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What to watch for in Texans-Bengals on 'TNF'

The first Thursday Night Football showdown of the year features a pair of teams desperate to forget Week 1.

Both the Texans and Bengals suffered disastrous losses on Sunday, leaving these two playoff hopefuls in a fix. If Houston stumbles on Thursday, they'll be forced to march winless into New England in Week 3. The Bengals, meanwhile, are being asked to travel to Green Bay after this week's prime-time tussle, exclusively airing on NFL Network at 8 p.m. ET.

Here's what we'll be watching for on Thursday evening when these two teams do their best to get right:

  1. Texans coach Bill O'Brien pulled the plug on Tom Savage just two quarters into the campaign, ending months of hype around the veteran quarterback's compelling offseason. The lightning-fast demotion means that first-rounder Deshaun Watson now becomes the ninth different starting quarterback for the Texans since O'Brien took over in 2014, the most by any NFL team during that span.

Watson's NFL debut comes on his 22nd birthday, but his surrounding talent is hardly a gift after Houston's injury-plagued opener. O'Brien revealed Monday that a whopping five players are mired in the league's concussion protocol, including his top-three tight ends, wideout Bruce Ellington and linebacker Brian Cushing (suspended 10 games Wednesday for PEDs). None of those players will be available against the Texans, and the leader of that tight-end trio, C.J. Fiedorowicz, was swiftly placed on injured reserve this week, leaving Watson with next to nothing at the position.

  1. Beyond the injuries, a thorny holdout by Texans left tackle Duane Brown played a major role in Houston allowing a whopping 10 sacks against the Jaguars, something no team has done in a game over the past two seasons. No matter who plays quarterback, the Texans need major improvement from a front five that saw center Nick Martingrade out as team's top blocker with a paltry 54.0 mark from Pro Football Focus. The rest of the group wasn't even close. As a result, neither Watson or Savage completed a pass of 15-plus air yards in Week 1, but the rookie, to his credit, does a better job than Savage at extending the play with his feet. We also saw Watson show more chemistry than Savage with DeAndre Hopkins, connecting with his star wideout for six of Nuk's seven receptions against the Jaguars.
  1. When it comes to offensive line issues, the Bengals can't point any fingers at the Texans. It's fair to focus on Andy Dalton's ungodly four picks in Week 1, but so much of his poor play charts back to facing intense pressure off the edges and up the middle against Baltimore. It was concerning to watch ageless Ravens pass-rusher Terrell Suggs terrorize left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, the 2015 first-rounder being asked to replace the departed Andrew Whitworth. The line helped break open a few runs, but left Dalton open for countless hits and a career-high five turnovers. With an ugly 8.3 passer rating on throws of 10-plus yards through the air against the Ravens, Dalton oversaw an attack that gained the fewest yards (221) for the Bengals since Week 10 of the 2014 campaign.
  1. Dalton's career struggles against the Texans -- a 1-5 record with a 3-to-7 touchdown-to-pick ratio -- might not mean anything today, but the common dominator in those beat downs of old remains J.J. Watt. Houston's wily behemoth still looms as the game's most dominant defensive player and a hero in Houston. The Texans' front seven, though, was massively underwhelming against the Jaguars with just two quarterback hits on Blake Bortles in Week 1. With Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus coming off down games, this trio will be desperate to create havoc against the Bengals.
  1. While rookie receiver John Ross will suit up for the Bengals, the unrivaled centerpiece in Cincinnati remains All-Pro wideout A.J. Green. The trusty veteran piled up five grabs for 74 yards in the opener and needs to shake free on Thursday for the Bengals to accomplish anything through the air. Despite the 20-0 loss to Baltimore, I thought jitterbug Giovani Bernard ran well and showed exciting elusiveness. The question is whether we'll see more from rookie back Joe Mixon after he finished with just 9 yards off eight carries against Baltimore. While Jeremy Hill started last week, Mixon outsnapped him 22 to 10 and should see an even larger workload in Week 2.
  1. If you want a bright spot from Cincy's opening-game implosion, look no further than Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who looked powerful and nasty against the Ravens and could be in line for a big night against the Texans.

Bottom line: Whoever drops this game on Thursday night enters mid-September with more issues than some sunnier teams pile up all season long.

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