A rookie quarterback is going to the AFC’s Final Four: Much is made of how much of a strain is put on a rookie quarterback in a playoff game. But this game is going to feature two of them in T.J. Yates and Andy Dalton, which means a team led by a first-year signal-caller is going to be playing in the AFC’s divisional round on Jan. 14 or 15. Teams can turn conservative and rely on running games and defenses in the playoffs, even with a veteran quarterback, simply asking him to do no harm. Maybe that’s the script here. But Cincinnati’s gotten a lot out of Dalton this season, and the Texans have insisted they aren’t scaling back for Yates. So perhaps we’ll see one of these guys win a game rather than not lose it.
The Bengals are capable of slowing Houston’s pass rush: The Texans got to Dalton for just one sack in that first meeting. Houston’s super-active defensive front can call on eight different guys who have recorded a sack this season. The group swarms from all different angles and doesn’t worry much about what the other team is doing so long as it’s executing the game plan of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. In seven games this season, the Texans dragged the quarterback down at least three times. Cincinnati’s got a big offensive line, keyed around left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Phillips’ plan and the Texans' execution both need to be better. It doesn’t have to produce sacks, just discomfort and a mistake or two from Dalton. Houston bats down a lot of balls, that can be a factor, too.
Yates had his best game against this defense: When the Texans beat the Benglas 20-19 at Paul Brown Stadium on Dec. 11 and clinched the AFC South, Yates was starting just his second game. He led two 80-yard scoring drives in the fourth quarter, and tossed the game-winning touchdown pass to Kevin Walter with 2 second left. He threw for a season-best 300 yards even without receiver Andre Johnson playing. But he was sacked three times and threw an interception, and the Bengals will surely look back and feel like they had a recipe for making him uncomfortable. If they can find it and replicate it minus the bad ending, they are certainly capable of springing an upset at Reliant Stadium. The odds are low of the Bengals winning if they allow the Texans to convert 56 percent on third down like they did in the first matchup.