The bad news is the Houston Texans are 3-5. The good news is they play in the AFC South, are just a half-game behind the Colts for first place, and Colts QB Andrew Luck is gonna miss 2 to 6 weeks with a lacerated kidney and an abdominal strain. Though middle-of-the-pack in total offensive yardage, the Texans are working harder for than anyone except the lowly Niners, gaining a meager 5.0 yards per play, including a tragic 5.9 yards per pass play and a just plain embarrassing 3.3 yards per rushing play.
QB Brian Hoyer seems to have won the battle with fellow Patriots cast-off Ryan Mallett for the starting job. Hoyer’s led the team to two wins in their last three games since taking the reins full time, passing for 801 yards and 8 TDs against only 1 interception. Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins seems unfazed by the turmoil under center, having caught 66 passes for 870 yards.
The rushing game has been significantly hobbled by the inevitable wear and tear taking its toll on former Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster. After making a triumphant return last season from back surgery, Foster missed the first three games this year with a groin injury suffered in practice, and then was shelved for good after four games with a torn Achilles. In his abbreviated season, Foster managed just 163 yards on 63 carries. Alfred Blue is, for the time being, the Texans’ first option out of the backfield, and in the one game this season when he got more than 14 carries, he he racked up 139 yards in a 19-9 victory over the Bucs. Of course, he’s gained only 134 yards in his other 43 carries, so we’ll see how it goes.
For all their problems, the Texans’ D still features JJ Watt, who is second in the NFL in sacks, has gotten a rival head coach fired, tried in vain to check into a Rockets game, and appears headed for a fourth consecutive Pro Bowl. Collectively, however, the unit is terribly average, in large part because they rank in the bottom 10 in turnovers and sack percentage, and they’re fourth in first downs allowed by penalty. It’s the little things.
And then there’s the 8-0 Bengals. A key ingredient of the Bengals’ secret sauce has been an NFL-best starting field position of 33.48, coupled with an NFL-best opponent’s starting field position of 20.83. When you make the opposing team travel almost 20% farther to get to the end zone, you’ve gone a long way toward winning.
QB Andy Dalton has been a huge part of Cincy’s success, enjoying an historically efficient season that has him on pace to finish with the 11th-best passer rating in league history. He’s getting sacked less than once a game, has thrown just 4 interceptions, and he’s one of only four starting QBs who haven’t lost a fumble this year. Oh, and he’s engineered 3 game-winning drives.
The Bengals D is also getting it done, with pass rusher Geno Atkins back to full strength, chipping in 6 sacks, aiding tremendously in the development DE Carlos Dunlap (8.5 sacks), and Adam (formerly Pac Man) Jones is healthy and contributing. And now their linebacker corps has gotten a boost with the return of Vontaze Burfict, who’s headed for his third game back from an injury ravaged 2014.