It was November 11.
The Cincinnati Bengals, fresh off a four-game losing streak deep into the decline of a manure-filled 3-5 start, hosted the New York Giants. Defensively the Bengals were mediocre. Worse than that. They lacked identity, becoming nothing more than a collection of defensive pieces collected on a chess board to counter injuries and a troubling overconfidence in the development of younger safeties. They were were ranked No. 20 in the league, averaging 357.4 yards allowed with the league's 25th-ranked scoring defense (27.2 points/game), 42 percent third down conversion rate, 99.0 opposing quarterback rating, five interceptions and 23 quarterback sacks, which was tied for tenth at the time.
Then the monsters of Riverfront awoke, urging Cincinnati's defense to stall the Bengals depression into a customary let-down during odd-numbered years. During the second half of the 2012 season, an eight-game stretch, Cincinnati only allowed two opposing offenses more than 300 yards. One of those, the New York Giants, was mop-up yardage while Cincinnati protected a significant double-digit lead.
Andy Dalton. A.J. Green. Jermaine Gresham.
The Cincinnati Bengals have become a managed offense, led by a conservative rushing attack behind the threat of a big-play strike between Dalton and Green. A mural of the 2012 Bengals evokes knee-rattling fear with foam boiling out of the mouths from the best defensive players this franchise has seen in some time.
Think it was the Bengals offense that went 7-1? You're wrong. During that stretch the Bengals defense allowed only 12.8 points per game to the opposing offense, improving their ranking to No. 6 in total defense and eighth in scoring defense with nearly an eight-point improvement. In the past two games, the Bengals defense (2) has scored more touchdowns than their offense (1).
Their identity was found, setting a franchise mark for most quarterback sacks in a season (51), led by Geno Atkins (12.5) and Michael Johnson (11.5), the first Bengals combination to generate double-digit sacks since 1981 (Reggie Williams 11.0, Eddie Edwards 10.0).
We asked TexansDC from Battle Red Blog on the Texans biggest weakness heading into this weekend and it was clear, the Bengals best chance to win originates from the front four.
"Offensive line play, particularly the right side of the line. It’s an unsettled group that is rotated (Ben Jones and Brandon Brooks at right guard and Derek Newton and Ryan Harris at right tackle) and not all that experienced (RG) or good (RT). Bad offensive line play equals bad offense and it is no wonder why Houston has faltered of late."
Of the 178 pressures applied by Cincinnati's defense during the regular season, the defensive line accounts for 88.2 percent of them.
"I’m a Geno Atkins fan," writes TexansDC. "I was rooting so hard for Houston to take him in round two of the NFL Draft. I nearly passed out when they passed on him in round three. I’m not at all surprised by his dominance. He’s got a great burst and violent hands. The biggest worry is him against those guards. If he plays like the beast he is then Matt Schaub is going to make a lot of silly passes. That’s meant in no way to disrespect the rest of the front four, but Atkins can flat out abuse inferior guards, and Houston has them in spades."
|Bengals Pass Rush||
|Texans Pass Protection||
TexansDC continues that "the two changed starters are at right guard and right tackle after Mike Brisiel and Eric Winston left. Antoine Caldwell, Ben Jones, and Brandon Brooks have all played at RG while Derek Newton and Ryan Harris have split time at RT. It’s all a nightmare. It’s the weakest spot of the Texans line-up, though some will argue the injury-riddled inside linebacking corps is."
Even if quarterback Matt Schaub manages to release the football, figure that Leon Hall and Adam Jones are your primary cornerbacks with Terence Newman completing the trifecta, despite being one of the team's starters. Hall isn't a shutdown cornerback, but he's effective enough without help. Normally he lines up as the right cornerback, but has moved around to cover the slot or ideally the opposing team's best receiver.
"I’ve heard about how Hall is having a phenomenal season and I know ‘Dre just put up his best season, which is saying something," said TexansDC. "I’m excited to see two legit studs go at it for 60 minutes. I think this could be a really fun match-up if you like outside play."
Andre Johnson leads Houston with 162 targets and 112 receptions, 1,598 yards receiving and yet only four touchdowns. Tight end Owen Daniels is second with 104 targets, 62 receptions, 716 yards receiving and a team-leading six touchdown receptions. Daniels hasn't posted five receptions or 50 yards receiving for six consecutive weeks.
And yet one unknown may find himself making plays that some Bengals fans may not know: James Casey.
"When Gary Kubiak is on a creative streak, he uses his fullback/H-back/tight end Swiss Army Knife in motion and finds a mismatch," said TexansDC. "Casey’s capable of picking up big yardage because most people think he’s some slow fullback."
Yet none of that really matters if the Bengals pass rush does its job. The same job that kicked off the second half of the season all the way back to November 11.