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Tag:Jay Gruden
Posted on: January 26, 2012 1:41 pm
Edited on: January 26, 2012 1:54 pm
 

Coaching carousel winners and losers

Flynn is one of the big winners from the coaching carousel. (US Presswire)
By Will Brinson

The NFL coaching carousel has come to a close with the Buccaneers and Colts the final two teams across the finish line, hiring coaches on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

Let's take a look at some of the winners and losers from a hectic offseason. Because if we're not firing out knee-jerk reactions, what's the point?

Winners

Matt Flynn: Flynn was already going to get real paid this offseason. But new Fins coach Joe Philbin was his freaking quarterbacks coach. Yeah, the rumor is the Dolphins like Peyton Manning better than Flynn. (Also a rumor: I like steak better than tofu.) But Flynn knows Philbin's system and he certainly has to be more inclined to sign his ridiculously overpriced free-agent contract with a team employing his old coach and his old system right? Even if he's not, he could end up in a bidding war between Stephen Ross and Dan Snyder. That's like a sandwich made of $100 Bills.

Ryan Grigson
: The new Colts general manager still has a long road ahead, and needs to draft well to really get Indy's latest rebuild rolling. But he's got an owner who's setting him up well: his first two decisions (firing Jim Caldwell, hiring Chuck Pagano) mean that the Colts simply need to hire a competent offensive coordinator to groom their No. 1 overall pick and let their defensive-minded coach get to work on installing his scheme. Sound familiar? It should.

Norv Turner: Turner was certainly on the old hot seat when the season ended and somehow he still has a job. It might be loyalty. It might be Philip Rivers' influence. Or it might just be a miracle. Whatever, Turner was a lock to get fired and somehow stuck around San Diego for at least another year.

Steve Spagnuolo: Spags got canned from the Rams job but landed squarely on his feet when he got the Saints defensive coordinator job. They'll contend for Super Bowls over the next few years and as Wilson pointed out, Drew Brees is secretly his best weapon. It's an ideal spot to reload and wait for another head-coaching gig.

Jeff Fisher: Fisher got the quarterback he wants, the personnel power he wants and a big old pile of money when he chose the Rams over the Dolphins.

Jay Cutler: Mike Martz retired and took his seven-step drops behind a shoddy offensive line and no pretense of having a running game with him.

Atlanta Falcons: No offense to Mike Mularkey and Brian VanGorder (as well as his superb mustache) but the ATL just got a major assistant upgrade. Ryan maxed out under Mularkey, and Dirk Koetter loves to go vertical -- having Julio Jones and Roddy White make that an easier task than whoever was catching balls with the Jaguars. And Mike Nolan, quite simply, has a fantastic defensive track record.

Cam Newton/Andy Dalton: The two biggest rookie surprises lucked out big time this offseason as their respective offensive coordinators, Rob Chudzinski and Jay Gruden, didn't move on to theoretically greener pastures. Now Newton and Dalton will each get a full offseason to prepare and should look even better in their second year.

Losers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Even if Greg Schiano is "the guy," and there's a significant number of people who think he is not, they bungled this search. (For the record, I kind of like the Schiano hire, but it's risky.) They fired Raheem Morris quickly but were the last team to get a new coach in place. They whiffed -- publicly -- on Chip Kelly. They interviewed a bunch of old dudes -- Brad Childress, Mike Sherman, Marty Schottenheimer -- who now probably feel used. An unimpressive effort all around and indicative of how attractive this job is.

Rob Ryan: Think of all the people who got interviews this offseason. Everyone got an interview. Except Rex's twin brother. Think running his mouth and losing twice to the Giants because his secondary couldn't defend anyone ended up hurting his chances to get a head coaching job? It absolutely did.

Mike Zimmer: Also a dude who can't catch a break. Or interview well? Whatever, Zimmer finally got some heat for coaching jobs (it's been long enough) and couldn't seal the deal on anything. Hopefully he'll get more looks but this has a "flyover" feel to it in terms of how much interest other teams will have in Zimmer going forward.

Brian Schottenheimer: Schottey Jr. might have landed with the Rams, but he'll likely be under heavy scrutiny from fans and could see a short leash, depending on how Fisher's feeling. The worst part is a year ago, he was a hot name for a head-coaching job and instead the Jets ran him off while managing to air out some of their respective greivances with the rest of the dirty laundry.

