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2012 NFL Playoffs: Quick-Hit Reactions from Texans vs. Ravens

In what turned out to be a battle of strength on strength, the Ravens outlasted the Texans in Sunday’s Divisional round playoffs. Here are some quick-hit reactions from Baltimore’s 20-13 victory.

Baltimore Ravens Ray Rice runs against the Houston Texans during the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland on January 15, 2012. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

- If it weren’t for the final score, you would have thought Houston dominated this game. The Texans absolutely owned the trenches, which was never more apparent then when they stuffed Ray Rice on a fourth-and-goal attempt from the 1-yard line during the fourth quarter. Rice looked like he ran full force into a brick wall on that play, and never got going throughout the day as he was held to just 60 yards on 21 carries. Even though Houston’s season is over, the job Wade Phillips did re-shaping the defense cannot be overstated. His defensive unit kept the Texans in the game throughout the entire second half.

- One thing that will be overlooked because of the final score is the job Jonathan Joesph did on Torrey Smith. The Houston corner completely took Smith out of the game, which limited what Baltimore could do in the vertical passing game. Because of this, Joe Flacco was sacked five times and largely settled for short passes aside from one 30-yard completion to Lee Evans. Granted, Evans and Anquan Boldin still combined for 103 receiving yards and a touchdown, but the Ravens’ offense wasn’t very effective as a whole. It’s ironic to think that Houston desperately wanted Nnamdi Asomugha this offseason and then “settled” for Joseph, who wound up having the much better season.

- How can you not love Arian Foster? I thought Baltimore would shut him down and all he did was man up to the tune of 132 yards on 27 carries. He essentially put the Texans’ offense on his back and said, “Follow me.” He ran with purpose, determination, and a hell of a lot of heart. I wasn’t excited to get another helping of T.J. Yates in this year’s playoffs but I could watch Foster run every day. Houston needs to pay the man this offseason. (He’s an impending restricted free agent.)

- My comment about T.J. Yates in the paragraph above wasn’t intended to be a knock on the rookie, who has done an incredible job for the Texans given the circumstances. It’s just painfully obvious that Houston’s offense is limited with him under center and as a football fan I would rather see Baltimore have a crack at New England than a Yates-led Texans team. (Sorry, Houston.) That said, Yates did lead a couple of impressive drives today, but the Ravens were always there when he made mistakes. Like most rookie quarterbacks, Yates has a habit of locking onto receivers and at this level, you’re going to be in trouble when you telegraph passes. (Look at Yates’ pass attempt that Ed Reed intercepted to essentially seal the win for Baltimore.) Still, it was quite the season for the youngster out of North Carolina, who has already blossomed into a solid backup for Houston.

- X-rays came back negative on Ed Reed’s ankle, which is obviously huge for Baltimore’s defense. The injury, which Reed suffered on Houston’s final offensive play, looked serious when it first happened. But it looks like the Ravens will have their All-Pro safety next week for Tom Brady and Co.

- Ravens-Patriots next week at Foxboro? Sign me the f#&k up. When you consider the matchup problems that Baltimore’s defense gives New England, it’s going to be a great game.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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2012 NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round Preview

Green Bay Packers Aaron Rodgers is chased out of the pocket by New York Giants Jason Pierre-Paul in the first quarter in week 13 of the NFL season at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on December 4, 2011. The Packers defeated the Giants 38-35 and remain undefeated for the season at 12-0. UPI /John Angelillo

