ReFo: Bengals @ Texans, AFC Wild Card
It was meant to be different. A year ago the Cincinnati Bengals were young and not ready for the hostile environment Reliant Stadium provided. This year, with their franchise quarterback further along in his development, their defense suffocating the opposition, and with the Houston Texans limping into the playoffs, was going to be their year.
Only, it wasn’t to be.
They struggled to get the Texans off the field, while their young playmakers on offense failed to connect when it mattered most. That was brought about by Houston getting back to doing what they do well — run the ball and put the quarterback under pressure.
Cincinnati – Three Performances of Note
It’s flown surprisingly under the radar, but Andy Dalton (-1.9) hadn’t had the kind of season to scare many opposition defenses. Reliant more on his receivers making plays and a stellar pass blocking offensive line, the sophomore quarterback brought his problems into this game and left you with no doubt as to what they are.
He doesn’t know what to do when pressure gets in his face.
The Bengals hid this well during the regular season. He faced pressure on only 25.7% of plays — fourth-lowest of 38 qualifying quarterbacks — within an offense that saw him get rid of the ball in 2.5 seconds or under on 60.8% of drop-backs (only Matt Hasselbeck and Chad Henne had a higher percentage). Yet in the playoffs you can’t hide flaws so easily, and with the Texans aggressive defense came pressure on 40% of drop-backs.
He did not respond well.
Here he took two sacks, scrambled twice and completed only 3 of 10 attempts for 11 yards. Or 1.1 yards per attempt. There are more questions than answers with Dalton at this stage of his career, as his second postseason game highlighted.
Living up to the Billing – Part 1
A simple look at the box score might lead you to think Geno Atkins (+5.4) had a poor game — after all, one tackle and two assists are hardly what you expect from a guy we said was first runner-up in our Defensive Player of the Year.
However, as the grade would suggest, you’d be wrong.
Being his usual handful for interior linemen, Atkins walked away from the game with four hurries and a hit that was nullified by a penalty elsewhere. Atkins should be known for his bull rush that has defenders going back on skates and it was in full force with 10:17 to go in the second quarter when he got Brandon Brooks moving in a way he didn’t anticipate, before ending up in the face of Matt Schaub. In the run game he made plenty of plays; there was the tackle and assist for a short gain but it was his penetration to force cutbacks that earned the majority of positive marks from us, even if the stat sheet will ignore those plays.
A fine end to a fine season from the best defensive tackle in football.
The Man in the Middle
Of all the middle linebackers we’ve graded this year none has come out as poorly as Rey Maualuga (-3.4). He walked away from the regular season with the lowest grade of all inside linebackers, chiefly because of his problems in coverage.
So, with this being the playoffs he had a chance to show the world that we were wrong about him. Instead, he simply reinforced what we’ve been saying all year. In coverage he gave up three first downs on five balls thrown into his coverage, with a drop also saving him once, while he also missed a tackle on another. In the run game he made a nice play with 4:36 to go in the first quarter, beating James Casey to his inside for a tackle for a short gain, but outside of that did very little. We all saw how Wade Smith handled him on the touchdown run, but on the play before that it was Ben Jones who simply diverted him away. Indicative of the problems he continues to have at the second level.
Houston – Three Performances of Note
Secondary Steps Up
Faced with a tricky task of going one-on-one with A.J. Green, this game was always going to give us the chance to see what Johnathan Joseph (+1.0) was made of. Sure, he got beat deep a couple of times (with an overthrow by Andy Dalton saving him on one occasion) and he missed a tackle that led to a first down, but against a receiver like Green walking away giving up five of nine for 80 yards (with 45 of that coming on one play) isn’t too shabby.
Still, while that was the main event battle, it was in the less publicized battles that Houston dominated. Glover Quin (+2.2) was tasked with the role of ensuring Jermaine Gresham didn’t have any joy in this one, and he won that battle convincingly. Five times Gresham was thrown to in the coverage of Quin, with just one reception for 13 yards to show for it. Quin himself had two pass deflections, while the secondary combined for six in a display that they’ll need to replicate next week.
In Schaub do you Trust?
Playing this kind of football is good enough to beat a lot of teams, as was the case against the Bengals. However, with a New England offensive juggernaut hosting you, you need to be able to keep up with their high powered offense.
With Matt Schaub (-0.3) at the controls, do you think that’s possible?
The Texans’ quarterback looked tentative at best and was rarely prepared to challenge the Bengals’ secondary with anything meaningful. Only three times did he throw the ball over 10 yards in the air, and never did he go deep (over 20 yards). Instead, he largely relied on his receivers, backs and tight ends to do most of the work, with 49.6% of his yards coming after the catch.
That’s without mentioning the horrible pick-six he threw with 9:38 to go in the second quarter that brought the Bengals back to life in a game that appeared to be heading out of their reach quickly. His form down the stretch (that’s now three negatively graded games in a row) is a massive concern.
Living up to the Billing – Part 2
Just another day for the supreme talent that is J.J. Watt (+6.6), and the scary thing is that but for a pair of missed tackles on Andy Dalton, it could have been even better. As it is he walked away with a sack, a hit, four hurries and two batted passes in the passing game, along with a tackle for a loss and three other defensive stops in the run game. He was, as ever, dominant with his blend of speed and power being too much for whichever Bengals linemen drew the short straw to face him on a particular play. A performance fitting for a player crowned the PFF Defensive Player of the Year.
— Jermaine Gresham caught just two of seven balls thrown his way, with two drops, in a reminder that while he’s talented, he still makes enough mistakes to be our lowest ranked tight end on the year.
— Duane Brown was the only offensive linemen in this game not to give up a single sack, hit or hurry.
— The Texans missed twice as many (eight) tackles as the Bengals.
PFF Game Ball
It’s hard to look past J.J. Watt, who disrupted the running game and caused any number of problems for Andy Dalton.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled