Texans coach Gary Kubiak can’t just come out and say it, but the evidence of trust issues with his young quarterback were abundantly clear during Thursday night’s debacle in Indianapolis.
The ramifications of admitting as much at this point would not do either T.J. Yates or the Texans any good, especially when you consider a now must-win season-finale and the team’s mental psyche for the playoffs are at stake. But the proof was in the way in which Kubiak and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison called Thursday night’s game.
They made sure the rookie, who six weeks ago had no suited up in an NFL game, didn’t lose it for them. The problem was they didn’t give Yates a chance to win it for them by taking away the deep ball and pretty much the passing game in general during the 19-16 loss to the Colts that now has us all believing the Texans will be one-and-done in the playoffs in a couple weeks.
Kubiak and Dennison have to get over it and let Yates play. We saw the results when they try to save Yates from his rookie self.
For the first time this season, Kubiak and Dennison coached scared instead of sticking with the aggressive script that has gotten them to the top of the AFC South despite playing what seems like only one quarter this season with their full complement of offensive weapons – quarterback Matt Schaub, running back Arian Foster and receiver Andre Johnson – on the field at the same time.
Not only did Yates suffer for their lack of trust, but the talented cast around him struggled, as well. Through all the injury adversity tight end Owen Daniels, receivers Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones and Foster could count on the offensive approach not changing.
But Thursday night, Daniels seemed off as did the receivers and the offensive line, which uncharacteristically gave up four sacks. Yates attempted just 16 passes the entire night, which might win a game at the mid-major college level but that doesn’t work in the NFL.
Once the Colts figured out Kubiak and Dennison no longer had faith in Yates, they gambled by sitting on short routes and being willing to give up the occasional big runs to Foster knowing they would get favorable down-and-distance on third downs. When you are faced with third-and-forever most of the night and the quarterback isn’t a threat to go deep it shouldn’t have been a wonder Houston was 1 for 10 on third downs Thursday night.
Clearly, the Texans reigned in Yates after seeing him throw two costly interceptions last Sunday in the loss to Carolina. Yates didn’t throw an interception Thursday, but he also didn’t throw a touchdown or lead the Texans to another touchdown after a Colts turnover delivered a quick touchdown on the first offensive possession of the night.
Kubiak seemed pleased Friday that Yates had completed 13 of 16 passes.
“I think T.J. continues to do some good things,” said Kubiak, whose 10-5 team is riding a troubling two-game losing streak going into next Sunday’s regular-season finale against Tennessee. “He did some good things last night. You complete 13 out of 16 throws in this league, you’re doing something right.”
Kubiak said not enough good happened around Yates, particularly the blocking up front where he received expected pressure from a pretty good Colts defensive front. Hopefully Kubiak realizes the biggest problem hindering Yates was the conservative game plan.
Kubiak and his staff have to open it back up win or lose against the Titans. The Texans need to keep it going in the playoffs. Superstar receiver Andre Johnson should be back in the lineup against Tennessee after sitting out the last three games with a hamstring problem, which should automatically loosen up the defense.
Yates isn’t Schaub but up until this week Kubiak had refused to treat his young quarterback any different. The approach worked during an impressive win over the Atlanta Falcons and it worked again the next week as Yates led the Texans on an improbable game-winning drive against Cincinnati that clinched the franchises’ first division crown and playoff berth.
Altering the formula that has delivered the Texans to this point under some rather perplexing circumstances would be the worst mistake Kubiak has made this season.
Yates should still be a third string quarterback taking mental reps in practice, but the ability of Kubiak and the offensive to prepare him has been incredible. The uncomfortable reality is Yates will have to fail in order to grow and that could come with the expense of a three-game losing streak to end the regular season and a likely one-and-done exit in the playoffs.
Most teams in the NFL wouldn’t have made it this far with their third string rookie quarterback, but with aggressive play calling the Texans have already kicked open doors that were previously locked with Yates at the helm.
So you might as continue the approach that has brought you to this point.