HOUSTON — A few thoughts heading into Saturday’s Wild Card Game (4:30 p.m.-Cincinnati’s Channel 5) in Houston:
No doubt about it. This is Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton’s show.
Starting from when the Bengals knew they were in the playoffs coming off the Paul Brown Stadium field last Sunday with a game in Dalton’s hometown. Then the Wednesday practice he missed with a 24-hour bug. The scene Friday night in the hotel lobby with his family before he went into meetings.
(They were all business this week. Dalton put the word out. No media interviews for his family, which, really, was smart because they would have been swamped. They know what a big game means. Both Dalton and dad Greg quarterbacked high school playoff wins in the Astrodome.)
All the while he has shown that signature unflappability and, why not? This is his fourth game in Reliant Stadium, going back to when he became the first high-schooler to throw a touchdown pass in the place as a junior for Katy High School head coach Gary Joseph.
“Very poised. He executed as a junior but the real pressure was when he was a senior,” Joseph said earlier this week. “That’s when you have to really perform, when you’re a senior and you’re one of the leaders.”
Dalton executed in both seasons and raised his record to 3-0 in Reliant when he led Texas Christian to a win in the Texas Bowl over Houston.
With indications that Texans coach Gary Kubiak is going to keep the roof closed to emphasize the homefield advantage, this one is going to be a lot tougher with the noise factor and a defense that held Dalton to a second-half field goal the last time the Bengals and Texans met.
“There’s a lot of excitement around here; tickets are scarce,” Joseph said. “People are excited about Andy. They want to see him do well. He’s kept in touch and been around our guys before the season.”
The week after the Bengals took him in the second round Dalton went to the school and threw to receivers as well as talked to the team. The Bengals expect that cool kid next door to show up Saturday.
“I have all the confidence in Andy. Andy is a real composed guy, he (doesn’t) get rattled by too much. He loves to win and he likes the pressure. So that’s a good thing. I think Andy will hold up real good,” said cornerback Adam Jones. “I’ve been playing with him for 17, 18 weeks, and I was here with him the whole summer. Just being around the guy. I talk to him, and the way he carries himself, he’s a winner. He’s not a flashy guy, but he loves to play football.”
Or as left tackle Andrew Whitworth observed, “Pressure isn’t really an issue for him. The greatest competitors are the ones that want to win. They want the heat. Pressure is a good thing. It only drives them to be better. I think Andy is one of those guys.”
WALKING THE LINE: Dalton is walking the line here. Since throwing three interceptions against the Ravens Nov. 20, he’s thrown just one interception in the last six games. He’s taken to heart in the stretch run to make sure he doesn’t lose a game.
But there’s also the growing sense after these slew of close games that he may have to start taking more chances. Under most circumstances the quarterbacks that win in the playoffs take shots. Dalton has taken shots, but in those six games his yards per attempt is just 6.3 yards per game and that’s not going to win a road playoff game. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has been talking about how there are times he’s wished Dalton has tried some throws when he’s taken a checkdown instead. But he also appreciates Dalton trying to avoid the big mistake.
Walking the line.
The health of Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green is related. Since he sprained his shoulder against St. Louis 10 quarters ago, Green has caught six balls with the longest of them just 18 yards. He told ESPN Friday night his range of catching the ball has been limited since the injury, but he also has been saying for the last couple of week it feels better than when it first happened.
Texans safety Danieal Manning told ESPN that his defense was surprised when it went back and looked at film of last month’s game. He said they were surprised at how many wrong reads Dalton made and the indications were that the Texans were going to try and confuse him.
Dalton was certainly lucid in the first half while running back Cedric Benson was running for 92 yards. He completed nine of 17 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown for a 93.3 passer rating.
The TD came in the red zone on a 17-yard laser to wide receiver Jerome Simpson, where Dalton has really avoided the big mistakes. Inside the 20 he’s got 15 touchdowns and no interceptions. But the Bengals are 26th in the league scoring red-zone TDs.
Walking the line.
Ironically, it was the red-zone work that Dalton missed on Wednesday. But given that the Bengals already have a game plan against the Texans from 27 days ago and the work he put in the other five days of the week, they don’t expect a problem.
YET ANOTHER MATCHUP: The Bengals haven’t been able to stop Texans tight end Owen Daniels in their two games against Houston. He had two TDs in ’09 and 100 yards last month and Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham says Bengals outside linebackers like Thomas Howard are going to have to be on their game. Safety Taylor Mays played well against Daniels in the second half last month but he’s probably not going to play with a hamstring injury.
Lapham noticed the Bengals played a lot of man under, which means there was man-to-man coverage under the zone and wonders if defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is going to change it up on them.
BIG PLAYS: The last game against the Texans was defined by two plays in the last 45 seconds. Texans quarterback T.J. Yates scrambled on third-and-15 for 17 yards, and then he threw a six-yard touchdown pass with two seconds left.
The scramble hurt the Bengals even more because right end Michael Johnson led a charge that had Yates sacked, but with the secondary’s back turned, Yates was off.
“I mean, we had the guy sacked, he got out of it,” Zimmer said. “This is going to be a different game and I anticipate plays like that will win the game for one or the other.”
ESPN analyst Eric Mangini isolated the last play to show that the Bengals got beat when they covered the multiple Texans receivers that went vertical into the end zone but didn’t cover Kevin Walter’s crossing route.
Tags: 2011 Wild Card game, Andy Dalton
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