Everyone knows that T.J. Yates is a rookie quarterback and that Arian Foster is going to have to carry the load. Everyone knows that Johnathan Joseph has to match up with A.J. Green and that Connor Barwin has to pressure Andy Dalton. Those are all pretty well-established storylines, but what about the players that make that happen?
The Texans' first ever playoff game should be a run-oriented game, and for the Texans to run the ball effectively two of the most important players will be "Money" Mike Brisiel and Eric Winston. Brisiel is coming back from a broken leg in the last game the Texans played against the Bengals. His recovery time is almost unthinkable except for the fact that Daniel Manning did almost the exact same thing earlier in the season and has been fine.
Winston began the season as a sure-fire Pro Bowl tackle, but in the past several weeks he has taken a step backwards. Winston needs to step his game up and play at the elite level he is capable of in order to ensure the running game is something that the Texans can lean on.
If both Brisiel and Winston have plus games the Texans should be able to move the ball on the ground and keep the defense rested, both of which are essential to the Texans winning their first playoff game.
The third key comes on the defensive line in the most unlikely of people. When the Texans drafted 11th overall in the draft last year and selected J.J. Watt, no one thought he would be a key to the team winning a playoff game, but he absolutely is.
Watt has been a sensational rookie pick. He disrupts the pocket, puts pressure on the quarterback, is athletic, long, smart and, perhaps most importantly, he plays the run well. Watt, in particular, and the defensive line, in general, will have to do a good job of holding the point of attack and eating up blockers when the Bengals try to run Cedric Benson.
Benson typically has a big run early in the game but struggles after that. Regardless of the reason, with the Texans offense struggling the defense can't afford to give up a 40-yard touchdown run to Benson—and especially not early on.
If Watt, Winston and Brisiel can control the line of scrimmage the Texans can win this game. It will be tight and the battles will be physical, but in the end if the Texans come out with a victory it will be the single best sports day in Houston history since the Astros made the World Series in 2005.