Mike Sherman: Sherman was the leader in the clubhouse for the Bucs job ... or so we thought. Now he's reportedly headed to run Miami's offense. That could vault him back up to a head-coaching gig, but considering he found out about his firing from Texas A&M at a recruit's house (!), landing an NFL job just a few months later would've been a major coup.

Peyton Manning: Bill Polian's out, Jim Caldwell's out and the Colts seem hell bent on cleaning house. The logical next move appears to be shipping Manning out of town as well.

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Posted on: January 22, 2012 2:58 pm
Edited on: January 22, 2012 3:16 pm
 

Colts tried to talk with Jay Gruden, Perry Fewell

Indy wanted to talk with Fewell and Gruden but couldn't. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

On Saturday, Colts owner Jim Irsay tweeted that the team expected to hire a coach by "mid 2 late next week." If that's the case, cross two teams off the list: Indy wanted to talk with Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell but couldn't.

According to CBS Sports Charley Casserly, Gruden turned down the Colts offer to interview and Fewell was still coaching and thus unavailable.

"They asked permission to talk to Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden," Casserly reported on The NFL Today. "He declined to interview for the head coaching job with the Colts. They also wanted permission to interview with Perry Fewell, the defensive coordinator of the Giants but they couldn't even ask permission because Fewell is still coaching."


Gruden's decision isn't particularly surprising considering he took his name out of the running for the Jaguars and Rams jobs earlier in the year, but it's a bit odd considering that he'd have his pick of top-tier quarterback to groom for the future, with Irsay already publicly saying that he'd take either Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III with the top pick.

Fewell's a name that's always right there in the running for head coaching positions, but he's never gotten enough push to land a gig. Perhaps this could've been his break, which is a shame.

It still could, if the Colts decide to wait. But it's also going to be tough for Fewell will get enough face time with Irsay and new Colts general manager Ryan Grigson if the Giants win on Sunday.

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Posted on: January 15, 2012 6:43 pm
 

Will Cedric Benson return to Bengals in 2012?

BensonBy Josh Katzowitz

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has wanted to get backup running back Bernard Scott more playing time, and if this Cincinnati Enquirer report is any indication, it sounds like that might happen in 2012. But it might happen because starter Cedric Benson – who’s hit the 1,000-yard milestone the past three seasons -- might not return to Cincinnati.

“From a consistency standpoint you’d like to get Bernard more carries, more touches and Cedric has earned the right to be a feature back in this offense the last couple of years,” Gruden said. “The more you give it to Bernard the more you’ve got Cedric over there scratching his head and not real happy. Really, to me, on a good football team nobody should worry about who’s scoring or who’s getting the ball so long as the team is moving.”

If that seems like a subtle shot at Benson from Gruden, that certainly could be the case. Gruden inherited Benson, and though Benson has resurrected his career with the Bengals, the team might really want to see what they got when they drafted Scott with the sixth-round selection in 2009.

But the fact is that the Bengals have pounded Benson the past three years. In 2009 and 2010, he carried the ball 301 and 321 times, respectively, and though that number decreased to 273 this seasno, he still had the fourth-most attempts of any AFC running back.

Considering he lost some carries to Scott from the previous two years, Benson wasn’t happy with his team’s direction.

“I wasn’t a big fan of it,” Benson told the paper. “Granted I don’t make those decisions or calls and I have to find a way to make it work. It was something they started soon after the first game. There was a vision where they saw the offense going. I may not like it or agree with it but I’ll make it work if given the opportunity.”

Thing is, he might not get the opportunity. He signed a one-year, $3 million deal before the 2011 season, and that means he’s an unrestricted free agent who could make pretty decent money on the open market.

But considering these are some of the free agent running backs that will emerge this offseason -- Peyton Hillis, Michael Bush, Marshawn Lynch, Ryan Grant, and Mike Tolbert -- Benson has to worry about oversaturation. And if that’s the case, maybe he’s better off taking a few less carries and staying in Cincinnati

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Posted on: January 10, 2012 6:56 pm
 

Jay Gruden not interviewing, staying with Bengals

Dalton and Green should be pleased Gruden's staying in Cincy. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Jay Gruden, thanks to the work he did with Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, was a hot name in coaching circles for open positions with a number of teams. But he's not going anywhere in 2012.

Latest Coaching Rumors, News

Gruden's decided to stay with the Bengals and continue working with Dalton and the young Cincinnati offense in 2012.

