Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 12/9/11
The Bengals enter Sunday's game against Houston with the league's fifth-ranked defense, but one area where they have not excelled in is turnovers. After the defense went three straight games earlier in the season with a defensive touchdown, their knack for getting turnovers has declined. Over the past five games, they have just four takeaways and have turned the ball over eight times. The 15 total takeaways on the season is on track for their lowest since 2002, when they had 20. While the Bengals have recovered nine fumbles, they have just six interceptions which is tied for the second-fewest in the league. The paucity in interceptions has defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer in a foul mood going into this week's game. "I am going to start changing guys out if they don't start doing it better," Zimmer said. "I am going to tell them that today. I am tired of it. I am tired of guys getting balls caught on us. No interceptions. Not seeing stuff. I will change out guys. I am tired of it." The team record for least interceptions in a season is nine, which happened in 1974, 2000 and 2002. Where Zimmer is going to find guys to be able to switch out remains to be seen since the secondary is thin. Cornerback Nate Clements (hamstring) remains questionable after missing another day of practice. Clements, who suffered the injury last Thursday, remained optimistic though that he might be able to play against Houston. If Clements doesn't play, Adam Jones and Kelly Jennings will play throughout. Brandon Ghee for the third straight game last week was confined to special teams. Safety Taylor Mays did see his most extensive action of the season last week with Chris Crocker playing some corner. --Since Mike Zimmer was hired as the Bengals' defensive coordinator in 2008, there have been two tenants that he has stressed -- his unit will be tough against the run, and that the defense won't play well unless the cornerbacks do. Over the past four weeks, neither goal has been accomplished. After being tied for the AFC North lead a month ago, the Bengals find themselves 7-5 and hanging on to the AFC's last playoff spot as the final quarter of the season begins with a pivotal game Sunday against Houston. Zimmer said of his defense: "I think we're pretty good. I think we're a little inconsistent right now. It's almost we hit a little dip maybe from where we were, and we have to climb back out of it. I don't think we're great, but we're solid. We typically play hard and smart." For the season, the Bengals are allowing 96.3 rushing yards per game, but over their past four contests, that total has rocketed to 120 per game, including season highs the past two weeks to Cleveland (134) and Pittsburgh (136). Linebacker Rey Maualuga returned for the first Steelers game after missing three weeks due to an ankle sprain but has been inconsistent. He is relying more on natural instinct than technique, which has led to a lot of missed tackles. The defensive line has also struggled in closing off lanes. They will have to do it quickly. After struggling against Pittsburgh's duo of Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman in the rematch last week, the Bengals face their most difficult challenge of the season. Houston is averaging 152.6 rushing yards per game, which is third in the league. Arian Foster has 916 yards, which is tied for eighth in the NFL, and Ben Tate has 753 yards. The Bengals are giving up only 3.6 yards per carry on the season, but 4.0 over the past four weeks. "I just think we're trying to be a little too over aggressive sometimes in our gaps," defensive tackle Domata Peko said. "When the ball's not in our gap, (we're) trying to get to the ball too quick, and it is actually bouncing back into our gaps. So we have to be more disciplined. That's one of the things Zim was talking about is discipline in our run game. We're going to clean that up this week and work hard." In the passing game, the Bengals remain thin in the secondary with Nate Clements battling a hamstring injury and Leon Hall out for the season with an Achilles injury. Safety Chris Crocker, who has been playing nickel corner, is also banged up a little with knee and biceps injuries. For the most part, the Bengals played consistent and tight coverage last week against the Steelers, but they continue to allow too many big plays. They allowed six plays of 12 yards or more on first down last week. "There has been an urgency for the past six weeks. We just haven't played the way we wanted to, but we are focused on each snap, each play, individual battle," Crocker said. "That is just how it has to be. Sometimes it doesn't end up how you draw it up. That's unfortunate because we try to be perfect, but this game, it doesn't allow you to be." SERIES HISTORY: Sixth regular-season meeting. Bengals lead series, 3-2. The Texans have won the last two meetings, including a 28-17 victory at Paul Brown Stadium two years ago. NOTES, QUOTES --Though the Bengals and Texans have played only five times, the rivalry between Cincinnati and Houston spans 62 games. The total includes 57 meetings between the Bengals and the Oilers (now Tennessee Titans). Those 57 games were split evenly, 28-28-1. The Bengals' combined record against Houston teams is 31-30-1. --Rudi Johnson's 43 rushing attempts against the Texans in 2003 are a Bengals record. The total is tied for the second-most carries in NFL history and tied for the most carries in a non-overtime game. The only player with more carries was Washington's Jamie Morris, who rushed 45 times in an overtime game against the Bengals on Dec. 17, 1988. Johnson had 183 yards in his big game, which the Bengals won 34-27. --In 2002 at Houston, cornerback Artrell Hawkins returned an interception 102 yards for a touchdown. That's tied for the longest play in team history. Louis Breeden had a 102-yard interception return at San Diego in 1981, and Eric Bieniemy had a 102-yard kickoff return at the New York Giants in 1997. --The Bengals had three sacks at Pittsburgh, giving them 31 on the season. They are on pace for 41, which would be the most in Marvin Lewis' tenure and the most since they had a team-record 48 in 2001. They are 11th in the league in total sacks and eighth in sacks per passing play. With his sack last week, linebacker Thomas Howard became the 13th Bengal to record a sack this year. --Despite missing time due to a knee injury, A.J. Green has 50 catches for 832 yards, putting him on pace for 67 catches and 1,108 yards, which would break the Bengals' rookie records set by Cris Collinsworth in 1981 (65 catches and 1,009 yards). --Center Kyle Cook and offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth share the team's longest active streaks of consecutive starts at 45 straight. The current longest streak for consecutive games played on the team is held by linebacker Brandon Johnson at 61. BY THE NUMBERS: minus-80 -- Points differential in the second quarter. The Bengals have been outscored 119-39 in the second quarter through the first 12 games. QUOTE TO NOTE: "He was just telling us that we didn't get to (stink) overnight. Last week you're a good player and then all of a sudden you're the worst player? It doesn't work like that. Just have confidence in how you play. Remember your technique. And that's what we're going to do. Play with technique and play relentless, but with discipline." -- DT Domata Peko, on what defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said after the loss in Pittsburgh. STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL The defensive line had been one of the strengths on the team, but it is a little lighter after defensive tackle Pat Sims was placed on injured reserve due to an ankle injury suffered in practice last week. The team signed Nick Hayden to take Sims' spot. Hayden, who visited the team Tuesday, had 12 starts with Carolina in 2009 and '10. Jonathan Fanene has versatility at both end and tackle, but with Sims' injury, he is expected to solely concentrate on tackle. PLAYER NOTES --DE Carlos Dunlap (hamstring) did not practice and looks like he will miss his third straight game and fourth in the last five. --RB Cedric Benson (foot) did not practice, but indications are he will start against the Texans. --OT Andre Smith (ankle) returned to practice but was limited. If he can't go, Anthony Collins would get his first start of the season. --TE Donald Lee (foot) had full participation in practice and it appears that he will be active for the first time since the Nov. 6 game at Tennessee. --S Chris Crocker (knee) was limited but is expected to start against Houston. GAME PLAN: If the Bengals are going to stop their slide Sunday, they are going to have to stop the Texans' running game and get pressure on T.J. Yates while keeping him in the pocket. With Andre Johnson expected to be a game-time decision, the linebackers are going to have to do a better job of matching up on the tight ends, which is something the Bengals have struggled with in recent years. Offensively, Cincinnati needs to do a better job of establishing the run so that Andy Dalton can get opportunities to pass without being flushed out of the pocket. Tight end Jermaine Gresham also needs to come up big with Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell continuing to struggle. MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bengals WR A.J. Green vs. Texans CB Johnathan Joseph -- Green has compared Joseph to Cleveland's Joe Haden, but Joseph is more athletic than Haden. However, Joseph is not as physical, and with Green's height advantage, he could have some favorable matchups on deep passes. Bengals RTs Andre Smith and Anthony Collins vs. Texans LDE J.J. Watt -- Smith and Collins did well in run-blocking against the Steelers, but Watt is one of the quickest defensive linemen they will face. He is particularly good in the run game, and he has nine tackles for loss this season.
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