Bengals vs. Texans: Houston's Biggest Winners and Losers from Wild Card Round
Riding a dominant defensive performance, Houston shook off the rust from previous weeks and held on for a much-needed bounce-back win.
The offense was far from perfect, but it was good enough to out-duel a Cincinnati offense that found itself under duress all game.
For a second straight season, the Texans have knocked off the Bengals at home in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. The team will go on the road next week to face the No. 2 seeded New England Patriots.
Before looking ahead to next week, continue reading to see the biggest winners and losers from today's win over the Bengals.
Winner: Arian Foster
With Houston's passing offense struggling to find a rhythm lately, Arian Foster has been relied on by the team now more than ever in his career.
Houston's Pro Bowl running back delivered in a big way Saturday, rushing for 140 yards on 32 carries and eight receptions for 34 yards. Foster's 40 touches on offense show just how much the Texans depend on their featured back.
Gary Kubiak and his offensive staff use their featured back more than any other team in the NFL. If the workload has worn on him, it isn't showing on the field. Houston's No. 1 back gashed the Bengals on Saturday, both on the ground and in the passing game.
Foster's touchdown run on the goal line in the second half was a breath of fresh air after the Texans hadn't scored a touchdown since the third quarter of Week 17.
Fans can bet the Texans will continue to run their offense through their star back going forward.
Loser: Matt Schaub
Matt Schaub's performance in this game likely won't silence critics going forward.
The Texans' passing offense has been in a funk for weeks now. Given that Schaub and the offense have had plenty of monster days through the air this year, it's hard to explain why it's hit the skids recently.
The pick-six Schaub threw in the second quarter erased an entire half of good defense. It could have been more devastating if the defense hadn't continued its great play for the rest of the game. At the time, it put the Texans down 7-6 when the team could've just as easily been up two touchdowns.
Though 29 completions for 262 yards isn't terrible, it was the crucial downs where Schaub had issues against the Bengals. Third downs and red-zone situations continue to give Houston's signal-caller problems.
On one red-zone play, Andre Johnson was in man-to-man coverage with no safety help and had the corner beat. Instead of giving Andre a chance to catch a fade in the back of the end zone, Schaub took the underneath completion and failed to convert the third down. Houston kicked yet another field goal in the red zone and kept Cincinnati in the game.
Schaub can get away with failed red-zone conversions against the Bengals at home, but that won't fly against the New England Patriots next week. Taking more chances in the red zone and finding a way to convert the trips into touchdowns will be key to having a chance in New England.
Winner: J.J. Watt
J.J. Watt continued to be a thorn in the side of the Cincinnati Bengals with another stellar performance.
With a sack and two passes defended, Houston's star defensive lineman made life miserable for Andy Dalton. He helped pace a dominant defensive effort this team desperately needed.
Watt is one of the league's most exciting players to watch every down. It's rare for a player to win one-on-one matchups as often as Watt does, as he continues to be one of the league's biggest nightmares for offensive coordinators.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips moves Watt all over Houston's front seven. It's a chess match worth watching every week, as offenses haven't come up with a way to stop him.
Houston's defense earned the nickname Bulls on Parade last year. This year's unit is the J.J. Watt show.
Loser: Andre Johnson
The matchup of Andre Johnson against Cincinnati's cornerbacks appeared to be a giant mismatch in favor of Houston before the game. It didn't play out that way.
For some NFL receivers, four catches for 62 yards isn't a bad day. However, much more is expected from Houston's No. 1 receiver, especially when the opponent lacks a shutdown corner.
There were times throughout the game when Johnson was well-covered deep down the field, and it forced Schaub to resort to check downs. The Texans will need Andre to bust coverages with more regularity than he did against the Bengals.
Granted, Schaub didn't have a great game, but it seemed like this would be another day where Andre would go for his standard 100-plus yards. He still had a presence on the offense, but the team will need more from him in big games like this going forward.
Winner: The Defensive Backs
Cincinnati's passing offense had no chance against the Texans, and a big part of that was due to the play of Houston's defensive backs.
Johnathan Joseph had the toughest task, having to face Cincinnati's star receiver, A.J. Green. Though Green found some openings in the second half, he was held without a catch in the first. Overall, holding Green under 100 yards was key for the Texans.
The best defensive back for Houston on Saturday was Kareem Jackson. He had a vital pass break-up that appeared to be an interception initially, but was ruled an incompletion. Houston's safety Shiloh Keo had been beat over the top on the play. Jackson stayed with the receiver deep and made the critical pass break-up.
Glover Quin continued to be a major factor on third down throughout the game as well. Like Watt, Quin is moved all over the defense and it keeps offenses guessing. He also chipped in with a few pass break-ups.
The Texans' secondary was burned by the Colts in a big way last week, so it was good to see this group recover with a solid performance against the Bengals.
Loser: First-Half Offense
There's no way around it: The Texans will lose next week if their offense struggles in the first half like it did today.
Luckily for Houston, the defense kept the team in the game at all times and allowed the offense to build a lead with field goals.
Going an entire half without scoring a touchdown is inexcusable considering the weapons the Texans have on offense. Whether it's the play-calling or player execution, this needs to be addressed immediately.
The Texans will again find themselves down three touchdowns by halftime against the Patriots next week if they putter along slowly to open the game. Schaub and this offense have been around together for too long and been through too many battles to look as unprepared as they do to open games.
The key is touchdowns. A ton of yards with only field goals to speak of isn't good enough. Houston should feel fortunate it got away with another poor offensive start to a game.
Winner: Pass Defense
The key to Houston's dominant defensive performance and (ultimately) winning the game was the pass defense.
Andy Dalton and the Bengals never looked so pathetic all year as a passing offense. Cincinnati had negative six(!) passing yards in the first half. Cincy's signal-caller finished the game with a 44.7 passer rating.
Houston was in nickel defense for seemingly most of the day, and Cincinnati rarely had an answer for this package. The Bengals had some success running at the Texans' nickel defense, but when they had to drop back and pass, Dalton was smothered.
Quarterbacks have been looking more and more comfortable against Houston's defense in recent games. It had to have been reassuring for fans to see that this unit can still whoop up on a good passing attack.
Some may have doubted if they could ever get back to their Bulls on Parade ways, but the Texans did just that against the Bengals.
Loser: Team Discipline
The bizarre trend of the Texans committing a ridiculous amount of foolish penalties continued this week.
Seven penalties are unacceptable for a team that won 12 games. The offense, defense and special teams are all contributing to the problem. There doesn't seem to be any explanation for why it's happening, but it could end up costing Houston a win down the line.
Both young and veteran players were guilty of joining the penalty party this week. Danieal Manning's fourth-quarter penalty was almost a back-breaker, as it kept the Bengals' offense on the field down just six points after the Texans had seemingly forced a three-and-out.
Needless to say, if Houston doesn't fix its penalty problem for next week's game in New England, the team won't have a chance.