When you have a third-string rookie quarterback come into the starting lineup and help you beat a playoff contender with a legit defense, you're going to have some people thinking the sky is the limit. After demonstrating his poise, pocket presence and ability to make the big throw, the Houston Texans' T.J. Yates has raised the hopes of many fans.
Watching the pregame show on NFL Network before the game, you'd have thought the Texans had been kicked out of the league. The guys from NFL Gameday went around the table and argued for one team they thought was the best in the AFC.
Both the Raiders and the Broncos got defended, but the Texans were nowhere to be found until Rich Eisen made a joke at the end about how they'd like to have Kurt Warner put on a Texans helmet. So it came as no surprise when all of the talking heads and so-called experts made their picks and not one of them picked the Texans to top the Falcons. Hell, even the local media in Houston was picking the Falcons to win.
But the team showed the nation what most of the fanbase already knew—the defense and running game combined with smart QB play that limits turnovers is a formula that works for this team. Even though Yates technically did have a turnover in the game, I'm refusing to acknowledge that abomination of a call. But I digress.
A tough 17-10 victory over a team like Atlanta does have many amped-up for how far this team can go the rest of this season, and I won't lie—it's pretty exciting to think about. But there are some bumps in the road ahead that should tell us more. Let us assess some of those bumps now and try to figure out just how far this team can go with Yates under center.
The Atlanta Defense is Good, Not Great
I'm not trying to take away from what Houston was able to do against a team with the second-ranked run defense in the entire league. The Texans were the first team since last season to have a running back go over 100 yards against the Falcons, and that's no small feat. But I think Yates has two things going against him in the near future.
First, there is now tape on him. You can always sneak up and punch a team in the mouth when they're not sure how to scout against you. You had better believe that the four teams left on the schedule will be watching some tape of Yates' performance against the Falcons in the near future.
Second, the Texans are going to face much tougher defenses than Atlanta's in the next few games. The Bengals have the sixth-ranked defense in the league, and they're tough at home. The Steelers, who have overtaken the Texans as the top defense in the league, and the Ravens (third in the league) are both ahead of Houston in the playoff seedings, and teams will have to go through one or maybe both to win the AFC.
I'm not saying that can't be done, I'm just saying fans need to take a step back and realize the Texans didn't just beat the '85 Bears this past Sunday.
Andre Johnson Going Down Hurts Yates' Deep Threat
In what has been just a nightmare season for Andre Johnson, he made some big catches against Atlanta only to pull the opposite hamstring of the one that benched him for six and a half games. When Johnson was in the game, Yates connected on a long 50-plus yarder to him that helped stretch the field and open up the running game.
There isn't another guy on this team that has the ability to demand double coverage deep and force teams to not stack the box against them. Word is that Johnson's injury is "mild" and not as serious as the one before, but I can see them resting him until the playoffs, which is the right move. The guy has been in Houston through so much pain and misery, the team should let him be on the field for the Texans' first-ever postseason game.
Anything Less Than 3-1 The Rest of The Way Is Unacceptable
Based off the last four teams on the schedule, Houston should go at least 3-1 the rest of the way. Excluding Cincinnati, none of those teams is anything better than below-average at stopping the running attack.
That combined with the dominant Houston defense leads me to believe that the worst Houston can do is finish with a 12-4 record this season. This is, of course, unless they are resting their starters in Week 17, in which case 11-5 would be fine.
Unfortunately, that isn't good enough to get them a first-round bye in the playoffs, but a third seed and a home playoff game is more than any Texans fan could have asked for this season.
As far as the playoffs, I'm still not ready to make any predictions. I still believe the AFC is wide open and anything can happen once the postseason begins. By season's end, we will have a big enough sample size of the Yates-led Texans for me to make a better assessment of the team's chances in the playoffs.
But for right now, I'm taking it one game at a time, just as "TJ Hooker" is. One thing I can say at this point is that Yates certainly doesn't look like the game is too big for him. His calm demeanor and moxie up to this point have Texans nation in a frenzy, and it should be a fun ride the rest of the way.
Why not T.J. Yates?