Saints @ 49ers, Saturday, 4:30PM ET
It’s no secret that the Saints have been a different team on the road this year than at home. As I pointed out in this week’s edition of “Five Questions…,” they’ve outscored opponents 329 to 143 at home this season and only 218 to 196 on the road. Sean Payton has seemingly been more conservative with his play calling as Drew Brees has thrown less touchdowns (29 to 17), more interceptions (6 to 8), has a lower average per pass attempt (8.75 to 7.99), and has been sacked more (8 to 16) on the road than at home. Gregg Williams’ defense doesn’t play with the same confidence that it does inside the Superdome either. It’s not that the Saints are a bad road team (they were 5-3 during the regular season), but they’re not the juggernaut they are at home. On the other side, there’s not much that San Francisco doesn’t do well defensively. They’re outstanding against the run, they get after the quarterback, and they’re solid in pass coverage. They also have a great special teams unit so if the Saints are sloppy on Saturday, they will fall. The question is whether or not the Niners will generate enough offense if the Saints start firing on all cylinders. San Fran doesn’t pass protect very well and if it can’t open up running lanes for Frank Gore, that’s when Alex Smith starts to get turnover-happy. It’ll be interesting to see how this matchup unfolds come Saturday.

Broncos @ Patriots, Saturday, 8:00PM ET
Tim Tebow better strap in tight because he’s not likely to see as much one-on-one coverage as Dick LeBeau showed him last week. Bill Belichick will likely keep a safety over top of Demaryius Thomas at all times and force Tebow to go through all of his reads. If he doesn’t and he starts chucking the ball up thinking he can beat New England deep like he did Pittsburgh, he could be in for a long night. On the other side, it’ll be interesting to see if Denver’s stout defense can rattle Tom Brady. One of the biggest reasons the Patriots lost in their first postseason game the last two years is because Baltimore and New York harassed Brady to know end. But New England’s pass protection has been better this season than it was last year, so if the Broncos can’t generate pressure then Brady could eat them alive. It would behoove Denver to jump out to an early lead like Miami and Buffalo did on New England the past two weeks. But with Tebow running the show, that could prove to be difficult.

Texans @ Ravens, Sunday, 1:00PM ET
This game is all about Houston’s defense. If Wade Phillips’ unit can’t slow down Ray Rice, force turnovers and create good field position for the offense, then the Texans’ season will end in Baltimore this Sunday. The Ravens’ run defense is the best in the league and they were stout in pass coverage as well. The combination of Arian Foster and T.J. Yates isn’t going to get the best of Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis. The best Yates can do is not turn the ball over and take what Baltimore gives him. Otherwise, if he’s forced to make plays then the Texans are in trouble. The Ravens were unbeatable at home this season and there are mismatches that they can take advantage of this weekend. As long as they don’t get caught looking ahead, it’s hard to envision the Ravens falling on Sunday.

Giants @ Packers, Sunday, 4:30PM ET
If the Giants play with the same confidence, swagger and determination this week at Lambeau as they did last Sunday versus the Falcons, then they have a shot. In fact, they already have a shot. The Giants have always been a dangerous underdog and when they think everyone is against them, they raise the level of their play ten-fold. It’s no coincidence that the Giants have played their best football over the past three weeks. They’re healthy and the strength of their defense (i.e. their defensive line) is now fully intact. As I’ve written so many times before, the way to beat an elite quarterback like Aaron Rodgers is to pressure him with your front four. If Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, Rocky Benard and Justin Tuck play with the same relentless attitude this week as they did the past three, the Giants will have a shot to pull off the upset. Because their offense is certainly capable of matching Green Bay score-for-score thanks to that receiving corps and the Packers’ suspect defense. That said, Green Bay will not hand the game over on a silver platter like Atlanta did last Sunday. The Falcons played not to lose. They were timid – scared even. Rodgers plays with reckless abandon and he’s not going to be afraid to take shots downfield against New York’s vulnerable secondary unlike Matt Ryan, who never once tried to throw deep. Atlanta never adjusted its opening game plan either. You can expect Mike McCarthy to change things up if the Giants are getting the better of the Packers early on. This is going to be a great matchup and a wild ride.

