The Houston Texans are heading back to the playoffs for the second consecutive season as AFC South champions. Houston’s 12-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 16 secured them a fourth postseason berth in six years.
1. You can’t keep Tom Savage down for long. Once the Bengals subjected Houston to a deficit of over three points, the promoted quarterback turned it on, leading the Texans‘ only touchdown drive of the game in just over two minutes to put Houston ahead for good. Savage’s first half was historically terrible (2/7, 13 yds, 3 sacks), and he often looked more like his predecessor, Brock Osweiler, in the pocket, resorting to dump offs to running backs and C.J. Fiedorowicz. But the playbook opened up for Savage in the second half when the Texans went to a no-huddle offense. Savage was more comfortable, making some clutch throws in a collapsing pocket. Most importantly, he targeted star wideout DeAndre Hopkins five times down the stretch, connecting for three catches and 43 yards. Houston has found its formula with January approaching: Hurry with Hopkins.
2. Savage will be the guy going forward, but how should Houston handle the QB position next week at Tennessee? What looked to be the game of the week is now an all-but-meaningless contest, what with the Titans eliminated and Marcus Mariota injured. Would Bill O’Brien consider playing both Savage and Osweiler next week, so to at least avoid injury to his preferred starter? We’ve learned this week that, heading into the postseason, you can never be too careful with your QB1.
3. This Thursday Night Special on Saturday Night played out like Week 7’s Seahawks-Cardinals matchup, which is to say a sneaky defensive slugfest. Both units came out flying. Cincinnati’s defensive line sacked Savage three times in the first half and four times on the game. Jadeveon Clowney (one sack) and Whitney Mercilus (two sacks) were terrors once again against Cincy’s porous line. But the key to both defenses’ prowess on the night was the secondary play. Bengals corners Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones combined to handle Hopkins and Will Fuller on the outside for three quarters. Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye had a game-high nine tackles and continues to play himself into a multi-year deal. Bouye, Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson will be able to hold their own against the AFC’s best receiving corps in the postseason.
4. Cincinnati looked lost on offense without its star receivers. Without Tyler Eifert and A.J. Green, Andy Dalton resorted to rookie receiver Cody Core, who garnered 14 targets, and Brandon LaFell. Regarding the Bengals‘ offensive performance, LaFell’s 86-yard touchdown was the exception, not the rule. Give credit to the Texans‘ aforemenioned defense for shutting Cincy down, but Saturday night was just another example of how injuries to Eifert, Green and Giovani Bernard sabotaged what could have been another playoff-bound campaign for the Bengals.
5. In the same vein, the Texans need Lamar Miller back. Akeem Hunt and Alfred Blue were fine options out of the backfield — the latter’s touchdown won the game, after all — but Miller’s absence due to an ankle injury limited how Houston was able to start the game and set the pace. Miller had seen 43 rushes and two scores in his previous two games, taking pressure away from his struggling signal callers. Houston may want to think about giving Miller some snaps against Tennessee, despite the injury risk, to test its game plan.