The Cincinnati Bengals face a somewhat daunting task this weekend as they look to avenge last year’s wildcard loss to the Houston Texans, in this year’s wildcard round of the playoffs. Last year the Bengals traveled to face the Texans in the home franchise’s first ever playoff game and were convincingly beaten by 31 points to 10. It is a game that will still leave a bad taste in the mouth of then rookies Andy Dalton and AJ Green. In their post-season debuts, neither player lived up to their own lofty standards. Dalton threw for just 257 yards on 42 attempts with three interceptions and no touchdowns, while Green was limited to just 47 yards on five receptions.
Not a huge amount has changed in the last 12 months.The Bengals are most certainly a better team than they were on that day, but the Texans are unlucky to even be playing in the wildcard round this year having led the AFC seedings for most of the regular season. A last week loss to the Indianapolis Colts was the only thing that prevented the Texans from enjoying a bye this weekend. The Texans have been led by JJ Watt’s phenomenal year this season, but they haven’t been the same since the loss of Brian Cushing and are definitely a lesser unit this year than they were last.
Not only is Cushing missing completely, but the Texans’ secondary has also not performed as expected over the second half of the season. Crucially for Green, cornerback Jonathan Joseph has had a relatively poor season compared to his dominant presence on the field last year. In somewhat of a role reversal, Green is red hot coming into this game. He may have only caught two passes against the Baltimore Ravens last week, but that wasn’t a full game’s worth and he has been one of the most productive receivers in the whole NFL this year.
One week before he had 10 receptions for 116 yards including the big play that set up a game-winning field goal against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Last year Green had four receptions in the final two games and nowhere near the same production on the regular season as a whole. Furthermore, the emergence of Marvin Jones and the improvement in the running game and pass protection should prevent the Texans from flipping coverage his direction.
Dalton on the other hand has a much tougher task ahead of him. Even though Green has a matchup to focus the offense through, Dalton has to handle the Texans’ variety of pass rushing threats. The edge rushers shouldn’t get any change out of Andre Smith or Andrew Whitworth, but handling Watt is something very few teams have done this year. Kevin Zeitler has had an outstanding rookie season, but Clint Boling has struggled somewhat as of late.
As the team’s two guards, they will have to have big days in order to give Dalton time to throw the ball. From that point Dalton will need to engage in a battle of wits with Wade Philips, something he was roundly beaten at last year. The young quarterback hasn’t played that well this year, but he should have all the motivation coming off of last season’s loss as well as a better supporting cast.
Not only will Dalton and Green’s performances go a long way to deciding this match, they will also be personal statements from the two youngsters.