18 Nov 2008
This week's linked article is Eagles-focused, since the Bengals are mostly irrelevant thanks to the generally poor play of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. On Sunday, Fitzpatrick played a solid enough game, completing a number of short throws but getting sacked eight times. The bulk of his success, however, was throwing to the increasingly impressive T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Houshmandzadeh had always been the second receiver behind the more flamboyant, and frankly more explosive, Chad Johnson. This season, when the offensive line cannot hold up for consistent downfield throws, the Bengals are turning increasingly to Houshmandzadeh, and he is delivering. He has been targeted almost 30 times more than Johnson, and despite the volume, he is delivering a higher DVOA.
The change from Johnson to Houshmandzadeh as the focus of the offense has been gradual. Johnson was targeted 60 more times in 2004, 40 more times in 2005, and 20 more times in 2006. In 2007, Houshmandzadeh was targeted nine more times than Johnson but had a much lower DVOA.
What was impressive about Houshmandzadeh on Sunday was his ability to participate in every possible route. The majority of his receptions were in the intermediate range, often making fine catches in tight coverage. He also took some underneath passes and made plays after the catch. Rather than a purely Welker-esque game, he also was the recipient of a 26-yard touchdown pass that was the Bengals' only score.
What Houshmandzadeh has done is rare. He emerged as a second receiver who feasted on one-on-one coverage thanks to the attention paid to a dominant receiver on the other side. Rather than rest on his laurels, he has continued to improve and now is the dominant receiver. In fact, he has a higher DVOA this year than he did last season with Carson Palmer playing full time. Like Reggie Wayne in Indianapolis, he is now Cincinnati's No. 1 receiver with no corresponding drop in production. At age 31, this is probably near the peak of his production, and it is a shame that so much of the season is wasted with Fitzpatrick rather than a quarterback like Palmer who would allow Houshmandzadeh to put up clearly Pro Bowl numbers.
6 comments, Last at 21 Nov 2008, 3:04am by Anonymous90879870
"Last team with the ball wins" is a cliche, but sometimes cliches are the best way to get across the central narrative of an important game. If you like great quarterback play, you have to watch the NFC Championship Game.