Sunday, December 30, 2012
Quick Take: Bengals at Texans
By Jamison Hensley
Five things to know about next weekend's Cincinnati Bengals-Houston Texans wild-card game at Reliant Stadium:
1. Another streak to end. The Bengals, who earned back-to-back playoff berths for the first time since 1981-82, can stop another dubious streak. Cincinnati hasn't won a playoff game since Jan. 6, 1991. It was so long ago that the Bengals beat Houston when the city had the Oilers. The 21 seasons without a postseason victory is the longest current drought in the NFL. The Bengals have been to the playoffs three times since then and have been bounced in their first postseason game, including last season's 31-10 loss at Houston. Cincinnati is hoping the rematch will be different this time around considering where the teams have been headed. The Texans (12-4) have lost three of their last four games, and the Bengals (10-6) have won seven of their past eight.
2. Andy Dalton has to limit turnovers. The play that stands out from last season's playoff loss in Houston was Dalton's pass getting picked off at the line of scrimmage by J.J. Watt, who returned it for a touchdown just before halftime. That trend continued this season for Dalton, who has had four interceptions returned for touchdowns. Dalton turned the ball over 20 times in the first 15 games this season and nearly had a fumble Sunday (it was overturned on replay) in one half of work. The Texans have 29 takeaways this season, which ranks among the best in the AFC. Nine players on the Texans have intercepted passes this season. The pressure will really be on Dalton if running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis' injury is significant. His hamstring tightened in pregame warmups, which forced him to sit out the regular-season finale.
3. Sizzling defense against fizzling offense. There is not a defense in the league playing better than that of the Bengals. The Cincinnati defense has scored touchdowns the past three weeks, including returning two interceptions for scores. The Bengals have held opponents to 12.8 points over the past eight games. The Texans, meanwhile, have gone cold offensively. Houston has scored one touchdown in its last 10 quarters.
4. Applying the pressure. A big key will be how much pressure the Bengals' front four can apply on quarterback Matt Schaub. Led by defensive tackle Geno Atkins (12.5 sacks) and defensive end Michael Johnson (11.5 sacks), the Bengals set a team record with 51 sacks this season. Schaub has only been sacked 27 times this season, but 10 have come in the past three games.
5. Going deep. Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green has become one of the top deep threats in the NFL. Look for Cincinnati to take advantage of a Houston secondary that has been reeling recently. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Texans have allowed opponents to complete 60 percent of passes that go 30 yards or more downfield. That includes six touchdowns over their last seven games, which is the most in the league since Week 11.