Entering wildcard weekend, fans of the Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans will undoubtedly be focused on the performances of their team’s respective biggest stars on this, the biggest stage of all in football. For the Bengals that means Geno Atkins, AJ Green, Andy Dalton and Leon Hall will be under the microscope, while Arian Foster, Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, JJ Watt and Johnathan Joseph will face the bulk of the Texans’ scrutiny. Even though it is often thought that stars determine winners in the playoffs, this is a time when the team effort becomes more important than anything.
Of the players listed above, both Foster and Green must carry huge responsibilities for their offense. However, while Foster is the Texans’ primary ball-carrier, they do understand that Ben Tate has proven in the past to not only be a gamechanging back, but also capable of carrying the load. Green doesn’t really have that option to fall back on. At different times in their respective careers, Jermaine Gresham and Andrew Hawkins have come up big. Neither Gresham or Hawkins have proven to be consistent and neither would be seen as major threats to the Texans’ secondary.
Because the Texans will likely roll coverage to Green from snap-to-snap, the Bengals’ other receivers should get favorable matchups. That also puts the pressure on those receivers along with Dalton. Because Gresham and Hawkins can blow either hot or cold on any given day, Jay Gruden may instead look towards a receiver who has recently established himself as a starter. It may seem obvious to say that Gruden will look to his second starting receiver when the other is covered, but rookie Marvin Jones hasn’t got a wealth of experience in the NFL, never mind in the playoffs. Less aggressive offensive coordinators would consider shying away from the youngster in favor of the proven commodities that the Bengals have elsewhere.
Jones saw the field as a receiver in just eight games this year. He was targeted 31 times during those games and caught 18 passes with just two drops and one touchdown. Over the past two weeks of the season however, Jones came up big with 10 receptions combined. Five of those may have came against the Baltimore Ravens‘ understrength outfit in Week 17, but the rest came against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a crucial away encounter. Jones’ 10 receptions went for 110 yards and a touchdown, with four missed tackles forced on the way.
His season long reception may just be 23 yards, but he appears on the verge of breaking free on any given play. Even though the Texans will likely send coverage Green’s way, Jones will still have a tough matchup to beat in the form of Kareem Jackson. Jackson is a tough cornerback who has played well this season and will have the physical tools to stick to Jones. He won’t simply be blown away by Jones’ speed or ability to muscle his way to the football. At this time of the year, those players who simply rely on their physical abilities will be found out.
Jones needs to show that he is an intelligent technician as well as a physically gifted player in order to make an impact in this game and help the Bengals advance to the next round of the playoffs.