HOUSTON, TX - January 01: Head coach Gary Kubiak of the Houston Texans shakes leaves the locker room before the Houston Texans played against the Tennessee Titans on January 1, 2012 at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas. Titans won 23 to 22. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)
The great thing about this week’s Wild Card round opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals, is that your Houston Texans have played them this season. The rematch factor takes away from a lot of speculative guess work, as both teams can look back to see what they did well and need to adjust.
I thought it would be a good idea to take a look back at that 20-19 AFC South-clinching victory mere days away from one of the biggest football days in Houston history.
Before you jump, I would like to say how much of a treat it is to discuss playoff football with an actual horse in the race. I was encouraged by seeing the reserves play so hard against Tennessee and hope the team brings all of that passion and fight to Saturday's AFC Wild Card match-up. Now let's jump and see what happened last time these two teams met.
What they did right: Trusted T.J. Yates.
The game plan resembled a Texans game plan. Coach Kubiak and Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison truly let rookie quarterback T.J. Yates off the leash in his second start. He threw 44 times for an average of 6.8 yards per attempt, matching his rookie counterpart Andy Dalton. Yates also hit some deep passes down the field as each of the six Texans receivers caught at least one pass longer than 10 yards.
Despite an interception and five allowed sacks, neither Kubiak nor Yates panicked and got conservative. That persistence paid off, as Yates would reward the braintrust's faith in him by delivering a beautiful game-winning drive. The Texans need to remember that and come out willing to throw the ball to loosen up the Cincinnati defense.
What they did wrong: Five sacks allowed.
Yes, part of those sacks are on Yates for holding onto the ball a little too long and not feeling the pocket, but the offensive line has to do a better job of protecting the youngster – especially with his sore left shoulder. Keeping Yates clean will allow him to make the throws and keep the air from deflating out of (what should be) an electric Reliant Stadium crowd (who ought to be the loudest they've ever been).
The Cincinnati front four is aggressive, so watch guard Mike Brisiel’s status this week. Brisiel’s not perfect, but he’s a mauling guard who is better than Antoine Caldwell. Besides, who doesn't want a lineman out there who is tough enough to block on a broken leg?
What they did right: Halftime defensive adjustments.
In the first half, Cincinnati ran the ball 16 times for 84 yards. In the second half, Houston limited them to 17 yards on 13 carries – keeping them from running out the clock. Houston also was able to force a quick turnover in the second half with its lone sack and subsequent strip. The return of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to calling game action cannot be understated. He truly has transformed the defense and makes all the right adjustments on game-day.
What they did wrong: They couldn’t take care of the ball.
Four fumbles, three of them lost, and an interception thrown by Yates led to short fields, lost momentum, and 10 Cincinnati points. Houston was incredibly careless with the football and lost the turnover battle four to two. It would have been a much different game had the offense not shot themselves in the foot so often. If Houston turns the ball over four times on Saturday, it will not end pretty.
What they did right: Win.
Despite an incredibly sloppy performance with four turnovers, five sacks allowed, a missed Neil Rackers field goal, a not-as-good-as-they-have-been pass rush, a struggling Arian Foster, and no Andre Johnson, the Texans won the game. This was one of the worst games we have seen from the Texans all season (I would argue they played worse here than any of their six losses) and they still won.
Regardless of the injuries and mistakes, the 2011 Texans team has shown resolve and doesn’t quit on itself as they have done in years past. If this team comes out and limits their mistakes, as they didn't do before, I imagine Saturday will be historic for all the right reasons.
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