Two potent defenses will test a pair of rookie quarterbacks when the Houston Texans host the Cincinnati Bengals today in the first game of the NFL’s wild-card weekend.
AFC South champions the Texans (10-6) ranked fourth best in points allowed and the Bengals (9-7) ninth, posing daunting challenges for Houston’s T.J. Yates and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton in the first NFL playoff duel ever between rookie quarterbacks.
Yates, who began the season as the third-string signal caller, was forced into action after injuries to Texans starter Matt Schaub and backup Matt Leinart, playing in the final six games of the season as Houston reached their first postseason.
Dalton, a second-round draft pick by the Bengals, became the starter when incumbent Carson Palmer said before the season he was not returning and demanded a trade.
Starting all 16 games for Cincinnati, Dalton teamed up with first-round draft pick A.J. Green to become the first rookie quarterback and receiver duo to pass for more than 3,000 yards and have more than 1,000 yards receiving. Dalton made 20 touchdown throws and 13 interceptions.
Houston will have to recover from a season-ending skid that saw them lose their final three games.
Both young quarterbacks had to overcome physical setbacks in the run-up to today’s unique playoff clash.
Yates was recovering from an injury to his non-throwing arm, while Dalton, who grew up in the Houston suburbs, was hospitalized on Wednesday night with severe flu symptoms. Both were expected to return to practice and be ready for the game.
With Yates at the helm, the injury-hit Texans have relied more on their ground attack, which ranks second in the league with backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate combining for 2,166 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Yates’s best game came last month against the Bengals, when Houston overcame a 16-3 halftime deficit to win 20-19. The fifth-round draft pick hit on 26 of 44 passes for 300 yards.
The Texans, whose defense were revitalized this season by new coordinator Wade Phillips despite the loss of standout linebacker Mario Williams, have forced 27 turnovers on defense, five more than the Bengals.
Cincinnati have had trouble beating the better teams in the league, but the Bengals believe they have the kind of high-energy defense that can rise to the occasion.
“We are good,” safety Chris Crocker said. “We just have to be consistent. We’re good. If we play consistently, it would be very hard for the other team to beat us.”