"I’m happy here," Gruden said, per Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "I like working for Marvin (Lewis) and with the team. I feel like we’re just scratching the surface on offense, but we have a lot of good, young players and have the potential to do even better next season."

Gruden was believed to be a possibility for the Jaguars opening, and the Rams called the Bengals seeking permission to speak with Gruden, but he declined any opportunities to interview for anything other than his current job.

This is curious for a couple of reasons. One, Gruden wasn't taking a job -- he was just interviewing, and there's nothing illegal, immoral or otherwise about that. Two, though the Bengals made the playoffs and Dalton had a great season, Cincy got lucky with their schedule.

In 2011, they played the AFC South and NFC West, two of the weaker divisions in football. In 2012 they'll play the NFC East and AFC West, which is substantially tougher. (Although, hey, bonus: Carson Palmer plays the Bengals!)

That being said, Dalton and A.J. Green, along with the two first-round picks Cincy has in 2012 (thanks Carson!), it's possible that the Bengals could continue developing into a potent offense.

If that happens, Gruden's name will continue to be mentioned in the coaching rumor mill, and it's possible he'll have more opportunities for a coaching gig than he had this offseason.

As we've said on the podcast time and time again, just because there are only 32 NFL coaching jobs doesn't mean you have to take one when it's open.

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Posted on: January 9, 2012 12:13 pm
Edited on: January 15, 2012 11:14 am
 

Latest coaching rumors, news

Coaching news and rumors abound through the playoffs. (EoF Illustration)
By Eye on Football staff

Coaching news and rumors don't slow down just because there's football. If you missed all of last week's action, hit it here to catch up and then scroll down. Make sure to bookmark this page as we'll be updating it throughout the week with the latest news and rumors.

SUNDAY
11:15 a.m. ET

FRIDAY
2:05 p.m. ET

12:45 p.m. ET
11:33 a.m. ET
  • Bill Callahan is officially on board with the Cowboys, and he's actually going to be named the offensive coordinator, which is pretty interesting. However, Jason Garrett will continue to call plays. And, presumably, timeouts. Ahem.
THURSDAY
8:35 p.m. ET

3:15 p.m. ET
  • With the loss of Mike Mularkey to Jacksonville, the Falcons reportedly are looking at Brian Billick, former Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter and former Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to fill the Atlanta OC job.
  • Saints coach Sean Payton confirmed that Aaron Kromer, New Orlean's OL coach, will interview for the Rams head coaching job.

11:50 a.m. ET
  • If the Colts fire coach Jim Caldwell, could new Indianapolis GM Ryan Grigson, formerly the personnel director of the Eagles, consider Philadelphia offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg? The Philadelphia Inquirer thinks there might be some merit to that idea.
8:50 a.m. ET
  • According to a radio station in Orlando, the Bengals have signed a three-year extension with offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. So, it appears that Gruden will be staying in Cincinnati.

WEDNESDAY


8:05 p.m. ET
  • Former Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris has landed a new job as the defensive backs coach for the Redskins. It's nice to see that Washington DOES provide jobs to the unemployed.
7:30 p.m.
  • Todd Bowles, formerly the interim coach in Miami, is the first Raiders coaching candidate to emerge in the wake of Hue Jackson's firing, according to ESPN.
  • Mike Mularkey wants to keep former Jaguars interim coach Mel Tucker in Jacksonville as the defensive coordinator. That's via the Florida Times-Union, which quotes Mularkey as saying, "I want to really just have a chance to sit down and talk to him. I’ve spoken to him already, prior to this going down. We really have a pretty good relationship, so hopefully it works out.” Tucker has already interviewed for the Vikings defensive coordinator job.
6:05 p.m. ET
  • According to the Newark Star Ledger, former Chiefs coach Todd Haley will arrive in New Jersey on Wednesday night to interview for the Jets offensive coordinator job. It's not yet Tony Sparano's gig.

5:35 p.m. ET
  • Here are a couple of reasons why we shouldn't be holding our breath about a Schottenheimer family reunion.