2012 NFL Playoffs: Five Questions for the Divisional Round

Every Tuesday throughout the NFL season I’ll discuss five of the biggest questions surrounding that week’s slate of action. This week the NFL moves into the Divisional Round, where the Saints will hit the road (where they haven’t been as explosive), the Giants will try to slay the dragon known as the Green Bay Packers, and Tim Tebow’s Broncos are still walking on water. (Dah! Get it? Do you get it? Yeah, you get it…)

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees kneels on the ground after being sacked by the Atlanta Falcons in the first half of their NFL football game in Atlanta, Georgia December 27, 2010. REUTERS/Tami Chappell (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

1. Can the Saints overcome their issues on the road?
Thanks to their dominating play in the second half of the season, there are many people who feel as though the Saints are now the team to beat this season. But there’s no question that New Orleans is a different team on the road than at home and while that statement is true of most franchises, it really applies to the Saints when you dig into the numbers. Sean Payton’s crew outscored opponents 329 to 143 at home this year and only 218 to 196 on the road. At home the Saints were literally and figuratively unbeatable and unstoppable, scoring at least 30 points in seven of their eight games inside the Superdome. But on the road they were more conservative, more cautious, and certainly less aggressive. Two of their three losses this year came at 4-12 Tampa Bay and at 2-14 St. Louis, and they could have easily lost to Tennessee on the road had Jake Locker not inexcusably taken a sack on the final play of the game (when the Titans were at the New Orleans’ 5-yard-line, no less). When you factor in San Francisco’s stingy defense and the fact that New Orleans has to travel cross-country this week, it’s going to be interesting to see if the Saints can survive this weekend…

2. …that said, do the Niners have enough offense to take the Saints down?
The 49ers’ defense ranked fourth in yards allowed this season, first in rushing yards allowed, and second in points per game. But they’re not exactly a Rubik’s Cube on offense. They win by successfully getting Frank Gore in space, by not turning the ball over and by not beating themselves with penalties. While he isn’t the second coming of Trent Dilfer (who had a more limited skill set), Alex Smith has developed into a solid game-manager that is capable of beating defenses vertically when they stack the box hoping to slow Gore. Vernon Davis hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire this season but he’s still a mismatch on linebackers and safeties in the middle of the field and Michael Crabtree gives the Niners some semblance of a vertical threat. But while ‘Frisco did finish 11th in points per game this season, this isn’t a team built for shootouts. So if for some reason the Niners’ defense falters, Smith could be pressed into a situation where he has to match wits with Brees. And while Smith has had a good season, that’s a matchup that Jim Harbaugh and Co. don’t want to see play out this weekend.

3. Can the Giants pull off one of the classic upsets?
This is where the New York Giants are most dangerous. When they’re on the road, when the consensus believes that they’ll lose, and when their backs are up against the proverbial wall. While many people are buying into Big Blue’s revival over the past couple of weeks, there’s no question that they get to play the underdog role this Sunday in Green Bay. It’s a role that suits them just fine, as they proved in Super Bowl XLII, as well as in Philadelphia (where they were 9-point underdogs) and in New England (when they were once again 9-point dogs) earlier this season. That said, the Giants won’t be as fortunate this week as they were with their matchup last weekend. They got to face a predictable, conservative, inconsistent Falcons team that played right into their hands and weren’t intelligent enough to have a Plan B when Plan A blew up in their faces. If the Giants stop the Packers early on, Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers will adjust. If the Giants want to get into a shootout (and they’re certainly capable with that offense), the Packers can match. If the Giants want to go ground and pound with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, the Packers will then attempt to outscore them. The bottom line is that the G-Men do have what it takes to bring down the Pack. But the Falcons didn’t do them any favors last weekend by rolling over and playing dead because now you have to wonder if Tom Coughlin’s team is a little overconfident.

4. The Broncos can’t do that again, right? I mean, right? Right?!
Okay, so the Denver Broncos took down the Pittsburgh Steelers. Big whoop. The Steelers were contending with a bunch of injuries on both sides of the ball, most notably at quarterback where Ben Roethlisberger was clearly affected by a high ankle sprain he suffered late in the year. In other words, Pittsburgh was ripe for the taking and with a lot of help from Ike Taylor, Denver was able to pull off the upset. The Broncos won’t be able to march into Foxboro this weekend and take down Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. That would be ludicrous. Preposterous, even. Notgonnahappen. Of course…the Patriots don’t have the strongest pass defense. And they don’t always rush the passer very well. It’s not inconceivable that Tim Tebow and Demaryius Thomas could beat Kyle Arrington and Devin McCourty in pass coverage. And certainly James Ihedigbo and Patrick Chung. Sure, Denver’s running game will find it challenging to run against Vince Wilfork, Rob Ninkovich and Jerod Mayo Andre Carter, but the Broncos could certainly overcome that hurdle with their newfound passing game. Of course, Tebow will have to go toe-to-toe with Brady and the Patriots’ offense. That could be a challenge. And it’s not like Denver will be able to sneak up on New England like it did Pittsburgh last weekend so…yeah, the Broncos won’t make it two-for-two with huge upsets. Right?

5. Can Yates step up against Baltimore’s defense?
The Texans won’t be able to win this weekend with the same formula they used last Saturday against the Bengals. Baltimore’s run defense is too good to allow Arian Foster to take over the game like he did versus Cincinnati and thus, T.J. Yates will need to step up. As expected, the rookie fifth-rounder was shaky in his first career postseason start. He took shots deep to covered receivers when he had people open in the flats and he nearly threw a game-changing pick-six in the second half that Cincinnati safety Chris Crocker dropped. Given the circumstances, Yates has done a phenomenal job stepping in for Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart over the past month. But he’s also been fortunate on numerous occasions that defenses haven’t made him pay for his mistakes. The Ravens, who are built for the postseason and who are a nasty bunch at home, won’t be as gracious as Cincinnati and other teams (Atlanta, for example) have been to Yates this season. It would behoove Houston to rely on Foster and its defense this weekend. But that doesn’t mean that Yates will be able to sit back and enjoy the ride this time around. He’ll need to make plays.

2012 NFL Playoffs: Quick-Hit Reactions from Bengals vs. Texans

The Texans defeated the Bengals 31-10 on Saturday to notch their first playoff victory in franchise history. Here are a couple of quick-hit reactions from this Wildcard contest.

Houston Texans running back Arian Foster rushes for a gain against the San Diego Chargers in the first half at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas on November 7, 2010. UPI/Aaron M. Sprecher

- Many times during the postseason we see a defensive line take over a game and that’s exactly what Houston’s front four did on Saturday. Outside of one or two passes, Andy Dalton simply didn’t have enough time to go through his progressions and get the ball down filed because the Texans’ D-line was up his ass every play. The Bengals’ running game didn’t do him any favors but credit Wade Phillips for putting together a great game plan. (A game plan that turned A.J. Green into a ghost.) Dalton had some success moving the ball in the first quarter but once the Bengals got further off of their opening script, their offense crumbled.

- You say defensive tackle J.J. Watt was a former tight end in college? Huh, could have fooled me on that ridiculous catch he made on that game-changing pick-six right before halftime. It‘s hardly surprising that he turned out to be such a good player in his first year. He’s a fellow Central Michigan Chippewa and those guys can just…flat…out…play.

- Speaking of Watt, how annoying was Mike Mayock when he kept boasting about how he thought Watt should have been a top-10 pick back in April? We get it Mike, you were high on the kid coming out of college.

- Speaking of Watt x2: What were Watt’s odds for the prop bet, “What rookie will score first in Saturday’s Bengals-Texans game?” Andy Dalton 5/1. T.J. Yates 6/1. J.J. Watt 100,000,000/1.

- It’s amazing to think that Arian Foster was once on Houston’s practice squad. You watch how elusive, athletic and powerful he is and it makes you wonder how the hell he wasn’t considered one of the Texans’ top 3 running backs during a given year. That said, Foster has even admitted that he wasn’t motivated until finding out that practice players could be called up, so it’s probably not the Texans’ fault that he wasted some time when he first arrived in the NFL. And boy has he arrived.

