Texans' fortunes hang on rookie QB Yates

Posted Nov. 28, 2011 @ 6:53 p.m.
Posted By Arthur Arkush

The Texans stacked another win on Sunday — their fifth in a row — by holding off the offensively inept Jaguars. The win improved Houston's record to 8-3. But the Texans also stacked another injury, this one threatening to derail a season overflowing with promise and excitement just a few short weeks ago.

Backup QB Matt Leinart, who lasted less than one half in his first NFL start in more than four years, will soon be placed on injured reserve with a broken collarbone, leaving Houston with just fifth-round rookie T.J. Yates and recently signed journeyman Kellen Clemens as its options under center.

The Texans are clinging to a two-game lead over the Titans in the AFC South, with two postseason hopefuls, the Falcons and Bengals, looming in the next two weeks.

The PFW Spin

As the Texans prepare to start their third different QB in as many weeks, let's quickly break down Yates. He's a big, smart, athletic QB who fits Houston's offense well. In his first NFL action in Week 12, Yates replaced Leinart with less than two minutes remaining before halftime and his team holding a seven-point lead. The rookie completed 3-of-6 passes, twice moving the chains to set up Neil Rackers for a 33-yard field goal heading into the half. Yates exhibited nice tempo in the two-minute drill, despite coming off the bench cold.

In the second half, Yates completed 5-of-9 passes for 39 yards. The good news: he did not turn the ball over, looked better than Jaguars starter Blaine Gabbert and helped his team hang on for the win. The bad news: Houston could not have played any more conservatively and Gabbert was benched in the fourth quarter.

Also troubling was Houston's inability to run the football in the second half. In the final 30 minutes, it managed only 16 yards on 17 carries. RBs Arian Foster and Ben Tate had very little space to operate with the Jaguars knowing what to expect. The Texans have been vulnerable against stout run defenses such as Oakland (70 rushing yards on 25 carries), Baltimore (93 rushing yards on 25 carries) and Jacksonville (88 rushing yards on 31 carries).

Which brings us to the timing of their latest QB injury: Atlanta and Cincinnati, the Texans' opponents in Weeks 13 and 14, respectively, are two of the top five run defenses in football. Houston must quickly prove that it can be dominant against big, physical fronts — even with more attention undoubtedly being paid to Foster and Tate as Yates gets acclimated — or things could go south quickly. Fortunately, the Texans close with three winnable games against the Panthers, Colts and Titans. Still, not relinquishing the confidence and momentum they've worked so hard to build over the past month will be critical.

The Texans plan to sign another veteran QB this week. But they already have quashed Brett Favre speculation — a wise move, we say — and passed on the likes of Brodie Croyle, Jeff Garcia and Trent Edwards when they opted for Clemens last week. In other words, one of these guys could be added to the mix, but will they really be a better option than Yates or Clemens?

Back to Yates: he has great weapons, coaching and the league's No. 1 ranked "D" working in his advantage. (Replace the word 'Yates' with 'Leinart' and it feels like last week all over again.) But what he doesn't have is the big-game experience that Leinart brought to the table, which was one of the most comforting aspects for the Texans after starter Matt Schaub went down. Leinart was a Rose Bowl champion and Heisman Trophy winner in college; Yates left the University of North Carolina with a 23-21 record as a starter.

The bottom line is that the strength of Houston's run game and defense has made it the AFC's No. 1 seed if the playoffs began today. That is encouraging, and there is no question the Texans will count on those elements even more down the home stetch. But like Leinart, whose golden opportunity vanquished because of an unlucky break, Yates is going to have to make some throws when opponents focus strictly on stopping the run. The Texans barely afforded him the opportunity in Week 12, instead sticking to the run game even when it wasn't working.

How quickly Yates can learn on the fly and give Kubiak confidence to open up the playbook likely will determine how far the Texans go.

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