Texans head coach Gary Kubiak is willing to admit that playing a road playoff game with a rookie quarterback who has only six starts under his belt is less than an ideal situation.
A little over a year ago, T.J. Yates was under center for the University of North Carolina. Now in his rookie campaign, Yates has been forced into the Texans’ starting lineup due to injuries to starter Matt Schaub and backup Matt Leinart, and he’s preparing to head on the road and face the NFL’s No. 3 defense in a hostile environment.
That’s why the Ravens appear to have an edge going into Sunday’s divisional round matchup with Houston, and why Kubiak says he’s a little apprehensive about how Yates will perform in front of over 71,000 at M&T Bank Stadium.
“There’s concern from the standpoint of ... what will this be, (six) starts for the young man,” Kubiak said today on a conference call with Baltimore reporters. “He’s a very young player and this is a tall task for him, but we’ve tried to kind of build our team a little differently here over the course of last two months so that we can hopefully be successful and find a way to win games. I think in the process, he’s grown, and he’s gotten better. He’s made some mistakes but he finds a way to correct them.
“It still ultimately comes down to how we play as a team. It’s not all about our quarterback, it’s how we play as a football team in all three phases.”
Asked what he meant by “building the team a little differently” under Yates, Kubiak said he might have chosen his words poorly, but it’s clear what he meant.
In Yates’ six starts, the Texans have relied more heavily on their running game, which ranks second in the league. Yates has done a ton of handing off to running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate since taking over the reigns as Houston’s starting quarterback, and he’s thrown an average of just 22 passes in his seven games played.
That obviously is a bit of a change from the 29 passes per game that Schaub was putting up in his 10 starts this season.
“Obviously we’ve had to make some adjustments,” Kubiak said. “You’ve got a young man who’s never played in the NFL and all of a sudden he’s taken over your football team. So structure-wise, what do you do that he does best? Do you lean more in other directions of your football team? There’s a lot of things that have to happen, so it’s been a process for us with him as he’s grown over the course of the last month and a half, and we’ve grown as a team to try and figure out how do we win with a young quarterback. What’s the best way for us to go about our business?
“I think he’s come a long way, and we’ve become very comfortable with him in this process.”
Still, the Ravens are giving Yates plenty of credit going into this week. They saw how he attacked a tough Bengals defense last week, going 11-of-20 for 159 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions, and know that they’ll need to bring the pressure at Houston’s young quarterback to get him off his game on Sunday.
“It almost looks like he’s wearing No. 8 (Schaub’s number),” defensive end Cory Redding said. “That’s the good thing about football: Everybody is a competitor. You never know who you are going to face, but when they get out there, they are going to compete. Schaub is out, and Yates is in, and he is doing a phenomenal job right now. So, we just have to get after the passer. Once we eliminate the things we need to eliminate, and when it’s time to pin our ears back and go, we’re going to hunt.”