- I hate to be critical because the kid is doing the best he can in a difficult situation, but T.J. Yates wasn’t very impressive. On one drive in the second quarter, he overlooked open receivers on two separate pass plays in order to throw to guys that were covered, and Chris Crocker nearly had a pick-six late in the third when Yates threw across his body. (Crocker inexplicably dropped the gift.) But again, how critical can you be of a fifth-round rookie quarterback who won his first postseason game of his career? Peyton Manning didn’t accomplish that feat and neither did Eli Manning or Matt Ryan. I only mention the fact that Yates wasn’t impressive because Baltimore’s defense is a) better against the run than Cincinnati and b) will likely score more than 10 points. Thus, Yates might not be able to step into the shadows and allow Foster and Houston’s defense to take over.

- One thing that was impressive about Yates was the double-move he put on Pacman Jones to burn the corner on Andre Johnson’s touchdown catch. Houston‘s o-line gave him great protection and Yates calmly juked Jones out of jockstrap. (On a related note, it’s easy to forget that Pacman is still in the NFL when he’s not being arrested every week.)

- This game was yet another example of what happens when a team doesn’t have enough offensive weapons. The Texans took Green out of the game and Dalton essentially didn’t have anyone else to throw to. You see this type of thing all the time in the playoffs and you understand why teams like the Saints and Packers load up on playmakers during the offseason.

- The coaches upstairs for the Bengals should have done a better job of telling Marvin Lewis not to challenge Owen Daniels’ first-down catch late in the first half. Had they done their jobs, Lewis wouldn’t have blown Cincinnati’s second timeout and more importantly, the team’s final challenge on a call that obviously wasn‘t going to go their way. That said, it’s ultimately up to Lewis to make sure he still has a challenge in his back pocket for the final 30-plus minutes of the game. That’s just bad coaching all around for Cincinnati.

- That’s a bad half of football, Chris Crocker.

- Despite this bitter ending, it was a hell of a season for the Bengals. I know fans wanted their team to advance but looking at the big picture, nobody expected Cincinnati to make the postseason back in August.

2012 NFL Playoffs: Five Questions for Wildcard Weekend

Every Tuesday throughout the NFL season I’ll discuss five of the biggest questions surrounding that week’s slate of action. This week it’s Wildcard Weekend in the NFL, as the playoffs kick off on Saturday. Can the Lions and Broncos pull off major upsets? Which team will show up in East Rutherford? Will the Texans have T.J. Yates at quarterback versus Cincinnati? Let’s dive in.

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford congratulates New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (R) after the Saints beat the Lions 31-17 in their NFL football game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana December 4, 2011. REUTERS/Sean Gardner (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

1. Can the Lions slay the Saints?
Eight opponents walked into the Superdome this year with high hopes of pulling off an upset and all eight walked out with red bottoms after being spanked by a Saints team that has been unbeatable at home this season. Seeing as how the Lions were among the eight opponents who the Saints carved up this season, they seemingly don’t have a shot this Saturday when they travel back to New Orleans in the opening round of the playoffs. (Oddsmakers certainly don’t think the Lions have much of a shot, as Detroit opened as a 10.5-point underdog.) That said, the Lions do posses a legit quarterback in Matthew Stafford, one of the best players in football in Calvin Johnson, and a front four that’s capable of getting after Drew Brees. Remember, due to his two-game suspension for stomping on Green Bay offensive lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith, the Lions were without Ndamukong Suh the first time these two teams met. The only tried and true method to beating an elite quarterback like Brees is to pressure him with your front four. Blitzing doesn’t work, because he’s so comfortable in Sean Payton’s offense that he’ll beat one-on-one coverage or quickly find holes in the defense. While there’s no doubt the Lions have their hands full this weekend, they’re a damn good football team when they don’t beat themselves (which, unfortunately, is rare). In fact, if it weren’t for a couple of costly penalties and big drops by Lion receivers, Detroit may have come back against the Saints earlier this year in New Orleans. We’ll see if the boys from Motown can keep their composure and pull off the biggest upset of the weekend.

