What to watch for: CIN has allowed a league-high 20 pass plays of 20+ yards. It did a good job of frustrating BAL QB Joe Flacco(notes) in Week 4, but the fact remains that it has allowed a TD pass in every game and a QB to surpass the 240-yard passing plateau in four of five contests. HOU has produced the 4th-most pass plays of 20+ yards on offense (19) and has the second-worst YPC average (3.0) in the league. So, yes, it’s all systems go for the HOU aerial assault, with one caveat: Andre Johnson(notes) owners beware. If you saw how Dallas used bracket coverage against Carolina WR Steve Smith to shut him down a couple weeks ago on Monday night, you can understand how CIN has managed to absolutely slam the door shut on opposing No. 1 WRs this season – it has held Greg Jennings(notes), Braylon Edwards(notes) and Derrick Mason(notes) to 0 catches, and Santonio Holmes(notes) and Brandon Marshall(notes) combined for 5 catches and 45 yards. If you think Johnson is too talented for such concerns, consider that his three mediocre performances this season have come against Darrelle Revis(notes), Nnamdi Asomugha(notes) and Rashean Mathis(notes). Yes, matchups matter for him too.
What a difference a year has made for RB Steve Slaton(notes). In ’08, he led all RBs in red zone touches (77). This year, he has just 11 touches in the red zone, an average of just over 2 per game – roughly three fewer RZ attempts per game than last season. The HOU run blocking has been terrible and Slaton has lost trust of the coaching staff because of fumbling issues. He won’t come close to validating his top 15 value on draft day until he regains that trust and starts seeing glory work again. He remains a flexible fantasy play (especially in PPR leagues) because of his receiving prowess. CIN has given up nice production to versatile backs of a similar ilk to Slaton (Jerome Harrison(notes) and Ray Rice(notes)) in recent weeks, so I’d be inclined, despite putting him under the caution flag, to roll the dice once again on the struggling HOU back. Backup RB Chris Brown is 4th in the NFL in rushes inside the 5-yard line, and head coach Gary Kubiak is sticking with him in short yardage situations despite mixed results, thus far. For that reason, he’s an arguable deep-league flyer.
It feels bizarre to say it, but CIN RB Cedric Benson(notes) has officially entered must-start territory and will likely land in the top 12 on my next Big Board. I’ve mentioned here before that he looks like a completely different back than what we’ve seen in the past. And, after becoming the only RB to rush for 100+ yards against BAL in the past 40 games in Week 5 (at BAL, to boot), there is simply not a scenario that can be conjured in which you’d want to sit Benson right now. Of course, HOU has allowed 5.2 YPC and a league-high 8 rushing plays of 20+ yards (3 of 40+ yards is also tops in the NFL), so Benson was a no-brainer regardless of his Week 5 statement. CIN has played it fairly conservative on offense this season, so Benson should see major work at the expense of QB Carson Palmer’s(notes) pass attempts. Don’t expect Palmer to throw much more than 30 times, especially since he’s dealing with a sore thumb. WR Chad Ocho Cinco(notes) should be fine, but I’d leave all the others alone.