Welcome to the post season and here are two Cinderella stories meeting during NFL Wild Card week. Who would have thought that after losing Chad Ochocinco and Carson Palmer, Marvin Lewis would have his Cincinnati Bengals in the playoffs?? Very few… Now they have the chance to win a playoff game which is something they didn’t accomplish with Palmer or Chad. He comes in with a growing rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton and the NFL’s #7 defense. They were a top ten defense all season and finished with 45 sacks on the year and will face either T.J. Yates or Jake Delhomme.
Now neither quarterback is a world beater at this time however Yates led the Texans to a 20-19 victory over the Bengals just four weeks ago. Yet they haven’t won a game since. The Texans have to lean on their defense which comes in ranked #2 and has given up the fourth fewest touchdowns this season with 31. Having Andre Johnson is a huge step in advancing to the divisional round. This team is a little beat up and going into the playoffs with a second or third string quarterback doesn’t bode well. We’re just not sure about Jake Delhomme at this point when facing a formidable pass rush.
You have to remember that Bengal’s rookie quarterback Andy Dalton is from TCU and should have some fans at this game. He will want to have a good showing. In his first year replacing Carson Palmer, the former Horned Frog threw for 3,398 yards and 20TDs. A strong showing overshadowed by the success of Cam Newton in Carolina. With 1,067 yards rushing this season from Cedric Benson, the Bengals are built to win this playoff game. Houston does have Arian Foster (1,224 yards rushing) to counter that but this is the first foray into the NFL playoffs for this team and many of their players.
The Texans would be better suited to win this game had Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson were completely healthy but in this one…we’re taking the Cincinnati Bengals. You don’t go into the playoffs on a 3 game LOSING streak and expect to wake up in the playoffs. The only time we can remember that happening was in 1986 when the Jets lost their last 5 then beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the wildcard game. Yet they had to switch from Ken O’Brien to Pat Ryan at quarterback to achieve this…. Anyway this should be a game for the Bengals defense to get some respect today.
When we were putting our annual previews together this summer we stated this division was about to see some change. This was clearly the last year the Ravens and Steelers would be head and shoulders above the Bengals and Browns. Its been well chronicled about the age of the Steelers defense and we have to see which was more indicative of where they will play as a unit. Was it the 170 yards they gave up on the ground to the Baltimore Ravens in week 1 or the 31 yards last week to the Seahawks?? Speaking of the Ravens… What was that egg you guys laid in Adelphia Coliseum last week in losing to the Titans?? Are you serious?? Finally get that big early season win over the Steelers to put them in the rear view and then stub your toe the next week and catch you in the standings. You’re running out of time to get Ray Lewis another ring before he retires.
As for Marvin Lewis and his Cincinnati Bengals, who knew that he’d be only a few plays away from a 2-0 start after losing Chad Ochocinco and recovering from the Carson Palmer odyssey. With rookie QB Andy Dalton playing well these first couple of weeks and Bruce Gradkowski as insurance if there is a drop, time to unload Palmer. An in-season trade to help fortify the defense and get your team to totally rally around the quarterbacks that want to be there. Would go a long way in solidifying your locker room. Keep feeding the football to Cedric Benson. His 180 yards rushing in these first two games has been the difference between going 1-1 as opposed to 0-2 and resting your defense. Face it you stole one from the Browns who should have had that game. You get a win however you can though…
As for the Browns, hopefully it’s the ties that bind that will bring the coaching carousel to a close. Coach Pat Shurmur is the nephew of the late Fritz Shurmur, who was the defensive co-ordinator for present Brown GM Mike Holmgren when he coached in Green Bay. The Shurmur/ Holmgren relationship was forged during the late 80s when Mike was the offensive co-ordinator for the World Champion 49ers and the hardest defense in their division year in and year out was the Los Angeles Rams defense under Fritz. That’s the coaching pedigree. Right now he doesn’t have to draw up any exotic blitzes, just has to have his defense not give up over 100 yards a game rushing on defense. They already have the perfect antidote in having Peyton Hillis pound at rival defenses to keep opposing teams off the field. He needs a little more help from Colt McCoy, who is completing only 56.3% of his passes. He has to show some growth in this season or Hillis could break down late in the season from overuse. They need him down the stretch where 3 of their last 4 are on the road. They absolutely need a receiver to emerge, to have Hillis as the leading receiver shows the ball is getting dumped off too much. Hillis isn’t Marshall Faulk running intricate routes. Come on Massaquoi and Josh Cribbs…
When it comes to the Steelers,. this team loves to run, but their defense is going to similar to every NFL team and see a defensive slip this year. That lack of conditioning and age will have the Steelers giving up points this year and placing the game in Roethlisberger’s hands. Face it he keeps plays alive and makes things happen and with his size never gets knocked out of the game. With Emanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown able to get deep, it should open up the intermediate routes for Hines Ward, Heath Miller, and Mike Wallace. So here we would suspect you’d ask why aren’t we saying Pittsburgh should run. We don’t because we know they’ll run yet the defense may put them in a few jams where they will have to come from behind or score late. Something they have not had to put up with in the Roethlisberger. The Steelers will be a passing and bubble screen team much like they were in 2003, its a transitional year. They get a break and take on the Manningless Colts this week so the stats won’t look bad on this defense.
Well after last year’s playoff loss to the Steelers we called Joe Flacco a beta quarterback and not an alpha. We took a lot of flack for that yet it’s reared it’s head in just two weeks of this season. Lets face it, it was the 170 yards rushing on the Steelers defense as the reason they won that game. Where Flacco has to become a more polished quarterback and more of a field general was in a game like last week. They’re losing to a team they should really be ahead of. It’s those games that you see the best quarterbacks put their team on their back if they have to and pass them to victory. Dating back to last year’s Monday Night loss in Atlanta to Matt Ryan and the Falcons we have had our eye on this. He has the chance to change our CEO’s mind in two weeks when he takes on the New York Jets then two weeks later the Houston Texans as well. He will at least be home for these games and has to come through. He’s the AFC’s version of Tony Romo, just without the big mistakes. It’s time for some absolute field generalship from him. He needs to channel his inner Unitas.