PLEASE NOTE: The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on BaltimoreRavens.com represent those of individual authors, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the Baltimore Ravens' organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. Authors' views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Ravens officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.
No rookie quarterback has led a team into Baltimore and won a game since Jake Plummer did it with the Arizona Cardinals back in 1997.
The Ravens hope to keep that streak alive this weekend when T.J. Yates and the Texans come to town for Sunday’s divisional-round matchup.
The 23-year-old quarterback has just seven starts under his belt, but the Ravens insist he’s not playing like a rookie.
“He’s not a rookie anymore and it’s time to play,” Ravens safety Ed Reed said about Yates. “This guy is doing exactly what the coaches need him to do.”
Yates came into the NFL without much fanfare. A fifth-round pick out of the University of North Carolina, he wasn’t expected to get much – if any – playing time for the Houston Texans this season.
Instead, after a pair of season-ending injuries to Houston’s top two quarterbacks – Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart – the rookie finds himself leading the AFC South champions into Baltimore.
“Yates has done a great job adapting to the system, and knowing the defenses to get the ball off,” safety Bernard Pollard said.
Yates lacks the accolades of starter Schaub, who was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2009, but in the last seven games he completed 60 percent of his passes, threw four touchdowns compared to three interceptions and Houston went 4-3 during that stretch.
He hasn’t been intercepted in his last three appearances, and looked more comfortable in the wild-card win over Cincinnati than in some of his previous starts.
“He’s done his part, and I think he continues to get better and gain more confidence,” Texans Head Coach Gary Kubiak said earlier this week.
Since Yates took over the starting job, the Texans offense hasn’t gone through a significant overhaul but they have leaned slightly more on Arian Foster and the running game. Their success starts with the ground game, and Yates is asked to make some clutch throws on third downs and long-yardage situations.
“They’re running their offense; it’s the same package that they ran early,” Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “T.J. Yates has got his imprint on it, but he looks very similar to the two other guys running it.”
Foster is the catalyst of the Texans’ offense, so the first objective for Baltimore is to limit his production and force Yates to throw the ball.
“They can run the football, which takes a lot of pressure off of [Yates],” Ravens Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “Our focus is, No. 1, we’ve got to stop the run.”
If Baltimore is able to keep Foster at bay, then they can focus on getting after Yates in the pocket and try to rattle him.
Yates has taken 17 sacks in seven games, which averaged over the course of a complete 16-game season would be the most in the NFL. Baltimore’s defense ranked second in the league with 48 sacks in the regular season, and pressuring the quarterback is a priority every week.
“We just have to get after the passer,” defensive lineman Cory Redding said. “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.”
In their Week 6 victory over Houston, the Ravens were able to hold Foster to 49 rushing yards and sacked Schaub four times. Houston had just one offensive touchdown in the first meeting.
The Ravens hope to keep up their success against the Texans’ offense, and will use the road atmosphere to make life tough on the rookie quarterback.
“Schaub is out, and Yates is in, and he is doing a phenomenal job right now,” Redding said. “A young quarterback coming into a hostile environment and really having troubles with communicating, it’s going to play into our hands. We are just going to sit back and let the crowd do their thing and we’ll do our job.”