The Cincinnati Bengals achieved their goal of making the 2012 playoffs during the regular season, but now the tough work really starts as they face off against the Houston Texans in a rematch of last year’s wildcard match. The Bengals won seven of their last eight games on the season, losing just once to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 14 and enjoying victories over both division rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. Despite their strong second half of the season, the Bengals can’t rely on that form as they travel to face the Texans.
For much of this season, the Texans carried the top seed in the AFC, only losing out because of a Week 17 defeat to Andrew Luck‘s Indianapolis Colts. With that loss, Denver Broncos and New England Patriots victories, the Texans went from a first round bye to entertaining the Bengals. The two sides didn’t face off during the regular season, so the only memories of each other will be those lasting from last year’s comprehensive 31-10 victory for the Texas team. In that game the Texans dominated on both sides of the football, which is something they obviously can’t allow to happen again.
While the offense will focus on AJ Green and Andy Dalton, as it has all season long, the defense will put even more pressure on the abilities of Geno Atkins at defensive end. Atkins had a defensive player of the year caliber regular season and needs to carry that form into this weekend. Lining up on the interior of the defensive line, Atkins still managed 53 tackles, four forced fumbles and 12.5 sacks in 16 starts this year. Atkins repeatedly dominated opposing guards registering at least .5 of a sack in 10 games. While he is a dominant force as a pass rusher, it won’t be Atkins’ ability to get to the quarterback that makes the difference against the Texans.
The Texans are very much a run-reliant offense and proved capable of taking over the last meeting between the two sides when Ben Tate and Arian Foster combined for 190 yards on 33 carries. That can’t happen again if the Bengals are to win this game. The Texans aren’t a team that can spread the field and pick you apart, while the Bengals have all of the secondary talent and depth to counter any attempts that they make to do that regardless. Instead, the Bengals must concentrate on stopping Foster behind an outstanding group of offensive linemen.
With the zone blocking scheme that the Texans rely on, the Bengals whole defense must rush to the runner but keep gap integrity as they do so. Should the linebackers and secondary do that effectively, then the Bengals will need their defensive ends to set the edges as the defensive tackles gain penetration to disrupt the rushing attack and redirect the runners. While the Bengals have a very talented group of defensive linemen both inside and outside, Atkins is the leader and clearly the most consistently disruptive player on the field at all times.
His ability to shed blockers and read the running back or track him down from behind will be vital if the Bengals are to even be competitive in their second wildcard appearance in successive seasons.