Clowney. There you go.”

Ri­fle re­vival

Re­gard­less of how much blame the of­fen­sive line de­serves for quar­ter­back Andy Dal­ton’s poor show­ing against Bal­ti­more, the poor pass­ing numbers be­long to him. Dal­ton tied his ca­reer high with four in­ter­cep­tions, and his 28.4 passer rat­ing was the sec­ond low­est of his ca­reer.

The Ben­gals are hop­ing Dal­ton re­sponds the way he did the week af­ter his in­fa­mous 2.0 rat­ing against Cleve­land in 2014. Dal­ton came back the next week and com­pleted 16 of 22 passes for 220 yards and three touch­downs for a 143.9 rat­ing in a 27-10 win at New Or­leans.

In fact, Dal­ton has di­rected the team to wins the week af­ter each of the five low­est passer rat­ings of his ca­reer.

“You have to move on.” Dal­ton said.

“That’s the po­si­tion of quar­ter­back — you’ve got to worry about the next play re­gard­less what hap­pens. Same thing. We had a down game, I had a down game. I’ve just got to go back and play like I know I can play.”

Watch­ing Wat­son

De­spite bat­tling an an­kle in­jury, Hous­ton rookie quar­ter­back De­shaun Wat­son is ex­pected to make his NFL start­ing de­but af­ter re­plac­ing Tom Sav­age in the sec­ond half of the team’s 29-7 home loss to Jack­sonville on Sun­day.

The No. 12 over­all pick, Wat­son was 12 of 23 for 102 yards with one touch­down and one in­ter­cep­tion.

Un­der Marvin Lewis, the Ben­gals are 3-3 against quar­ter­backs mak­ing their NFL start­ing de­buts. The last one to beat them was, iron­i­cally, Sav­age in Week 16 last year. The oth­ers were St. Louis’ Shaun Hill in 2007 and Bal­ti­more’s Joe Flacco in 2008. The Ben­gals beat St. Louis’ Brock Ber­lin in 2007, Carolina’s Jimmy Clausen in 2010 and Cleve­land’s Johnny Manziel in 2014.

The Ben­gals are 16-11 against rookie quar­ter­backs un­der Lewis.

Hous­ton hurt­ing

Eleven Tex­ans were on the team’s ini­tial in­jury list this week, in­clud­ing all three tight ends with con­cus­sions. Hous­ton put starter C.J. Fiedorow­icz on in­jured re­serve on Tues­day and ruled out back­ups Stephen An­der­son and Ryan Griffin on Wed­nes­day, forc­ing the team to pro­mote rookie Evan Baylis from the prac­tice squad.

Start­ing line­backer Brian Cush­ing, the team’s ca­reer leader in tack­les, also is out, along with start­ing right guard Jeff Allen. Pro Bowl left tackle Duane Brown is hold­ing out. Wide re­ceivers Will Fuller and Bruce Elling­ton and run­ning back Al­fred Blue also are out with in­juries.

Prime­time prob­lems

If there was one sil­ver lin­ing com­ing out of the abysmal per­for­mance in the opener, it’s that none of the Ben­gals had to an­swer to ques­tions this week about their prob­lems in prime­time.

The Ben­gals have lost 11 of its last 14 games un­der the lights and are 5-13 (.278) since the Andy Dal­ton-A.J. Green era be­gan in 2011.

Cincin­nati is 9-22 (.290) un­der Lewis.

GETTY IM­AGES

Ter­rell Suggs and the Ravens de­fense dom­i­nated Andy Dal­ton on Sun­day. Can Cincin­nati’s QB re­bound again af­ter a poor out­ing?

BOB LEVEY / GETTY IM­AGES

Af­ter miss­ing most of last sea­son be­cause of back surgery, J.J. Watt (99) has re­turned to form and is again de­mand­ing dou­ble-team blocking.

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