This year marks a turning point for this Cincinnati franchise. These Bengals now have a good amount of NFL experience and they have been in this situation before. They have hung tough this season and won some big games that they would have lost last year.
The driving force behind the Bengals' stunning 7-1 finish to the regular season has been their very stout defense.
Cincinnati’s defense finished the season allowing 20 points per game and 319.7 yards per game—ranking them eighth and sixth in those categories respectively.
The defense will once again be the key for Cincinnati to obtain its first playoff win since 1991.
When you break down what the Texans do so well and how they have been able to bury opponents this season, there is a simple conclusion. Houston rides its multi-talented running back, Arian Foster, which allows the team to manage the clock and get an early lead on opponents.
The four losses that Houston has suffered this season all come with similar stat lines for Foster, quarterback Matt Schaub and the team’s turnovers.
Houston’s first loss came in Week 6 against Green Bay. The Packers got an early lead (21-10 at halftime), which essentially killed the Texans' game plan. Foster finished with 17 carries for 29 yards and two scores. Schaub threw the ball 33 times, completing 20 passes for 232 yards and no touchdowns. Houston turned the ball over three times in that game.
The Packers' 42-24 victory laid a blueprint for the rest of the NFL on how to beat the Texans. However, no one seemed to pick up on that until late in the season.
In the final four weeks of the regular season, Houston lost three games. In those three games, Foster rushed for a total of 157 yards with two touchdowns. Schaub threw for an average of 228.3 yards per game with zero touchdowns. In each game, the Texans trailed at halftime by an average of 13 points. Those numbers are eerily similar to those of the Packers game.
Henceforth, the tools that are needed to beat the Texans are as follows: A stout rushing defense, the ability of an offense to sustain a drive and take time off the game clock and a secondary that will not allow big plays to the opposing quarterback.
Cincinnati currently possesses all of the aforementioned tools with a pass defense ranked seventh (212.5 yards per game) in the league and a rush defense ranked 12th (107.2 yards per game).
Along with the run-heavy West coast offense that the Bengals currently run which utilizes short, high-percentage plays to sustain long drives, the Bengals have the exact criteria to deliver another Houston loss.
Keep in mind that the Bengals were the only team to not allow an opponent to score an opening drive touchdown this season. If Cincinnati's offense can get off to a fast start, the Texans could find themselves in trouble early.
With the blueprint available to the Bengals and the tools at their disposal, there is a very good possibility that this playoff game will not at all resemble the blowout we witnessed last season.