The Texans' motto all season has been trying to go 1-0 each week.
Entering their first-ever postseason appearance on a three-game skid, the philosophy holds truer than ever.
Houston, the No. 3 seed, will host Cincinnati, the No. 6 seed, on Saturday in a rematch from Week 14. Ironically, the Texans clinched their first division title in that game, a 20-19 triumph that saw rookie QB T.J. Yates engineer two 80-yard scoring drives in the final 5:31 to erase a nine-point deficit. Yates registered his only 300-yard passing day in Cincinnati and completed 17-of-28 passes for 171 yards and a pair of scores in the final 30 minutes.
Houston's game against the Titans in Week 17 was merely a formality. Clearly the Texans, who stood to gain nothing by winning, weren't overly concerned with the outcome, a 23-22 loss. Head coach Gary Kubiak had a third-string tight end playing "Sam" linebacker in the fourth quarter and elected to try a two-point conversion — even after a false-start penalty backed the offense up five yards — in the final seconds to avoid overtime. Kubiak deactivated three of his best players — Pro Bowl RB Arian Foster and CB Johnathan Joseph and TE Owen Daniels — and rested most of his starters in the final 30 minutes. No team wants to head into the postseason on a losing streak, but the Texans nearly beat a familiar division opponent that had everything on the line with their reserves.
The few major noteworthy things to come out of Sunday for the Texans were another injury, this time to Yates, who suffered a bruised left (non-throwing) shoulder on the first offensive series and did not return. Kubiak said after the game Yates could have gone back into the game, but he was planning on getting fourth-stringer Jake Delhomme some reps anyway. Delhomme played well, throwing for 211 yards and successfully driving Houston downfield for a touchdown in the final minutes.
And defensive coordinator Wade Phillips returned after missing the previous two games on medical leave. Phillips coached from the press box and the defense played better, all things considered.
The PFW Spin
Even having lost three consecutive games, and heading into unchartered waters, the Texans should be a confident bunch. They knocked off the Bengals once this season, outgaining Cincinnati 412 yards to 285, and likely would have won handily if it were not for two bad turnovers in the first half. The Texans' defense kept Bengals' terrific rookie duo, QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green, largely in check. And Foster, quiet in the first meeting (15-41-0) but with fresh legs thanks to his day off on Sunday, will have an opportunity to erupt against a Cincinnati "D" that could not stop Ravens RB Ray Rice in Week 17. The Bengals did a poor job of tackling and will be in for a long afternoon if Foster and Ben Tate, who looked strong on Sunday after foundering in recent weeks, can find some cutback lanes and get into space. The Texans have struggled offensively of late, but getting All-Pro WR Andre Johnson, who said he felt great in limited snaps on Sunday, should provide a huge boost. Cincinnati also had a hard time containing Houston's tight ends in the first meeting, so expect to see plenty of Daniels (7-100-0 receiving in the first meeting) and Joel Dreessen (3-22-1 receiving) on short routes designed to get the ball out of Yates' hand quickly.
Sure, one would have to give the rookie QB edge to Dalton, who has shown tremendous poise in starting 16 games this season. But Dalton can be over-reliant on Green, and Joseph blanketed the dynamic rookie wideout well in the first meeting. Joseph has been everything the Texans hoped for and more this season and one can bet he will up for this challenge against his former team. As it has been all season, the other cornerback spot will be the bigger concern. Kareem Jackson and Jason Allen can't allow the dangerous Jerome Simpson to get behind them, as he did against Allen for a 17-yard score in the first meeting.
The Houston "D" sacked Dalton only once in Week 14, but it made the rookie uncomfortable and Phillips undoubtedly will have some tricks up his sleeve to throw at the rookie. As they have been all season, the Texans will depend on LBs Brian Cushing and Connor Barwin to bring the heat, with DEs Antonio Smith and J.J. Watt using their physicality and relentlessness to keep rugged Bengals RB Cedric Benson contained.
In a postseason matchup between still-green QBs, it stands to reason that whichever team runs the ball better and makes less mistakes will be the one that remains standing. With the league's No. 2 ranked rushing attack (Cincinnati ranks 19th) and a plus-7 turnover/takeaway margin (Cincinnati is even), Houston would seem to hold the upper hand.