2 & 3. Can Tebow prove his critics wrong/Can the Steelers shake out of their offensive funk?
This will be a two-parter. When your quarterback can’t complete more than six passes when a division title and a trip to the postseason are on the line, critics will come out in droves. Tim Tebow was simply brutal in the Broncos’ Week 17 loss to the Chiefs, leaving even his staunchest supporters to leap off his bandwagon. But let’s keep in mind that Denver’s defense continues to play at a high level and kicker Matt Prater is almost a guarantee from all distances. Plus, it’s not like the Steelers are pictures of perfect health. Long before Rashard Mendenhall tore up his knee in the final regular season game of the year, Ben Roethlisberger suffered a high ankle sprain that he hasn’t fully recovered from. It’s clear that Pittsburgh’s offense is in a major funk and while its defense shouldn’t have much trouble shutting down Tebow this weekend, it’s not like the Broncos don’t have the capabilities of pulling off an upset if they keep things close. Champ Bailey had his hands full with Dwayne Bowe last Sunday and Pittsburgh’s speedy receiving corps highlighted by Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown is a mismatch for Denver’s secondary. But will the offensive line give Big Ben time to throw? The Broncos’ strength defensively is in their ability to rush the passer. It won’t matter if Wallace and Brown shake loose in Denver’s secondary if Roethlisberger is constantly under pressure. That said, if Kansas City was able to hold Denver to just three points on the road, Pittsburgh’s defense is liable to pitch a shut out. That wasn’t meant to be a knock on Romeo Crennel’s defense, which is highly underrated, but Dick LeBeau’s complicated scheme could have Tebow’s head spinning. In what figures to be a low-scoring game, it’ll be interesting to see if Denver’s defense can come up big one more time and if Tebow has any magic left in those legs of his.

4. Which teams will show up in East Rutherford?
While there are obvious differences between the two teams, the Falcons and Giants mirror each other in many ways. First and foremost, they’re both highly inconsistent. The Giants proved that they have the weapons to upset the Patriots in Foxboro and sweep the Cowboys to make the postseason, but this is the same team that also lost to Seattle and Washington at home. The Falcons, meanwhile, beat the Lions in Detroit and nearly defeated the Saints at home, but managed just 13 points in a Week 3 loss to the Buccaneers and almost blew double-digit leads against Seattle, Tennessee and Minnesota. Both coaching staffs tend to play things too conservatively when they have a lead or are playing in tight games. Where Green Bay and New Orleans don’t stop attacking you until the final seconds tick off the clock, Atlanta and New York have a habit of taking their foot off the gas. In the case of the Giants, they have often fallen behind and had to play catch up in the fourth quarter. As for the Falcons, they like to build a lead and slowly give it away in the second half. But both teams also have fast defenses, good running games, weapons in the receiving corps, and are led by solid quarterbacks in Eli Manning and Matt Ryan. In other words, both teams have the capability of taking it to an opponent if they happen to be firing on all cylinders that day. But the key words in that previous sentence are “happen to,” because you just never know which team will bother show up.

5. Will the Texans be able to overcome injuries yet again?
It’s a marvel the Texans have made it this far. It truly is. They lost their starting quarterback in Matt Schaub, his backup in Matt Leinart, their top defender in Mario Williams, and they’ve had to go much of the season without leading receiver Andre Johnson, too. Now T.J. Yates is hurt. Has a team ever hosted a playoff game after its top three quarterbacks all went down with injuries during the regular season? Furthermore, has a team ever advanced in the postseason without its top three quarterbacks? While the Texans insist that Yates (separated shoulder) will play this Saturday versus Cincinnati, there are reports out of Houston that suggest he may be done for the year. If that’s the case, then it’s Jake Delhomme time, which is scary if you’re a Texans fan. I don’t care if he did nearly bring Houston back last week against Tennessee: Delhomme is a turnover waiting to happen. If the Texans can’t control the game with Arian Foster and Ben Tate, then there’s a good chance that the Bengals will be advancing to the Divisional Round next week. It’s going to be an interesting afternoon in Houston this Saturday, to say the least.

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