CINCINNATI -- Paul Guenther contends there is only one statistic he pays attention to on a regular basis: The amount of points his defense gives up per game.
The Cincinnati Bengals' defensive coordinator had to be pleased with what he saw from his unit ahead of Monday night's game against the Houston Texans. Through the first eight games, the Bengals ranked second in points allowed, giving up an average of 17.8 points per game. Only the Minnesota Vikings, led by Guenther's ex-boss, former Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, ranked higher.
But even if he claims to be opposed to advanced metrics, Guenther had to like the following number: 44.4.
Early in Monday's game, that number actually tipped a little lower, thanks to a timely stop from Guenther's defense.
The number above represented the percentage of touchdowns the Bengals had allowed before Monday's game per the number of goal-to-go attempts in which they had faced opposing offenses. With a 44.4 percent efficiency, the Bengals effectively brought into Week 10 the league's second-best goal-line defense.
Late in the second quarter, that stout goal-line defense was put to the test.
After a 15-yard scramble from Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer put Houston onto the Bengals' 6, Cincinnati's defense needed to respond with a stand that kept the Texans out of the end zone.
It did. With Adam Jones out of the game briefly due to a rather controversial injury -- the Bengals temporarily declared him out of the game with a shoulder injury, but television cameras appeared to show him take a hard shot to the back of his head earlier on the drive -- backup cornerback Darqueze Dennard came in and made an immediate impact. With the Texans in second-and-goal from the 1, Dennard and Vontaze Burfict teamed up for a stop on Alfred Blue that caused him to lose three yards.
A play later, Dennard had solid coverage on receiver DeAndre Hopkins, as a Hoyer pass sailed out of bounds. The Bengals had held for a field goal.
All season, the Bengals have had a knack for occasionally bending on defense but not breaking when it matters most. It's a big reason why they came into this game with an undefeated record. That stingy goal-line and red-zone defense was a key reason behind the Bengals' ability to routinely get its offense back onto the field during games in which they had to come from behind to win. It's how they beat Pittsburgh late, and how they were able to prevent the Seahawks from extending a fourth-quarter lead in an eventual come-from-behind victory.