J-Joe returns to a run

This is one of the many reasons the Texans so coveted Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph in this past summer's free agency.

He had played a bunch of big, rough-and-tumble games with bruising playoff implications in the AFC North during his five seasons in Cincinnati and that's what happens when Joseph returns to Paul Brown Stadium this Sunday (1 p.m.-WLW-AM 700) with the Texans needing a win over the Bengals and a Titans loss to the Saints to clinch the AFC South and their first playoff berth in the franchise's 10 seasons.

How can it get any better for Joseph? He just got married, just got $23.5 million guaranteed, there's a child on the way, and he just may be the main man on the NFL's second-best defense.

"You guys know me," Joseph told the Cincinnati media in his Wednesday conference call. "Everything is always the next game up. I'm not really an emotional guy one way or another. It's all about business with me."

He finds his old team in the middle of a playoff scrum, too, but this isn't the same team he helped to the AFC North title with a division sweep two years ago. Certainly not as he prepares for an offense with a pair of rookies in quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green. Joseph believes it is a much more balanced offense than that '09 team that lived on the ground with running back Cedric Benson and didn't have tight end Jermaine Gresham's five touchdown catches.

"I would say, absolutely. You've got a number of different weapons that you can spread the ball out to over there," Joseph said. "You've got your full work cut out for you every Sunday with the offensive package Cincinnati brings forth to the table.

"Right now, over there you guys have a lot of young, fresh legs with A.J., Jerome (Simpson), Andre (Caldwell), Jermaine Gresham, Ced still playing lights out and you have the young kid Andy Dalton playing quarterback. More so at the skill positions, more so than just offensive linemen and whatever else going on, the skill position players are more youthful and young. Guys, you can see making plays up and down the field, more explosive plays."

The Bengals are, then, built a little closer to the Texans team that drilled them in the middle of that '09 playoff run at PBS, 28-17. (Joseph is still mad about the pick he dropped on the sidelines in that game that he says would have won it.)

"A lot of those games were tight ballgames won by the defensive side," Joseph said. "When we won the division it was heavily defense that won with that team that year. The defense was No. 4 overall and here I think it's more balanced than we were in 2009 in Cincinnati."

As you would expect, Houstonians are loving Joseph for the same reasons Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer stood at Georgetown College in the wake of Joseph's departure and said he had "gone in the tank."

With the help of Joseph and new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, the Texans went from having the fourth-worst pass defense in NFL history last year to currently being No. 1 in the league in allowing yards per pass, opponent completion percentage (49.8), and opponent passer rating (60.7). Joseph usually gets the top receiver and since Baltimore's Anquan Boldin had 132 yards back in Houston's last loss on Oct. 16, no wide receiver has caught more than 50 yards in a game.

"He's been exceptional. Not only has he played well, but he's really been a leader of our group," Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said in his conference call with the Cincinnati media. "We're very young in the secondary last year. Him coming here has really calmed them down, so to speak. I think he's given them a lot of confidence, a mentor type of guy. He's been exceptional here. You guys know him well, but he's played very, very well for our team."


Which would seem that Joseph and fellow South Carolinian A.J. Green get the match Sunday. Kubiak says the 6-4 Green has the same leaping Pro Bowl skill set of his own Andre Johnson, a 6-3 guy that the 5-11 Joseph has worked against in practice.

"You just want to go out and play sound technique. You don't want to gamble any because gambling gets you beat in this league, so like I said, you want to go and take the things that we do from the practice field to the game field," Joseph said. "Obviously, he's a great talent. They selected him top-10 overall, and he's been living up to that bill ever since the moment he stepped in that building, from what I've heard and what I've seen on film.

"A great young player. I don't know him personally but I had a chance to watch him back in high school when I was at the University of South Carolina. They played their state championship game there and he's pretty much been doing the same thing he's doing today he was doing back in high school. He's a great young player and he's doing what was expected of him being drafted where he was. He's a difference-maker and he's doing exactly that."

