BENGALS DT DOMATA PEKO VS. TEXANS C CHRIS MYERS
With Texans rookie quarterback T.J. Yates making his second NFL start and Pro Bowl wider receiver Andre Johnson not expected to be there for him Sunday (1 p.m.-WLW-AM 700) against the Bengals, this is rocket science.
The Bengals have to blow up the chemistry of Houston's machine-like offensive line so the NFL's third-best running game doesn't get traction on a day it doesn't have an experienced quarterback and its best receiver. The Texans run a crisp zone blocking scheme that is so highly regarded that some at PBS are comparing the beauty of their choreographed movements to what offensive line guru Jim McNally did with the Bengals when he first made zone blocking the NFL rage a generation ago.
The system is based on speed, athleticism and timing with linemen asked to block an area and move the defense rather than overpower it. It has been so successful in Houston this season that two backs, a former college free agent in Arian Foster (five) and a 2010 second-rounder in Ben Tate (four), have divided up nine 100-yard games.
The 6-4, 289-pound Myers is representative of the line. Not particularly big (Houston's line averages 304 pounds to Cincinnati's 332), he's strong enough to fend off linemen and athletic and versatile enough to get to the linebacker level. When they scouted him before the 2005 draft at the University of Miami, where he played tackle, the Bengals thought Myers could eventually play anywhere on the line.
Because of Houston's excellent combo blocking, Peko and his linemates have to consume and disrupt Myers and his group so they can't get to the second level and block middle linebacker Rey Maualuga and his guys.
The Bengals numbers against the run have dipped in the last four games. After allowing one team to rush for 100 yards in the first eight games, they've allowed at least 105 in the last four, topped off by a season-high 136 in Pittsburgh last week.
The Bengals have spent the week talking about being more disciplined and staying in their gaps, which doesn't impress defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.
"I think that's an easy thing to say when you don't do as (well) as you think. I think that's the easiest answer for everyone to say," Zimmer said. "It still comes down to whipping the guy in front of you and making a play."
Which is what the Bengals have to do. They have to use their strength and physicality to beat the timing of the zone.
The man to break down this matchup is a guy that played all five spots for McNally's first Bengals line in 1980, long-time Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham:
"The concept of the inside zone is it can break anywhere. Everybody is area blocking and all somebody has to do is get a cutoff block somewhere, or somebody cuts a guy in half and is able to seal him off.
"This is more like the Denver style when they had Alex Gibbs as the offensive line coach about 15 years or so ago. It didn't matter who the running back was. They always had a 1,000 yard rusher because of what they were doing up front.
"Tommy Nalen from Boston College was a multiple Pro Bowl center for Denver and this guy Myers is pretty good. I'm not saying he's as good as Nalen, but he's a good player. You have to have good technique, you have to have good feet, you have to have good everything, really, and he does. None of these guys are in the Pro Bowl; they're just all really good. Solid.
"The defensive front has to stay on their feet, stay in their gaps. Can't get cut off. Linebackers have to be disciplined. They can't over-pursue. Everyone has to be disciplined. Can't get nosy in other people's gaps. Don't try and do too much. Do what you're supposed to do. Can't guess. Can't be overanxious. Be patient. The front seven has to be choreographed. It can't freelance. You can't get beat at the point of the attack so the play gets bounced.
"Don't harvest someone else's crop. Harvest your own."