10:25 a.m. ET

  • Ryan Grigson is the new general manager for the Indianapolis Colts. Grigson served as director of player personnel with the Eagles for the past year and was the director of college scouting before that.
  • The Jaguars hiring Mike Mularkey eliminated Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski from leaving for Jacksonville, but the Associated Press reports he's now interviewing for the Rams job.
  • One report has the Falcons, who "let" Brian VanGorder leave for Auburn, checking out Steve Spagnuolo for the defensive coordinator position. That'd be a nice fit.
TUESDAY
11:45 p.m. ET

  • It's your standard quiet Tuesday night on the NFL coaching rumor front: Brian Schottenheimer is out as Jets offensive coordinator and the latest reports have Tony Sparano stepping into that role in 2012. (Schotty didn't get "fired" by the way, but yeah, it sounds awkward.)
10:35 p.m. ET
6:40 p.m ET
  • The Dolphins announced that they interviewed Mike Zimmer, defensive coordinator of the Bengals. Meanwhile, Cincy offensive coordinator Jay Gruden declined to interview with the Rams and Jaguars and will stay with Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton.

3:30 p.m ET

  • Winston Moss, the assistant head coach/linebackers coach for the Packers, is considered the front-runner for the open Raiders job.
2:20 p.m. ET
MONDAY
8:40 p.m. ET
  • Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen has drawn interest from the Rams and will interview for their head coaching position Thursday, according to the Denver Post.
6 p.m. ET
  • One time-Rams scout Ryan Grigson, now the Eagles director of player personnel, interviewed Monday for the St. Louis general manager job, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
  • As Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer was scheduled to interview for the Dolphins head coaching job Monday. Strangely enough, Cincinnati offensive coordinator has NOT been approached by the Jaguars to interview. “I have not heard anything," Gruden said. "I don’t know what’s happening to be honest with you. I don’t know if I’m ready. I’m just dealing with the season that came to an end and whatever happens, happens. I got a couple texts from people that heard I was a candidate for the job but I haven’t heard anything otherwise. I don’t know exactly how it works. I’ll probably find shortly if it is true.”
2:57 p.m. ET
  • Cowboys secondary coach Dave Campo, formerly Dallas' head coach, will not return for 2012, writes the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Apparently, the rest of Jason Garrett's staff should be safe.
  • Via ESPN's Adam Schefter, Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey will interview for the Jaguars job on Tuesday.
11:10 p.m. ET

10:30 a.m. ET

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Posted on: January 7, 2012 7:54 pm
 

Yates, not Dalton, plays like a veteran QB

T. Yates was more than steady in Houston's win (AP).

By Josh Katzowitz

Andy Dalton entered Saturday’s wild card game as the sure-handed quarterback. The one who (maybe) could compete with Cam Newton to win offensive rookie of the year. The one who had led the Bengals -- a Cincinnati team that hardly anybody expected to win six games, much less earn a playoff berth -- to the postseason. The one who had succeeded in Jay Gruden’s offensive scheme and threw for 3,398 yards, 20 touchdowns and a passer rating of 80.4.

Six weeks ago, T.J. Yates was an afterthought.

But on Saturday, Yates, formerly the third-string quarterback, out-gunned Dalton, and the Texans continued their outstanding season while the Bengals absolutely melted down in the 31-10 Houston win.

While we could rip Marvin Lewis’ coaching performance -- we sorta did that after the first half – or we could describe how Dalton played like a clueless rookie, let’s throw a spotlight on how resilient the Texans offense has been this season with Yates in charge.

When Matt Schaub was knocked out for the season in Week 10, the Texans were left for dead. The next game, that thought was confirmed when Matt Leinart suffered a season-ending injury (after all, if you’re counting on Leinart to be your savior, you know your team is screwed).

But then Yates happened. And the fifth-round draft pick didn’t seem nervous while maintaining the team lead in the Week 12 win against the Jaguars. And he didn’t seem frazzled when he beat the Falcons the next week at home. And he didn’t seem worried when he notched his first comeback victory in Week 14 at Cincinnati.

He seemed … well, ready.

Yes, the Texans were coming off a three-game losing streak entering today's game, including a dreadful defeat to the Colts. But Yates (along with Arian Foster, who gained 153 yards and two touchdowns, and a swarming Houston defense that forced three turnovers and scored a defensive touchdown) passed another test by beating a Bengals defense that’s pretty damn strong. 

“We did a good job of moving the ball up and down the field the entire game,” Yates said on NBC after the game. “The way we ran the ball today, it’ll be hard to stop us in the playoffs.”

While Yates’ stat line wasn’t outstanding (11 of 20 for 159 yards and a touchdown), the Texans don’t necessarily need him to be outstanding. They need him to be steady. Which is what he’s been.

