Most of the buzz following the Texans' grinding Week 13 victory over the Falcons is about rookie QB T.J. Yates — and with good reason. In his first NFL start, Yates played with great confidence, debunking the perception that head coach Gary Kubiak's playbook would shrink with a fifth-rounder under center. Yates, who WR Andre Johnson said after the game loves to take his shots downfield, ran all the familiar boots and rollouts Texans fans are accustomed to seeing while gaining 7.5 yards per pass attempt and doing a solid job protecting the football.
It does appear that, while Yates lacks the experience of backup Matt Leinart, he is more comfortable than Leinart airing it out and is clearly the most mobile of Houston's signalcallers. It stands to reason that his comfort level will increase as he gets more reps during practice and in the final quarter of the season.
But the performance of the Texans' defense, which faced its most formidable adversary since the Saints edged Houston by a fourth-quarter TD in Week Three, was equally impressive, holding the Falcons to their lowest point total of the season.
The PFW Spin
Some of the numbers from Sunday's 17-10 Texans victory are a bit misleading. The stat sheet states that the Texans did not record a sack of Matt Ryan. However, anyone who was watching the game could clearly see Houston dominating the line of scrimmage and making Ryan uncomfortable on the majority of his 47 dropbacks. Houston put Ryan on his back 10 times, forcing him to rush a number of throws. OLB Connor Barwin, the defensive player of the month in November, was responsible for four QB hits. Barwin has 8½ sacks on the season, but as Houston Chronicle reporter and PFW correspondent John McClain pointed out on Twitter, Barwin has had three sacks nullified by penalty, including a strip-sack of Ryan that was wiped out by defensive holding. Houston had big plans for Barwin last season before the savvy pass rusher suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week One. His play throughout this season has made it evident why the Texans view him as one of their best pass rushers and drafted him in the second round in 2009.
Second-year CB Kareem Jackson, who received the game ball from Kubiak, played "probably his best game as a pro," according to the head coach. Jackson showed great discipline on his first-half interception, not biting on a flea-flicker and hauling in Ryan's underthrown pass. He was also in on the final play of the game, an incomplete pass in the left corner of the endzone to rookie Julio Jones. Although it appeared to the naked eye that Jones dropped what would have been the game-tying score, replays revealed that Jackson was able to reach his hand in and disrupt the play. No Texan has been more scrutinized the past year than Jackson, but he has remained confident and upbeat and came through in a monster win on Sunday.
Did the Texans catch some breaks? Absolutely. Ryan sailed two of his first three pass attempts over the heads of Roddy White and Julio Jones, both of whom had a step on their defender and nothing but daylight in front of them. Atlanta was also responsible for a number of drops. But every team needs to have some bounces go their way throughout a 16-game season, and the 9-3 Texans, who have been hammered by one key injury after the next, were due for a bit of luck at an opportune time.
Expect the talk about Yates to continue as Houston marches toward its first postseason. After all, it is the rarest of rare to see a rookie third-stringer steering the ship of a playoff team. But Yates wasn't the only one to pass a test with flying colors on Sunday. Houston's "D" has become the heart and soul of the club and likely will give Yates and Co. a good shot in every game the rest of the way.