+INTRO: When you look at the Houston Texans on paper, they look good. Really good. #2 rushing attack in the NFL, #2 defense in the NFL. If you go by season metrics, if looks like the Houston Texans should smash the Cincinnati Bengals. They are at home, Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, Wade Phillips, blah blah blah…
My question is, how have they lost the last 3 games? This team was 10-3 only a few short weeks ago. Matt Schaub went down when they were 7-3, and then TJ Yates led this Texans team to three straight wins (the last against the Bengals). So why 3 straight losses when they had a shot at securing the #1 seed in the AFC and a first-round bye? Was it TJ Yates falling off? Perhaps the loss of Wade Phillips as he was hospitalized for week 15 and 16? Not having Andre Johnson for week 15 & 16?
+FORGET “THREE STRAIGHT LOSSES”: Let’s discount that week 17 loss right now because it didn’t matter to their playoff seeding, and they didn’t play Arian Foster, Owen Daniels, Jonathan Joseph. Yates could have returned to the game after he hurt his non-throwing shoulder, but the game didn’t matter so they let him sit. Then pick-machine-Delhomme comes in and they are down 22-23 in the final seconds. They go for 2 because they just wanted to end the game (when the PAT could have sent it to overtime) and don’t get the two points. Point is, that game didn’t matter. And all this three straight losses mumbo jumbo must be pissing Texans fans off. Tee hee.
+THE BREAKDOWN: Anyway, let’s take a look at their losses to the Carolina Panthers (13-28) and Indianapolis Colts (16-19). Those teams aren’t very good in the first place, and I’m baffled how these two losses occurred.
Here’s some things I noticed, in no particular order:
- The Houston secondary is very good. It comes from CB Jonathan Joseph and S Danieal Manning, who both cover receivers very well. That means Dalton is going to need time to go through his reads and make smart decisions. Dalton may need to run the ball a few times tomorrow. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gives up on the pass and runs it four or five times tomorrow. The key is to not let sacks occur when the coverage is good (a coverage sack), and Houston seems to get a lot of these.
- RB Arian Foster has gone on a fumble spree recently. He has 5 fumbles in his last 5 games (including one forced by Rey Maualuga in week 14) after not fumbling all year. It’s a big reason that the Texans have fallen off recently, and the Bengals must capitalize.
- The strength of the Texans offense is their running game. They usually run the ball well every down, which sets up a very dangerous play action when they choose to do it. In fact, the play-action seems to be what Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer is most worried about, from a Wednesday interview. All that being said, the Bengals front 7 must contain both Ben Tate and Arian Foster, or the game will take a very different pace. More importantly though, the Bengals linebackers must be aware of the play-action and be able to cover both the tight ends and runningbacks on their short and intermediate routes.
- I know I just said this, but let me say it again. The Texans only run the ball, or do play-action, which is because they want to give TJ Yates easy throws. They don’t trust him to make the reads like Andy Dalton can do. Rarely do the Texans line up in a clear passing formation. That means that if the Bengals can get an early lead and force the Texans to abandon this offense, it could be huge.
- Two top ten defenses against two rookie quaterbacks? If I were a betting man, I’d take the under here… This will be a low-scoring affair.
- Andy Dalton and TJ Yates are the clear X-factors in this game to me. If one has a better day than the other, I can’t see his team losing. Dalton will need to make some good reads, decisions, and throws against a defense as good as this. Though I think he has the advantage over the inexperienced TJ Yates against the Bengals own defense.
- The Texans D-line is almost as good as the Bengals. They have some legit pass-rushers in rookie LB Brooks Reed and DE Connor Barwin. Rookie J.J. Watt is a force in both the run and pass-rush, then LB Brian Cushing and DE Antonio Smith are two other big playmakers. Smith has recorded a lot of QB disruptions this year, though he doesn’t have the sack numbers of Barwin or Reed. The Texans use a lot of stunts to confuse the opponent’s offensive line, similar to how Baltimore and Pittsburgh both use their D-line. The offensive line and Andy Dalton must be ready for intense pressure.
- In the secondary, they are weak at the second CB (Kareem Jackson) and second S (Glover Quin) spots. Jerome Simpson and Jermaine Gresham, yet again, must step up because the defense will focus it’s efforts on double covering AJ Green.