Will he replace Schaub as the Texans starting quarterback next year? Of course not. But Yates has accomplished something Schaub never has. He’s won a playoff game.

And who knows where he -- and the Texans -- can go from here.

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Posted on: January 5, 2012 4:25 pm
 

Khan believes Gabbert is Jax's QB of future

KhanBy Josh Katzowitz

While there have been plenty of questions whether Blaine Gabbert is the Jaguars quarterback of the future, new Jacksonville owner Shahid Khan isn’t the one doing the questioning. In his mind, Gabbert is the guy -- for him and for whomever the next coach will be.

"I think a key question you have to ask any potential coach, what are you going to do to develop him?” Khan said on WKOV radio, via the Florida Times Union. “How do you make him the best he can be? Really, I've been asking them point blank, 'Can you work with him?' And so far everybody says he's great.”

As you can see from our handy Coaching Rumors post, most, if not all, of the Jaguars interview plans revolved around offensive coordinators, including New York’s Brian Schottenheimer, Cincinnati’s Jay Gruden, Carolina’s Rob Chudzinski and Atlanta’s Mike Mularkey.

With the quarterback turmoil experienced last season (cutting David Garrard, playing Gabbert, experimenting with Luke McCown, etc.), the franchise needs to find a way to help Gabbert become a legit starter. Because, in Khan’s mind, that’s exactly what he is.
 
"I think he [Gabbert] is going to be a great quarterback,” Khan said. “I think he is our franchise quarterback. I think he needs development. We want to develop him. We want to give him tools. A dedicated coach. And I think he's going to be great."

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Posted on: January 4, 2012 11:21 am
Edited on: January 4, 2012 11:46 am
 

Film Room: Texans vs. Bengals wild-card preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


The Bengals managed to back-in to the playoffs despite going 1-6 against teams with a winning record. They may not seem like a dangerous playoff opponent, but if you’re the Texans – a team that’s 0-0 all-time in postseason play – every playoff opponent is dangerous. Here’s a breakdown of the Saturday afternoon wild card matchup.


1. Bengals run game vs. Texans front seven
Cincinnati’s methodical, power-based rushing attack (ranked 19th) struggles against fast defensive front sevens. Cedric Benson has more lateral agility than you’d guess, but he lacks the elite initial quickness to make dramatic cutbacks early in the run.

This lends a certain predictability to Cincinnati’s ground game. Less concerned about getting burned in their own over-pursuit, front seven defenders take a faster, more attack-oriented approach.

The Bengals counter this by overloading with six-man offensive lines and multiple lead-and motion-blockers. A speedy defense might trip them up early in the game, but the belief is Benson and his blockers can wear it down late.

That wasn’t the case when these teams met in Week 14. The Bengals tried to go to the ground to protect a late lead, but Benson totaled minus-five yards on five carries in the fourth quarter. Not only are the Texans’ linebackers collectively faster than any in the NFL, but defensive ends – J.J. Watt, Antonio Smith and Tim Jamison are elite penetrating run-stoppers.

If the Bengals want to sustain offense against Wade Phillips’ crew, they’ll have to go to the air.

2. Dalton and the passing attack
The second-rounder from TCU has been one of the steadiest, most cerebral game-managers in all of football this season. What Dalton lacks in arm strength he makes up for in timing, poise and confidence.

First-year offensive coordinator Jay Gruden has built a system ideally suited for Dalton, featuring play-action and rollouts, moving pockets and quick-strike reads to the slot and flats (hence the expanded joker role for tight end Jermaine Gresham). Dalton has the pocket toughness and moxie to make it work.

But that speedy front seven from Houston can jeopardize all this. It’s not just that the Texans sack quarterbacks (they ranked sixth in that department this season), it’s that they make them play fast. Connor Barwin’s and Brooks Reed’s relentless off the edge rattles pockets; J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith are two of the few 3-4 ends who can beat a pass-blocker with a quick first step; and perhaps most significant, inside linebacker

Brian Cushing blitzes with impeccable speed and timing. Cushing’s effectiveness in this sense is a big reason why Houston has frequently had success blitzing with just five rushers. Able to keep defenders back, the Texans have racked up gobs of coverage sacks.

