Texans Shut Down Dalton By Shutting Down Green

The Cincinnati Bengals were supposed to be one of football's worst teams in 2011, but nobody told Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. Thanks to a surprisingly competent Bengals passing game -- Cincinnati's 6.0 adjusted yards per attempt ranked 16th in the league -- the Bengals' offense was just good enough to power them to a 9-7 record and a playoff berth.

Green, in particular, was the big play threat and clearly the best player on the offensive side of the ball in Cincinnati. The fourth overall draft pick finished 6th in total WR WPA and 9th in total WR EPA. He was Cincinnati's passing offense, earning substantially more EPA (55.4) and WPA (1.98) than Dalton (27.5 and -0.23 respectively). That is, when Dalton wasn't throwing to Green he was a mediocre quarterback at best. When the ball headed towards number 18, the Bengals offense clicked like a finely tuned machine.

Saturday against Houston, the Bengals offense was completely stifled. For the first time, a team was able to completely neutralize A.J. Green, and the Bengals were left completely stunned.

The consistency of A.J. Green's regular season was remarkable. In his fifteen games, only once did Green's WPA drop into negative territory, never dropping below -0.1 or -1.0 respectively. He averaged over eight yards per target on nine different occasions. He also showed the ability to dominate games, with big performances against Cleveland (three receptions, 110 yards, 8.2 EPA, +0.38 WPA), St. Louis (six receptions, 115 yards, 8.5 EPA, +0.29 WPA) and Tennessee (seven receptions, 83 yards, 11.2 EPA, +0.41 WPA).

Early on against Houston, it looked like Green would make his presence felt yet again. On the Bengals' eighth play from scrimmage, Dalton heaved a deep pass for a single-covered A.J. Green down the middle of the field. Grover Quin was forced to interfere in order to prevent a touchdown, and the result was a 52-yard gain for the Bengals. The play picked up 3.2 EPA as well, and in terms of both yardage and EPA it was the Bengals' biggest play of the day.

For much of the game, it was big-time free agent signing Jonathan Joseph, not Quin, charged with the task of covering Green. The rookie was never quite able to break free again. Green would go on to manage just five catches for 47 yards on 12 targets, mustering a horrid -7.1 EPA, by a wide margin his worst of the season.

Throughout the season, as Green went, so did Dalton, as illustrated here by week-to-week EPA:

There is, of course, going to be some natural correlation due to the shared credit of EPA. Still, on just two occasions did Dalton perform significantly better on passes not thrown Green's direction. Green's talent so far outweighs the rest of the Bengals' receiving corps that the passing game effectively revolves around his performances.

And so, although Dalton was able to rack up completions even as the Texans ran out to the lead, they didn't amount to much. Dalton finished 27-for-42 with 257 yards, but he was also sacked four times for 33 yards and threw three interceptions, leaving him with a mere -4.3 EPA, -0.10 WPA, and a horrid 1.9 adjusted yards per attempt.

T.J. Yates, Arian Foster and the rest of the Texans offense deserves credit for their performance in Saturday's game as well, but as with the regular season, it was Houston's top-flight defense which powered their first ever playoff victory. For the first time this season, a team was able to truly shut down A.J. Green, and with the rest of the Bengals offense discombobulated, the Texans breezed into the divisional round.

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4 Responses to “Texans Shut Down Dalton By Shutting Down Green”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Go Texans!

  2. James says:

    Solid post.

  3. Brian Burke says:

    Great analysis. I wonder what happened there in week 6. Green looks like he was shut down then too.

    It's pretty unusual for a #1 receiver to underperform his QB in EPA. The WRs don't get docked for sacks, sack-fumbles, etc. A lot of things have to go right for the ball to be targeted at them in the first place.

  4. joe lowrey says:

    If AJ Green makes Dalton effective and a lack of Green makes him ineffective should the Bengals still be looking for a quarterback

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