by Christian S. Kohl
The matchup between Cincinnati and Houston this Wildcard Weekend pits two similarly constructed teams against one another in a battle that will most likely be hard-fought, low scoring, and defensively oriented. Both teams will look to feature their running backs, sending them directly into the teeth of the opposing defenses, each of which ranked in the top 10 this year for fewest rushing yards allowed.
A primary focus on this matchup heading into Saturday is the unanswered questions for both teams. Health is a concern for Houston, as young T.J. Yates scrambles to get back on the field, and Andre Johnson continues his quest to return to 100% strength. Houston will absolutely look to ride Foster regardless of who is available. Still, without a consistent option under center or an elite, healthy threat out wide, Cincinnati may well be able to stack the box, collapse on Foster, and fire through gaps all night long.
For Cincinnati, Cedric Benson must gain yardage consistently and wear down the defense to allow maximum time for his young quarterback to throw. To do this, he too must work through some nagging injuries of his own in order to produce in key situations. Quarterback Andy Dalton is also actively attempting to get his body as well as his mind right for this contest, after overcoming the flu this week and prepping on short rest after Wednesday’s hospitalization.
Not just the health, but the youth of these two quarterbacks also leave a great deal of unanswered questions. Which rookie can best handle the atmosphere and the pressure to lead their team past the Wildcard round? Should Dalton play at 100% strength, his receiving help with AJ Green and Jerome Simpson in addition to Gresham offer him ample help through the air. The small edge goes to him in that respect, depending on Andre Johnson’s actual level of health, Foster’s ability to contribute as a checkdown option, and the ability of Houston’s two tight ends to contribute on key passing downs.
All of these variables suggest a low-scoring affair with both yards and points coming at a premium for either side. Both defenses are hungry for an opportunity against a rookie quarterback, and the turnover ratio will likely play an even bigger role than its customary vital importance. Without quarterbacks who can routinely throw for 400+ a game or lead quick scoring drives down the field with relative ease, one turnover may cause an irreversible momentum shift and cost either team the game.
Look for neither team to score much more than 20, and both very aggressively attempting to use the ground game to control gameflow and time of possession.
With Houston at home, and Foster as the most explosive playmaker for either team, The Texans enter this game as a small favorite in a battle which may never see a two possession lead. Saturday’s game should be an intense contest which will be won in, and through, the trenches. This will be a tough one, and rest assured whoever emerges victorious from this will have paid the physical price to earn it and then some.
Christian S. Kohl is a writer and filmmaker based in New York City. Find out more about him at Dailyspew.com