Dalton is willing to hang in there against the blitz (worth noting is that last time these teams met, Phillips was more aggressive than usual, occasionally playing Cover 0 and bringing the entire gauntlet of defenders). He’s been just a tad inconsistent in his precision accuracy the last few games, and he quietly struggled throughout the year on deep balls. These issues, however, have not derived from hasty or flawed mechanics and aren’t prominent enough for a defense to intentionally exploit.

Green and Joseph will square off again in the playoffs. (Getty Images)

3. Johnathan Joseph on A.J. Green
The Bengals passing attack centers around the downfield acrobatics of A.J. Green. They take several deep shots a game with the rookie Pro Bowler – often off play-action from run formations – and have him clear out coverage for the underneath receivers in the flats.

Interestingly, Green will be guarded by Johnathan Joseph, the sensational ex-Bengals corner who’s now the fulcrum of Houston’s coverage schemes. Joseph is arguably the premier deep ball defender in the NFL. That’s a big reason why he’s in the select group of corners who truly shadow the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver week in and week out.

Joseph’s unique talent lends multiplicity and versatility to the rest of Houston’s secondary. That’s something Dalton and his ancillary targets must adjust to (one-on-one coverage for Jerome Simpson is not guaranteed this Saturday). The Joseph-Green matchup could very well decide the outcome. The last bout was a draw; Green finished with just 59 yards receiving but did have a tremendous 36-yard touchdown.

4. Bengals D vs. T.J. Yates
Even though it was Yates’ first start on the road, Gary Kubiak did not keep tight reigns on his fifth-round rookie quarterback at Cincinnati. He ran Houston’s regular passing attack, which is built around play-action off the stretch handoff (see: below), screens and downfield crossing patterns that attack man-to-man or Cover 3 (a zone the Bengals commonly play against base offensive personnel).

If you could characterize Gary Kubiak’s offense in one snapshot, this would be it. This is the stretch handoff, the most potent play in Houston’s zone run game. We froze the shot here because it’s indeterminable whether it’s a run or a play-action pass. Look at the Bengals back level defenders. The linebackers (53 Thomas Howard and 58 Rey Maualuga) have no choice but to flow right; the defensive backs are playing back and not attacking the run or their receiver.

The stretch handoff forces an entire defense to pause before committing to an attack. It presents a more dynamic play-action element because when it’s finally revealed whether the quarterback handed the ball off or kept it himself, the play has been unfolding for nearly two seconds (much longer than a traditional play-action). By this point, if it’s a handoff, the offensive linemen are further down their run-blocking paths; if it’s a pass, the receivers are further into their routes. Thus, any defenders who misdiagnoses the play is caught even further out of position than usual.

This is the case if the stretch play is executed well. As an offense, the risk is that when your stretch play is executed poorly, the drawn-out time elements work just as potently against you, as defenders that easily sniff out what you’re doing now have more time to react.

Kubiak trusted Yates to make plays; aside from a few short-armed throws, Yates responded extremely well. He exhibited his quick release, poise in the pocket and patience in progressions, completing 26 of 44 for 300 yards and engineering a brilliant 13-play, 80-yard game-winning touchdown drive.

Since then, Yates’ confidence has led to a few bad decisions. He had two atrocious interceptions in the loss to Carolina and did not push the ball downfield the next week when Indianapolis’ defense took away the crossing routes and rollout passes. There’s no telling how Yates might respond to unfamiliar looks in a playoff game.

A deep, lively defensive line has allowed Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to drift away from some of the high-risk pressure concepts that have long defined his system, but don’t be surprised if Zimmer throws a few safety/corner blitzes at the rookie on Saturday.

5. Texans zone run game
Even if they’re confident in Yates and finally have Andre Johnson at full force, the Texans will center their offensive attack around the ground game. Their front five is by far the best zone-blocking unit in the league – LT Duane Brown, C Chris Myers and RT Eric Winston have all had Pro Bowl caliber seasons – and they have the AFC’s best all-around runner in Arian Foster.

Compact 220-pound backup Ben Tate can also move the chains. The Bengals have a staunch run defense, thanks to meaty nose tackle Domata Peko and the great one-on-one play of his sidekick Geno Atkins. They also benefit from the athleticism at linebackers and the superb outside tackling of cornerback Nate Clements.

However, this defense did give up a big run to Ben Tate in Week 14 and got burned on huge runs by Ray Rice (who plays in a zone scheme similar to Houston’s) in both losses to Baltimore.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Wild Card games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com