The Texans paid a heavy price for going so young there last year. They had a second-year strong safety in Glover Quinn and a first-round pick at cornerback in Kareem Jackson.

"We went young in the secondary, and obviously we had big problems back there last year with our youth," Kubiak said. "So getting Johnathan not only is he a great player but just the stability he's brought to the group and the credibility he's brought to the group, the success he's had in the league and what he's stood for and the success he's had against the players he had to go against week in and week out. He speaks, those kids listen."

It's meant a change in roles from Cincinnati, where Joseph never had to be a mentor because he grew up with Leon Hall on the other side, first-round bookend corners from the 2006 and 2007 drafts. The mentor came a year later in Chris Crocker, the safety players call "Pops."

"Leon and me were a year apart, me and Kareem are four to five years apart, there's obviously a difference there," Joseph said. "But Kareem's progressed throughout the course of this year and I think it's helped with some of the advice I've given him, and our DBs coach as well, as well as Wade Phillips, (assistant secondary coach) Perry (Carter). So it's been a number of things. I wouldn't totally say it's just me coming here and helping him out all alone. He's a great player. He's still only 23 years old."

And Joseph does know what's being said about Green in PBS because he has a ton of friends here that he still keeps in touch with. When he got off the field in Tampa back on Nov. 13, Joseph heard that Hall had ended his season with a torn Achilles and Joseph immediately called him.

"To let him know that he was in my prayers and that I was thinking about him," Hall said. "As you guys know, he's like a brother to me and always will be."

Crocker loves those intangibles. On Wednesday, he said the Bengals miss those more than anything.

"We miss J-Joe. He's been not only a great teammate, he's a good friend," Crocker said. "I was here the majority of his career with him—him and Leon—we have just been together here for a long time. The more time you spend with somebody, it's just that familiarity; it's just easy to be around a guy like that. That's the thing we miss the most, he's just a good guy, good locker room guy. Good teammate. You just miss people like that.

"The guy is good at everything. So, it's not like I can say this is all he can do, you know, and he can't do this, he can't run. You know, he can do them all. The only knock on J-Joe is his health. And when he is healthy he's playing his butt off."

Indeed, the Bengals were apparently in the ballpark on total money with the Texans but weren't enamored with dropping a lot of guaranteed money on a guy that had played 16 games just twice in five years while Hall was heading into a contact year with no missed games. Now Hall is shelved for the year with his first injury of any kind. Joseph's replacement, Nate Clements, sat out Wednesday's practice after a hamstring injury took him out of the game in Pittsburgh last Sunday, and Joseph hasn't missed a game.

Also figuring into his decision was that no one had an idea what was going to happen on offense.

"It was definitely better here. That was one of the main things I had to consider was the guarantee and the financial situation that was offered here and a lot of other things that they had in place at the moment that didn't look so well in Cincinnati at the time," said Joseph, referring to the situations surrounding quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Chad Ochocinco.  "Just the uncertainty at the quarterback position, the wide receiver position. As you can see, both of those positions were taken care of with the draft and the guys over there are doing well. The offense is running nice and smooth, so I guess it worked itself out both ways.

"At the moment. I'm not getting any younger; it's not like I'm 35 years old either. But at the moment, when you have a chance to make a decision, you have to react based on what's in front of you right now, present, at the moment."

Joseph can't say enough good things about Dalton, the guy that did end up replacing Palmer.

"He hasn't been playing like a rookie. He's got seven wins. To get seven wins from a rookie that's great," Joseph said. "I think back in 2009 we won (10) games. Seven wins with four more to go and he's a rookie quarterback it says a lot about the young man Andy Dalton. Just the way he acts, because I remember coming in in the summertime, a lot of things being said about him and what he can and can't do and we look at it now he's won seven ballgames as a rookie.

"I think he manages the game well. He's had some turnovers but it's not like he's making a ton of bad decisions. I think overall his decision-making, his poise and watching him out there he seems like a four- or five-year veteran. His poise in every different situation he manages the game well."

And that's exactly what Joseph plans to do on Sunday.

"Just another game," he said. "You know me."

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