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NFL Analysis: The Power of Texans Quarterback T.J. Yates

As has already been covered here, Week 14 was the week of the comeback for 2011.

Although Matt Prater's Denver Broncos will get much of the spotlight among the AFC comeback teams, it was the Houston Texans' last-drive comeback victory against the Cincinnati Bengals which had arguably the biggest impact on the playoff picture in the junior conference. With the loss, the Bengals' playoff odds sink to 20% as they will need to gain a game on the Jets against a schedule still including a game against Baltimore, and they also must stave off Oakland and Tennessee, who are both tied with Cincinnati at 7-6.

Meanwhile, the Texans clinched a playoff bid and still own a chance at a first-round bye or even home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.

The Texans looked like a legitimate Super Bowl contender with Matt Schaub. Given the high quality of the Texans' defense (ranked 2nd overall) and running game (42% run success rate), the Texans still looked like an above average team. However, the situation presented to T.J. Yates with 2:33 to go at Cincinatti was precisely the one which is supposed to sink Houston under Yates down the stretch and into the playoffs: down by six points with 80 yards to go on the road.

Yates was actually having a solid game entering the final drive, completing 20-of-32 passes with a touchdown and an interception, a solid +0.36 WPA and +7.0 EPA. He turned it into overdrive in the final drive and particularly the final minute:

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With the Texans out of timeouts, Yates was forced to throw the ball 11 times on the final drive. The rookie completed 6-of-10 passes for 68 yards and also drew a critical (and somewhat controversial) pass interference call against Adam Jones on a third-and-10 from the 23 with just 12 seconds left. Two plays later, Yates found Kevin Walter completely wide open on the center of the goal line for what would turn out to be the game winning score. Overall, Yates compiled 4.5 expected points added and a whopping 0.62 WPA on the drive -- 0.70 in the game's final minute.

Although nobody believes that Yates is a better quarterback than Schaub -- nor should they -- based on two games, the Texans' rookie has stepped up big time in his new role. He now owns a +0.33 WPA per game and a +0.23 EPA per play, both numbers which surpass Schaub's full-season numbers and would rank in the top-four quarterbacks in the league. If Yates can maintain even a fraction of this performance going forward, the Texans will remain a force to be reckoned with as December turns to January and the playoffs begin.


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