A matchup of two rookie quarterbacks in the NFL playoffs is rare. In the Bengals vs. Texans, rookies Andy Dalton and T.J. Yates will face off. That individual matchup will determine who advances to the next round.
Both quarterbacks are very similar in a lot of ways, especially when it comes to the NFL situations that they each were drafted into.
Andy Dalton was drafted at the beginning of the second round by the Cincinnati Bengals. Despite having a veteran quarterback in place, Dalton was thrust into the starting position when Carson Palmer demanded a trade.
Dalton has responded to the pressure by leading his team to a 9-7 record and a wild-card playoff berth. He’s done so with the help of a strong running game with Cedric Benson (1,067 yards) and a stingy, underrated defense (top 10 in passing and rushing yards given up).
He also has big-time receiving targets in guys like fellow rookie A.J. Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham. It has been an ideal situation for a rookie quarterback, which is surprising when you consider that the Bengals went 4-12 last season.
T.J. Yates was the eighth quarterback taken in last season’s draft (fifth round, pick 152). He was considered the third-string quarterback behind Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart.
On Nov. 27, Yates came into his first ever NFL game after Leinart, filling in for the injured Schaub, went down with a collarbone injury. The next week, Yates became the first former North Carolina Tarheel quarterback to start an NFL game.
In his second start, he threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Texans over Dalton and the Bengals for their 10th win of the season. Somewhat like Dalton, Yates was thrust into the spotlight after the starter (and backup) could not play.
Yates also benefits from a strong rushing attack as the Texans have one of the best running backs in the league in Arian Foster (1,224 yards). He also has an All-Pro receiver in Andre Johnson. The Texans’ defense is no slouch either and, led by new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, is ranked in the top five in the league in both rushing and passing yards given up.
Each of these rookie quarterbacks has a very good team around him. But each must do very different things for his team to win.
What Dalton Must Do
In order for the Bengals to win this game, they need Dalton to make plays. The Texans will take away the running game that Dalton has come to rely on, so he’ll need to be able to make the plays that will win the game.
That means big plays. The Texans will rush him and try to put pressure on him. He must be able to beat the blitz and get it out to Green, Gresham or another of his talented wide outs. Dalton has struggled against talented defenses this season, losing to San Francisco, Pittsburgh (twice), Houston, and Baltimore (twice).
He must play better than he did against those teams. His team will need 250 passing yards from him in this game. He did that just once against the teams listed above.
What Yates Must Do
Yates must continue to do exactly what the Texans have been asking him to do all along: limit your mistakes and rely on the ground attack. Arian Foster and Ben Tate might be the best running back duo in the league, combining for over 2,100 yards. Yates must simply manage the game behind that duo.
However, much like the Houston defense, Cincinnati’s defense will also be looking to take away the ground game. It will be much tougher for them since the Texans have two very good runner, but it still may cause Yates problems.
If Foster and Tate do struggle to carry the load, Yates must be ready to make key throws on long downs. He must get the ball to Johnson, who is one of the best all-around wide receivers in the league. If he can get him the ball, it will save the offense on those long downs.
Who will win?
This game goes to the Texans. Yates has less experience than Dalton, but his team will ask him to do less. Yates will be able to lean heavily on the running attack. The Bengals will have some success at times at stopping Foster and Tate, but Yates will make the right throws at the right times.
Meanwhile, the Texans will stop Benson, who is not as good as either of the Texans’ backs (3.9 yards per carry, significantly less than either Foster or Tate). As a result, Dalton will be asked to win the game for the Bengals. The rookie will feel the pressure and force throws that he normally wouldn’t.
Dalton throws a couple touchdowns but also a couple picks. Yates throws no picks and possible a touchdown. Benson averages less than three yards per carry. Foster and Tate combine for 150 yards rushing.
Texans 24, Bengals 17