2012 NFL Playoffs: Cincinnati Bengals vs. Houston Texans Preview and Pick
Andy Dalton will be experiencing some deja vu come 4:30 on Saturday afternoon, as he travels to Houston to take on the Texans for the second season in a row in the playoffs. Dalton didn’t play up to his potential in last year’s post-season meeting, and there is reason to believe he may not this time around, as well.
However, Dalton isn’t the only one fans need to be concerned about, as Houston’s once elite defense has turned to mush in the passing game over the second half of the season. The Texans are still lead by a loud and proud J.J. Watt and an assembly of quality defenders, but their secondary isn’t as solid as it was last year, and they suddenly don’t look so formidable.
So, with trouble on both sides, who escapes out of the first round? Let’s break down the top keys to the game for both teams:
3 Keys For Bengals to Win
1. Attack Early
Cincinnati can’t be passive in their plight to knock off a team that was for the longest time considered to be the top team in the league in 2012. The Texans have been knocked down a peg or two, but if this game stays close, I don’t see Houston dropping it at home. The Bengals biggest asset will be their explosive passing game and jumping out to an early lead. They can do that if Dalton and stud wide receiver A.J. Green can connect early – especially given the struggles with Houston’s secondary. If they can strike early, it will allow a banged up BenJarvus Green-Ellis to help control the clock in the second half.
2. Contain Arian Foster
Foster is having a bit of a down year when it comes to rushing averages and explosive plays, but he’s still a nightmare to handle, and he always has a nose for the end-zone. The Bengals have a rock solid run defense, but stopping Foster in such a huge game will be no easy task. Objective A is to keep big plays to a minimum, but perhaps the key thing is to keep Foster out of the end-zone. That will either force Houston into field goals, or make Matt Schaub, who is starting his first career playoff game, beat the Bengals with his arm.
3. Get After Schaub
Speaking of Schaub, he’s had some questionable outings over the course of the second half of the year, and we all know Cincy has the ability to make this one even more questionable, as they had a whopping 51 sacks in the regular season. That type of pass-rush normally doesn’t just go away when the playoffs roll around. Schaub isn’t the most mobile guy, either, so getting after him early and making his first playoff game a unpleasant experience will be key. Just imagine what will happen if the Bengals both contain Foster and shake Schaub up early on in this one.
3 Keys For Texans to Win
1. Run the Ball
Cincinnati is not an ideal matchup, but Houston is at home and if they hadn’t slipped up, would really be the #1 team in football right now, if not for sure the AFC. While that’s clearly not the case, they can still pound the rock with the best of them and will have their home crowd backing them. The Bengals will work just as hard to stop them as Houston will to drive it down their throat, but effectively moving the chains with Arian Foster and probably a little bit of Ben Tate is crucial to Houston’s success in the first round.
2. Protect Matt Schaub
This is Schaub’s first career playoff outing, and given the fact that Cincy has one of the most balanced defenses in the league, there’s a pretty good chance Schaub will have to have a good game for the Texans to win. He’ll feel the heat all game, but it comes down to limiting the hits and sacks. He can still complete passes under pressure, but Houston needs to make sure the Bengals just don’t get their paws on him too often. If he gets rattled early, it could easily be Houston’s undoing.
3. Get in Dalton’s Head
On the flip-side, a great way to protect their own offense is for Houston’s defense to come out as mean and nasty as they’ve ever been. J.J. Watt can swat balls and help stuff the run, but it’s safe to say his biggest impact could likely be getting inside the head of Andy Dalton. He can do so in a variety of ways, but simply knocking him around and establishing contact early would be a great start. The likes of Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed should get in the mix here, too, as Houston is tied for 5th in the league in sacks, and is never short on pressure. Dalton was pressured and reacted poorly the last time they faced off in the playoffs, so there’s a good chance that equation has the same solution, once again.
A lot of people are thinking a Bengals upset here for two reasons. First, because Houston hasn’t been great in the second half of the season, and secondly because Cincy actually matches up with them pretty well on both sides of the ball. Both true statements, but if teams can at all turn it on to a whole new level when post-season play comes around, I think the Texans can and will do just that. They know the opponent, they’re at home, and they’re the more talented team. They’ve had some struggles this year, but for me, it’s not enough to have them fall out of the playoffs just yet.
My Pick: Texans 34, Bengals 24