- If the Bengals don’t allow any big plays on defense, they win this game. Easier said than done of course, but I think the Bengals D will shut down Arian Foster like they did last time when they held him to a season low 2.7 yards per carry. If they can shut him and Tate both down and force Yates to air out out, the Bengals have a huge advantage here.
- In the game I’m watching now, the Panthers took a 21-0 lead in the first half by putting together some consistent drives and forcing turnovers on the defensive side. That’s the model for beating the Texans. This game was over in the first half.
- You have to wonder how big it is getting both Andre Johnson and Wade Phillips back for the Bengals game. They were there for the meaningless week 17 game, but Johnson was on the field in limited capacity and Phillips was calling plays form the booth. They have a huge impact on both sides of the ball. When Andre Johnson was on the field, the Texans were 5-1. With Wade Phillips healthy, they were 10-4.
- The Texans do not trust TJ Yates to throw it deep. Every single throw he makes is a short or intermediate pass. They aren’t even tough throws either, his longest completions are when a receiver/tight end is left wide open in the middle of the field for a long catch and run. Yates clearly limit this offense, so everything will hinge on Yates today.
- All that being said, to make Yates perform poorly, they need to pressure him well. Geno Atkins will need to get penetration all day up the middle on both run and pass plays, which he is very good at doing. Carlos Dunlap, who appears to be fully healthy finally, needs to have a good day too, which well benefit the whole line. Michael Johnson, Jonathan Fanene, Robert Geathers, and Frostee Rucker all have better days when Dunlap is wearing out one side on the line. The Bengals had 5 sacks the last time they faced Yates.
- Speaking of the Bengals D-line, they are one of the best in te league at penetrating and getting to the runningback. However, they are one of the worst at wrapping up and bringing him down. That will be huge today in trying to limit the shifty Arian Foster. The Bengals allow 2.0 yards/carry before contact (third best in the league), but 1.9 yards/carry after contact (seventh worst).
- Surprisingly, the Bengals’ Andy Dalton led the league in passes swatted/batted down at 79 total. The Texans defense, on the other hand, also leads the league in passes knocked down with 94 of them, including a whopping 8 when Dalton faced this defense the last time. Defended passes are huge, it’s essentially a loss of a down, not to mention they can kill momentum and a QB’s confidence. Dalton’s shortish stature (6’2″) is certainly a part of it, but he must do a better job of not telegraphing his passes and letting defenders read his eyes.
- The Houston tight ends are as big a part of their offense as anything. Owen Daniels, Joel Dreessen, and James Casey are all on the field often, for both run-blocking and pass-catching. Any one of them can hurt you on a given day, for example Daniels caught 7 passes for 100 yards in week 14, but Casey had 7 catches for 91 yards last week. The Bengals LBs must cover well today. Manny Lawson, Thomas Howard, and Brandon Johnson must play smart football and not get beat by these tight ends on play-action. Similarly, Rey Maualuga must not lose sight of RB Arian Foster coming out of the backfield to catch passes either. Foster is the team’s second-leading receiver with 53 catches for 617 yards.
- Like I touched on earlier, this team is very difficult to throw on. Whether it’s throwing the ball away or running by himself, Dalton needs to be smart with the ball today. Here’s former Bengal Dave Lapham on the Houston passing defense:
- “They’ve got 44 sacks and they’re No. 1 in completion percentage allowed and No. 2 in opponent passer rating. They’re very difficult to throw the ball on.” – Dave Lapham
KEY TO THE GAME:
DON”T LET THE PLAY-ACTION HURT YOU: The whole Houston offene revolved around the big plays created by the play-action. They scare you with Foster repeatedly on some run plays, then try and catch you off-guard with a play-action pass where Yates runs away from the pressure. It’s going to happen repeatedly in this game. I’m looking at the Bengals LBs, safeties, and corners to step up and really be ready for the play-action this week. Don’t leave guys wide open. If you shut down their play-action and keep Arian Foster, the Texans can’t move the ball. Bengals win.
edit: To answer the question I posed earlier, “why have they lost three straight?”, it all comes from TJ Yates. They can’t move the ball with him, and that means the defense stays on the field too long. Yates hurts them on both sides of the ball, hopefully the Bengals can take advantage.