Well here we go again. Not only is the location and their playoff opponent the same for the Texans this season, but the lack of momentum going in is also similar to last year. With talk radio and 24 hour news on ESPN, it's easy to think that the latest situation is always much worse than what happened in previous years, but that's not the case for the Texans.
Just compare how the Texans finished each of the last two seasons.
As you see, their situation this year isn't any worse than last year, and they ended up beating the Bengals 31-10 and nearly upsetting the Ravens on the road last season in a close game. Both teams fell flat after clinching the division despite having something to play for with a bye on the line and disappointed fans by having to play in the wildcard round. Same as this year, fans started to panic, experts on TV and radio picked the Bengals to win because the Texans had lost their momentum, but none of that mattered once they took the field. I'm not saying the Texans will definitely flip the switch and play like they did in September and October, but the reasons fans are giving this year as to why the Texans will fall flat and get knocked out in the first round, are the same as the reasons they gave last year as to why they would definitely lose. The Texans haven't played well, they have several issues that are very concerning, but this team is capable of playing much better and Bengals are far from a great team.
Texans Offense vs. Bengals Defense:
The biggest problem the Bengals are likely to cause for the Texans will be blocking against their defensive line. The Bengals defensive line has played extremely well and could ruin the Texans day if they're able to dominate, especially against the right side of the Texans line. Cincinnati finished the season ranked third in sacks 51 (seven more than Houston) but unlike Houston, their pressure came from every guy on the line instead of just one player. Geno Atkins led all defensive tackles this season with 12.5 sacks and defensive ends Michael Johnson, Carlos Dunlap, and Michael Gilberry combined for 24 sacks; they can put pressure on the quarterback with all four guys. The Texans rank 7th in sacks allowed so Schaub getting hit isn't my main concern, but pressure from lineman will also blow up the running game, especially if Atkins is able to penetrate up the middle. The Bengals aren't an elite run defense, they rank 12th in yards allowed and 11th in yards per carry, but the Texans have issues on the right side of the line in run blocking and have too often allowed defenders to penetrate on the stretch play and hit Foster before he has a chance to find his cutback lane. Before giving up over 200 rushing yards last week to Baltimore in a game neither team treated as important, the Bengals had a streak going of five straight games where they held their opponent under 100 rushing yards; three of which they held the other team under 50 yards.
When the Texans faced the Bengals in the playoffs last season, they were missing corner back Leon Hall who ruptured his Achilles tendon and missed the final seven games of the season. Hall isn't Darrelle Revis, but he's a pretty good corner and makes a big difference when facing a team with a receiver like Andre Johnson. The Bengals finished this season ranked 7th in passing yards allowed and 4th in passing touchdowns allowed; I wouldn't expect Schaub to have a great game. If the Texans are to win this game, Derek Newton has to play well and their offensive line has to hold up when they run the stretch play. If they don't run the ball well, they don't have a chance.
Texans Defense vs. Bengals Offense:
The Bengals offense is solid, but hasn't improved much from last season. They dropped off a bit in yards gained, they ranked 20th last season and fell to 22nd this year. As you would expect, their rank in passing yards and rushing yards are almost exactly the same as last season. Second year quarterback Andy Dalton threw for more touchdowns this season, but also threw more interceptions. I hate to use the term game manager, but that's what Dalton is at this point in his career. He's capable of making plays occasionally, but the team is better off when he throws 25 times and not 40 times. Using the ESPN stat QBR which is more useful than QB rating in my opinion, Dalton ranks as exactly average with a QBR of 50.73 out of a possible 100. Dalton has a great receiver with A.J. Green and I think Green-Ellis has played better than Cedric Benson did last season, so in my opinion it's been mostly the offensive line that has held them back. The Bengals ranked 26th in sacks allowed this season; J.J. Watt should be in for a big game.
The Bengals run game doesn't scare me, they ranked 18th in yards, 18th in touchdowns, and 20th in yards per carry; I have no doubt that the Texans 7th ranked rush defense will handle them. When the Texans are on defense, it'll come down to whether or not the Bengals can protect Dalton long enough for him to find Green or Jermaine Gresham. The Texans should be able to double Green and limit his production, but the Texans linebackers trying to cover Gresham could be an issue. The Texans can make that a moot point with a solid pass rush.
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